California is home to some of the most talented artists in the world - so it’s only fitting that it be home of some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world, too. Joshua Tree is one of those places; arguably one of the best camping grounds you’ll be able to find in the U.S. From night skies that look straight out of a Van Gogh painting to colossal boulders that look like they’re from Mars, this desert is a perfect place to pitch a tent, light a campfire, and enjoy the scenery.
We’re going to tell you how to do just that.
What is Joshua Tree?
While technically called a “park,” this place is far from cheery, sunny parks you may be used to. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, yes - but the bottom line is that this massive plot of 790,000 sq. acres is still an ancient desert. You’ll be absolutely blown away by the colorful flora and fauna you’ll come across, but Joshua Tree can be very hostile, and very dangerous if you don’t prepare accordingly.
Where is Joshua Tree?
It’s actually the closest National Park to L.A. and San Diego, which is ideal for anyone visiting the State looking to get the most out of their time. Joshua Tree is located in the central part of the California High Desert. So… make sure you’ve got some A/C going, or you’ll feel a bit like a turkey in an oven.
Also, the “main entrance” of the park is through the town of Joshua Tree, but it tends to get extremely crowded and backed up during the weekends and holidays. So, here are a few alternative entrances pulled from the National Park’s official website:
West (Main) Entrance (Hwy 62, in Joshua Tree)
For visitors coming from Los Angeles / San Diego / Palm Springs
North Entrance (Hwy 62, in 29 Palms)
Tip: Lines are much shorter here on weekends!
South Entrance (Off Hwy 10)
For visitors coming from Phoenix / New Mexico / Indio
Open year-round, baby.
What are the camping rules?
Again, this is a National Park, so unfortunately you can’t go tear up the slopes in a humvee and pitch a tent in a random field… Unless you have the right permits.
There are over 300 campsites around the park, all pitched on a first-come, first-serve basis, so plan out your arrival times appropriately. It’s $20 “per-vehicle” to get in, and $10 for those on foot, motorcycle, or bike. Then, you’ll have to pay $15 per campsite a night, or $20 per campsite with potable water a night, if you want to really splurge out. Or - like we said - if you’ve got the proper gear and permits, you can trek out into the wild and backpack wherever you see fit.
What supplies do I need to bring?
To each his own - but here are a few extra things to think about bringing, aside from the necessities like a sleeping bag, toilet paper, tent, etc.
- Firewood - The desert gets cold at night. And, depending on which time of the year you come, it can get really chilly. Wood isn’t provided. Bring as much of it as you can. Plus, what kind of camping doesn’t include a fire?
- Water - Only 3 campsites offer it, so stock up on as much as you think you’ll need for cooking, cleaning, drinking, etc. - and then bring even more. There’s a coin-operated spigot at the entrance of the park, so you can bring a ton of empty jugs with you and just fill up when you get there.
- Camp Stove - Most sites have a fire-grills for you if you like wood-smoked flavors. But, if you don’t want to lug around a bag of charcoal, just bring a camp stove. They operate on a multitude of different fuels, mostly propane. Saves you wood and time; not every single meal of the day can be cooked on an open fire.
- Emergency Kits - It’s a rocky, unsure place at some areas, and there are critters and snakes just waiting for you to accidentally walk into their territory. Make sure you bring a pretty solid first-aid kit in your hiking pack to deal with any accident that’ll probably happen.
Other than that, just bring the necessary things you need. It isn’t a luxury hotel, so enjoy the rough-out.
Some key places to visit:
This desert is HUGE, so this is far from an all-inclusive list. Joshua Tree camping is all about exploring everywhere you can lay your eyes on. These are just a few stellar views you can catch.
Old Woman Rock
This is a huge favorite of climbers, and it’s just an overall stunning piece of geography. If you look closely, you can see the cause for the name - what looks like a dancing woman on the rock, wearing a triangle dress. Keep walking around the formation, and you’ll find some pretty great trails to follow.
If you come in through the Joshua Tree entrance, this’ll be your first major stop. It’s a perfect place to catch an amazing sunset view, get your boots on the ground, and maybe even do some hiking. Like the Old Woman Rock, this one has plenty of solid trails splaying out from around this massive formation.
Found across Park Blvd from Intersection Rock, this place is a classic hike around the rocks. At certain points of the year it can get a bit crowded, so that’s always something to keep in mind - but if you manage to catch it empty and trek around the picnic tables, you’ll find some really amazing views, crazy formations, and ancient trees.
If you came to Joshua Tree through the North Entrance (29 Palms) or the South Entrance (Hwy 10 / Phoenix), Arch Rock is a good first stop. The name of the rock is a given, but there are literally thousands of unique rocks just like it out in this area of the park. Like all the others, this one has tons of great trails spiraling out from its center.
We hope you can take away a few key tips from here, and that you get to really enjoy the peace that only a place like Joshua Tree can offer. Oh, and make sure you’re wearing the right gear for the job; from jackets to camping mugs, we’ve got everything you need to handle the outdoors with ease.