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Joshua Tree NP Camping

Photo of a Joshua Tree at Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park is a huge nearly-untouched wilderness area directly off of Interstate 10 near the Indio/Palm Springs area.

When most people think of California National Parks, their minds conjure up images of the ultra-famous Yosemite NP further to the north...along with its nearby sisters, Kings Canyon NP and Sequoia NP. These woodsy parks pack in the visitors to gasp at their tall trees, even taller mountains, spectacular waterfalls and pleasant summer vacation-time temperatures.

Joshua Tree National Park is for a completely different type of visitor. If you're among those who enjoy a stark, brown landscape...and love to get away from the crowds, perhaps a paying a visit to Joshua Tree NP...or planning a camping trip there...will be something "right up your alley."

Naturally, you'll want to make a late fall, winter, or spring visit to Joshua Tree NP...after all, summertime temperatures sizzle here! It's not uncommon for "roasting hot" temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit to occur for days at a time during the heat of July and August.

Yet, its winter temperatures make Joshua Tree National Park an IDEAL place to visit during the months of the year when residents of the Northern USA, Canada and Europe are shivering and bundling up against the snow! On the majority of days, you'll be out and about exploring the park enjoying temperatures which would be called "springlike" in most parts of the northern hemisphere. (On the other hand, nighttime temperatures SO drop markedly in the desert; don't forget your coats...and blankets, if you'll be camping!)

On this page, we'll talk about the camping adventures you can have at Joshua Tree National Park, whether you favor tents, RV's, or camping vans. We'll also talk about some of the other activities you may enjoy persuing during your visit to Joshua Tree, as well.

Joshua Tree NP Camping -- Cottonwood Campground

Photo of a camping site in the Cottonwood campground at Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park There are 9 campgrounds at the Joshua Tree National Park. Each campground has its own different "personality." The photos on this page are of the Cottonwood Campground, at the park's southern edge.

The Cottonwood Campground is the most accessible campground for visitors taking a road trip, because it lies just a few miles north of Interstate 10. It's convenient for travelers who wish to see the sights of greater Palm Springs, because it's the closest of all the Joshua Tree camping grounds to the city. It's also convenient in another way---it's close to the gas, groceries, phones and restaurant at Chiriaco Summit, just 12 miles away. And, the Cottonwood Campground is only one of 2 campgrounds in the park with running water and flush toilets available. In other words, it's one of Joshua Tree's best campgrounds for those who don't want to "rough it."

Photo of an RV camping site at the Cottonwood Campground in Joshua Tree NP near Palm Springs, California

In the photo above & to your left, you can see the closeup picture of a camping spot at the Cottonwood Campground. As you can see, the spots are very basic and barren...but they each have their own picnic table and a fire grate. (You must bring in your own firewood; no fire gathering is allowed among the plants at the park.)

Each spot accommodates either RV's or tents. RV's can choose a campsite where they just "pull up" in front of the site, or---as in the picture to your right---they can pick a spot which features lots of pavement so that they can back in. Tenters may use either type of site...though the sites featuring the most pavement have the least amount of room left over for tent spots. (Note to tent campers: this ground is flat but rocky---just bursting with sharp little pebbles. Be sure to bring something soft to go between your sleeping bag and the ground!)

RVer's will not find hookups at the Cottonwood Campground (nor at any other campground at Joshua Tree NP, either.) However, Cottonwood's camp does have both running water and a dump site that you can use. Generators are allowed at Cottonwood Campground, but the hours during which they can be used are strictly regulated: 7 to 9 am, 12 pm to 2 pm, and 5 pm to 7 pm. This is a good thing, in my opinion. Some people choose the Cottonwood Campground for its quietness; there are no boulders to climb here like there are in other park campgrounds. Therefore, the "young and the restless" tend to choose other campgrounds, leaving Cottonwood to those who prefer peace & quiet.

Photo of a group campsite at the Cottonwood Campground in the Joshua Tree National Park

In the image to your left you can see one of the 3 group campsites at the Cottonwood Campground. Each group campsite provides a shaded awning under which a number of picnic tables sit. There's a fairly large parking lot by the group camping area, which is a good thing (because the group campsites sit 1, 2, 3...right in a row together.)

There are only 3 campgrounds at Joshua Tree NP which provide space for group campouts. Besides Cottonwood Camp, there are also group sites for camping at the Indian Cove and Sheep Pass campgrounds.

As you might be able to tell from the photos, there are no grassy fields in this campground on which your group could play a ball game, set up a volleyball net, etc. Nor are there boulders to climb. A group that's camping at Cottonwood will be hard pressed to find something to do in order to keep everybody occupied if you just "sit around camp" all day long. Hiking paths are available in the immediate area, or the group could head farther north in the park to catch some more scenic views at the park's higher elevations.

