This post is part of Just Ahead’s Joshua Tree Trip Planner—our guide to everything you need to know to plan your trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Click here to see the complete series, and be sure to download our Just Ahead smartphone audio tour of Joshua Tree before you head to the park.
There’s nothing like spending a night or two in Joshua Tree National Park.
The nearby motels and inns are fine (click here for advice about where to stay), but they’re not in the park. And nighttime in Joshua Tree is special. The sky is almost always clear, so the star show is dazzling, particularly in the campgrounds farthest away from the glow of city lights: Belle, White Tank, and Cottonwood Spring. No matter where you camp, sunset and sunrise are almost always dramatic. You’re likely to hear coyotes yipping and howling at night, and you’ll wake up to the dawn chorus of singing birds.
There are no bad campgrounds in Joshua Tree, but it helps to know about your options. For example, only two campgrounds have water and flush toilets (Black Rock and Cottonwood). The others have pit toilets only, and you have to bring your own water. Most campsites have picnic tables and fire grates, but you have to provide your own firewood.
Here’s our quick rundown on the park’s nine campgrounds, grouped by general location:
These campgrounds are within a few miles of Twentynine Palms Highway and allow easy access to nearby towns. Neither connects directly to roads in the heart of the park.
- Black Rock – 100 sites. First campground you reach when approaching from Los Angeles/Interstate 10. Convenient to restaurants and stores in Yucca Valley. One of two campgrounds with running water and flush toilets. Excellent access to hiking trails. No direct car access to the main park roads. You need to drive about 12 miles to the park’s West Entrance.
- Indian Cove – 101 sites, plus a group campground. Convenient to the restaurants and stores of Twentynine Palms. No direct access to the park roads. You need to drive about 18 miles to the west or north park entrances. Surrounded by boulder formations at the north end of the Wonderland of Rocks. Excellent access to numerous hiking trails, including Rattlesnake Canyon and Boy Scout Trail. No water or flush toilets.
- Hidden Valley – 44 sites in the heart of a popular climbing area. You can hike to Barker Dam from your campsite.
- Ryan – 31 sites, huge boulders, easy walk to ruins of Ryan Ranch. Great sunset views from sites on the west side.
- Sheep Pass – Group camping only.
Closest to North Entrance
These campgrounds in the northeast part of the park are convenient central bases for exploring the entire park.
- Jumbo Rocks – With 124 sites, it’s the largest campground in the park, but huge boulders provide privacy.
- Belle – 18 sites, dark night skies.
- White Tank – 15 sites, dark night skies. A short trail leads from site No. 9 to Arch Rock, a rare granite arch that spans 35 feet and rises 15 feet high.
Near South Entrance
The southern part of the park, accessible from I-10, is low desert, where it’s generally warmer than in the rest of the park.
- Cottonwood – Secluded campground 30 miles from Indio, 30 to 50 miles from sights in the north and west of the park. But convenient to nearby Cottonwood Spring and hiking trails, and not far from Cholla Garden and Ocotillo Patch. Dark night skies. One of two campgrounds with flush toilets and running water.
For more information, plus rules and regulations, visit the Joshua Tree National Park camping page.
How to Get a Campsite at Joshua Tree
The best advice: Arrive early. Most camping in the park is first-come, first-served, though sites at Black Rock and Indian Cove can be reserved from October through May: online at recreation.gov, or by calling 877-444-6777. Reservations are accepted six months in advance.
Campgrounds tend to fill up on weekends and holidays from October through May, so if you don’t have a reservation, get there Friday—as early as possible. Thursday is even better.
If you have no luck in the park, you still have a few options outside of the park in the towns of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms, or on Bureau of Land Management land:
To see our complete Joshua Tree Trip Planner series, click here.