Photo of a restroom building in the Cottonwood Campground; Joshua Tree National Park, California A big "plus" in favor of the Cottonwood Campground is its availability of flush toilets! In the photo to your right, you can see one of the bathroom buildings at the Cottonwood Camp. There are no shower facilities, however.

So, what are the drawbacks to choosing Cottonwood for your camping spot? We've covered the campground's best points: easy freeway access, level spots, running water, and flush toilets. But, of course, Cottonwood has its drawbacks, as well.

The chief drawback of Cottonwood Campground is its location as the campground farthest AWAY from the Joshua Tree National Park's joshua trees! If you're not interested in day tripping to the city of Palm Springs...and you come to Joshua Tree NP to see vegetation, climb rocks, and "get back to nature," you may do well to pick a different campground within this large national park.

Cottonwood Campground, at 3,000 ft in elevation, is the camping area at Joshua Tree NP that's the lowest in elevation. As you drive north along the nice, paved national park roads, the elevation rises. The terrain gets thicker with the joshua trees for which the park is named, and the rock formations become more interesting. Some of the other campgrounds have a feeling of being "nestled amongst the boulders" (as opposed to Cottonwood's "out in the open" lay of the land.)

Joshua Tree National Park's other campgrounds

Here's a list of the 9 campgrounds at Joshua Tree National Park. You may want to look up the location of each one before making a decision about where to stay; you'll find a link to a PDF map of Joshua Tree NP at the bottom of this page.

Note: Only 2 campgrounds have running water & flush toilets. These are the Black Rock campground and, as already noted, the Cottonwood campground. All the other campgrounds are "primitive."

All the other Joshua Tree NP campgrounds (besides Cottonwood) are in the northern section of the park. After leaving Cottonwood Camp and heading north, the first two campgrounds you'll reach are the---

  • White Tank Campground, 3,800 feet in elevation; 15 primitive sites Climbing available.
  • Belle Campground, elevation 3,800 feet; 18 campsites.
  • Both the Belle and White Tank camps are close to "Arch Rock," one of the scenic features many people enjoy at Joshua Tree NP. The Belle campground lies along one of the park's hiking trails, and climbing is available.

  • Jumbo Rocks campground, elevation 4,400; 124 camping sites. The campground is very appropriately named for the jumbo-sized boulders in the area, making this a favorite campground for climbers; amateur photographers should also be quite happy camping in this scenic place. A nearby park attraction is Skull Rock.

  • Sheep Pass campground, elevation 4,500 feet, is a group-only campsite. There are 6 group camping areas at Sheep Pass. Climbing available.

  • Ryan Campground, elevation 4,300 feet; 31 campsites. A nearby park feature is Cap Rock. Nice, large boulders in the camping area. This campground also lies on one of Joshua Tree park's hiking trails, plus the hiking trail up Mt. Ryan is nearby. Horse camping allowed.

  • Hidden Valley Campground, elevation 4,200; 29 camping sites. This is a favorite campground for climbers, plus it's also close to the park's Wonderland of Rocks feature.

    The seven campgrounds discussed so far can all be reached from the main park road system, which connects from the southern entrance of Joshua Tree and exits at one of the northern entrances. To reach the other 2 campgrounds, you can only enter from the north, and use the short, dead-end roads that reach them.

  • Black Rock Campground, 4,000 ft elevation; 100 campsites. Directions to Black Rock: From California State Hwy 62 in Yucca Valley, California, take Avalon Avenue heading south. Continue south, and Avalon Ave turns into Palomar Ave. Continue further still, and Palomar merges into Joshua Lane. Head south some more, and you'll dead-end into San Marino Road. A quick jog right will let you reach Black Rock Canyon Road, which takes you into the park. A number of interesting hikes are available from this campground, and a nice feature is that it's only 5 miles away from shopping areas in the town of Yucca Valley.

    Map to the Black Rock Campground and ranger station: You may use the following link to view a Yahoo map of the Black Rock Campground area of Joshua Tree NP.

    Another nice feature of the Black Rock Campground is that it allows horse camping. Even nicer, if you don't have your own horse, rental stables are nearby. If you'd care to rent a horse and explore the Joshua Tree National Park's equestrian trails, you'll find the Yucca Valley Equestrian Center near to the Black Rock Campground's entrance. The Yucca Valley Equestrian Center's phone number is (760) 365-4433; its address is 7429 Avalon Avenue, Yucca Valley, California, 92284. You'll be able to browse through their website at

  • The 9th campground at Joshua Tree NP is the Indian Cove campground. At Indian Cove, you'll find both individual and group camping. This huge campground offers 101 individual and 13 group campsites. Fees for individual camp sites will be $15/night as of 3/1/07. To reach this camping ground, you'll need to enter Joshua Tree National Park via Indian Cove Road in the town of Twentynine Palms, CA. Indian Cove Road hits CA State Hwy 62; just head south and you'll end up in the park.

    Joshua Tree NP Camping -- other activities to enjoy

    Photo of scenic rocks at the Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs, California We've already talked about the popularity of rock climbing at Joshua Tree NP in the section above. In this photo to your left, you can get an idea of why that's so; there's plenty of interesting-looking granite on hand at Joshua Tree! Climbers, hikers and photographers alike will all enjoy the mountains and free-standing boulders that can be found within Joshua Tree's borders.

    You'll also be able to bike near the bolders, as well. Bicycles are limited to the trails which motor vehicles may use.

    Plus, as we've mentioned, you may take a horse-riding adventure within the park, as well. (If you need to rent a horse, you'll find information about stables in nearby Yucca Valley, California in the section above. The national park itself does not rent horses.)

    Photo of the Cottonwood Headquarters at Joshua Tree National Park in California Parents will want to take their kids to one of the park's ranger stations to view the exhibits. Though you can't spend as much time in the small visitors centers at Joshua Tree as you can at some other national parks (like Yosemite), you'll still be able to learn enough to turn your trip to Joshua Tree NP into a family learning experience.

    In addition, when you visit a ranger headquarters, you'll be able to find out the time and location schedule for ranger led walks 'n talks. Kids may also be interested to learn that Joshua Tree National Park hosts a Junior Ranger program, the details of which can also be obtained at one of the park's visitor's centers.

    Here are the names, addresses and contact numbers of the various visitor centers throughout Joshua Tree NP:

  • Cottonwood Visitor Center, located eight miles north of Interstate 10 (and easy to reach because signs on I-10 clearly mark the Joshua Tree NP exit.) Visitors to the Cottonwood Campground literally can't miss seeing this center (seen in the photo to your right.) Neither can any other visitor to Joshua Tree NP who enters from the south; you MUST pass it to reach the park's more northern features. The Cottonwood Visitor's Center is open all year; it opens daily at 9:00 a.m. and closes at 3:00 p.m.

    Strangely enough, the Cottonwood HQ is the only one of the park's visitor centers along one of the main roads inside the park's boundaries! The park's main headquarters are outside the park within the town of Twentynine Palms, Calif!

  • Joshua Tree Visitor Center (main HQ's), phone number 760-366-1855; address 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277. This center is open year long; opening time is 8 am and closing time is 5 pm.

  • Black Rock Nature Center, phone number 760-367-3001; located in Black Rock Campground (see directions and map above.) This center is open October through May; the building opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes at 4:00 p.m. Hours are different for Fridays only, when the Black Rock building opens at noon and closes at 8 pm.

  • Oasis Visitor Center, phone number 760-367-5500; located outside the park en route to the Indian Cove Campground. Head to this Indian Cove Road facility any time of year between the operating hours of 8 am to 5 pm.

    Photo of a dirt hiking path at Joshua Tree National Park in California In the photo to your left, you see one of the many hiking trails at Joshua Tree National Park. Just a reminder: all of the trails are "primitive," meaning that you'll be in the back country without any water spigots, food stores, telephones, etc along the way.

    Prepare for your hike by taking an adequate amount of water with you...which is important to do all year round, but ESSENTIAL if you've come to Joshua Tree NP during one of the warmer months of the year.

    The Joshua Tree Nat. Park's literature differentiates between two types of trails..."nature trails," which are shorter and family-oriented, and "hiking trails," which are longer and geared towards rugged, athletic adults. In either case, you'll find a list of both the hiking trails and the nature trails on the Joshua Tree NP official website, link below. (Note: Back-country registration is required if you plan to stay out on the trail overnight.) Also on the park's official website, you'll find a good number of maps which show the various hiking trails in detail.

    Joshua Tree NP -- Directions, map and contact information

    Photo of the entrance sign to the Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, USA The Joshua Tree National Park phone number for visitor's information is (760) 367-5500.

    The Joshua Tree NP address is: 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277. (This is the address for the park's headquarters.)

    Directions to Joshua Tree National Park: The Southern Entrance to the park is via Interstate 10 east of Indio (greater Palm Springs), California. Visitors heading into California via I-10 will note that the park's exit appears about 4 miles after they pass Chiriaco Summit, a "can't miss" feature of Interstate 10 in this otherwise barren, mountainous area. Naturally, then, visitors heading east will reach the exit for Joshua Tree NP about 4 miles before Chiriaco Summit.

    Once you're inside Joshua Tree National Park, you'll need to know where to head to view the park's interesting features, and to find the camping grounds & visitor's centers. If you follow the upcoming link, you'll find a printable PDF map of Joshua Tree National Park (from this national park's official web pages.)

    If you decide that you're seriously interested in visiting or camping at Joshua Tree NP, you'll want to learn everything you can about it in advance. You'll probably want to use the upcoming link to study the Joshua Tree National Park's official website.

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