6 Best Campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park & Camping Details

June 7, 2016

Landscape near Belle and White Tank Campgrounds
Landscape near Belle and White Tank Campgrounds | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Joshua Tree National Park is like no other place on earth, with its signature Joshua trees, giant boulders, and surrounding mountains that create an almost surreal landscape and make you feel like you have entered another world. Camping here is nothing less than spectacular, with scenic campgrounds spread around massive rock formations and sites just perfect for pitching a tent or setting up an RV.

It's hard to say any one campground is significantly better than another, and sometimes deciding where to camp in Joshua Tree really comes down to where you want to be centered in the park and what is available when you arrive. The main road through the park, running from east to west, is called Park Boulevard and this is where many of the most popular hikes and sites are found. Some campgrounds lie along this corridor, and a couple of others are nearby. For the most part, this is the preferred area for camping.

Overview of the Best Campgrounds

Along the main thoroughfare of Park Boulevard, Hidden Valley, Ryan, and Jumbo Rocks are the three campgrounds most central to the main tourist attractions in Joshua Tree National Park and all offer outstanding scenery. Belle and White Tank campgrounds are on the east side of the park and are slightly more removed but have equally stunning settings and beautiful sites. Indian Cove is a nice campground set amid boulders, but it is off the main roads running through the park and will require commuting and possibly a wait at the entrance station to get into the main section of the park.

Scenery along Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree National Park
Scenery along Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Reservations and First-Come, First-served Campgrounds

There are a total of nine campgrounds in the park, although Sheep Pass is only open to groups. Most of the campgrounds are first-come, first-served, and to have the greatest chance of getting a site, it's best to arrive as early in the week as possible and don't count on getting a site on a Friday afternoon from October to May. In many cases, you may not even be able to secure a campsite on a Thursday afternoon, especially if the weather is nice. The campgrounds are almost always full on weekends during this time period.

A couple of campgrounds are reservable in the high season, from October to May. During this time, reservations are available at Black Rock and Indian Cove Campgrounds, but be aware that neither of these is on the main roads through the park; these two are reached by short, isolated access roads that lead from Highway 62 to the campgrounds, without road access to the rest of the park. This means to explore the park, you will have to leave your campground, go back out to Highway 62, and enter the park at one of the entrance stations. From Indian Cove, it is only a 15-minute drive to the north entrance, but from Black Rock, it is about 40 minutes to the nearest gate, which is the west entrance. Group campsites are also reservable and available at Cottonwood Springs, Indian Cove, and Sheep Pass.

Facilities in the Campgrounds

You need to bring everything with you into the park as there are no stores, water, or places to buy supplies. If you forget something, there are stores and facilities in nearby Twentynine Palms. The campgrounds are equipped with picnic tables, fire pits, BBQs, and vault toilets. There is no cell service, no WiFi, no RV hookup capability, and no water in any of the campgrounds listed below. There are water and dump stations at Black Rock and Cottonwood Campgrounds, but these are quite a distance from the central campgrounds discussed here.

1 Hidden Valley Campground

Hidden Valley Campground
Hidden Valley Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Hidden Valley Campground, open to both tents and RVs, is the most popular campground in the park. It is convenient to many of the day hikes, but more importantly, it is near where most of the best climbing sites are located in the park. As a result, it is always busy in the high season, and since it is first-come, first-served, it's best to arrive early in the week if you really want to camp here. The campsites are all beautiful, spread around huge rock formations, and dotted with mature Joshua trees. It's a fantastic campground if you can get a site. This is the closest campground to the West Entrance Station, on the west side of the park, which is arguably the most scenic portion of Joshua Tree National Park.

2 White Tank Campground

White Tank Campground
White Tank Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

White Tank is on the east side of the park, on the road that runs between the North Entrance Station and Cottonwood. The boulder strewn landscape here provides an awesome setting for a campground, with plenty of privacy, areas to scramble around the rocks, and a few Joshua trees for added atmosphere. With only 15 well-spaced sites and plenty of surrounding rocks for privacy, this is a great option for campers looking for a quiet experience. RVs must be less than 25 feet.

3 Belle Campground

Belle Campground

Just down the road from White Tank Campground, towards Twentynine Palms, Belle Campground has the same sort of feel as White Tank, with larger boulders piled high and Joshua trees sprinkled around the sites. Eighteen first-come, first-served campsites are spread throughout the campground, many of which are only large enough for a tent. Both of these campgrounds are quite tranquil, and while they are still within easy reach of Park Boulevard and attractions like Skull Rock, they have a remote feel to them.

4 Jumbo Rocks Campground

Jumbo Rocks Campground
Jumbo Rocks Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Jumbo Rocks is the largest campground in the park, with 124 sites, and is often your best chance for getting a campsite within the park gates. Centrally located in the park and set around huge rocks with sheer cliff faces and some large Joshua trees, it offers a real mix of spacious and tiny campsites. Some of the sites here can accommodate RVs up to 32 feet and others are only big enough for a small tent. But even the smallest campsite here, barely big enough for a single tent and crammed in next to the road, is more impressive than some of the best campsites in other national parks thanks to its setting beneath a towering rock formation that reflects the late-day sun. This is a beautiful campground, and you can't go wrong finding a site to park your RV or pitch a tent at Jumbo Rocks.

5 Ryan Campground

Ryan Campground

Ryan Campground is sometimes referred to as the overflow campground for Hidden Valley, but that doesn't mean it's a bare patch of sand in the desert. This is still a lovely camping area, with spacious sites, although sites offer slightly less privacy than at other campgrounds in the park. It is also very well positioned if you want to be in the west end of the park.

6 Indian Cove Campground

Picnic table below rock wall at Indian Cove Campground
Picnic table below rock wall at Indian Cove Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Indian Cove is a nice camping area but is not in the main section of the park and is outside of the entrance gates, near Twentynine Palms. The entrance to this campground is off Highway 62. Driving into the campground, the area looks like a moonscape - relatively barren and piled high with small boulders and giant monoliths. This area is at a lower elevation and has only small trees and vegetation. On the plus side, Indian Cove is reservable in the high season, from October to May, so you don't have to worry about finding a site if you plan ahead. The campground has 101 sites for tents and RVs and can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet. It also has group campsites, which are set off on their own.

Other Campgrounds

Joshua trees in bloom near Cottonwood Visitor Center
Joshua trees in bloom near Cottonwood Visitor Center | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Cottonwood Campground is far removed from the main attractions and is one of the least scenic campgrounds in the park. It is located on the southeast side of the park and it can be a good option if you are looking for somewhere to camp near Interstate 10. On the opposite side of the park from Cottonwood, west of the town of Joshua Tree, off Highway 62, is Black Rock Campground. This is a scenic campground with a high concentration of Joshua trees and is also known as a good birdwatching area. The main drawback to this campground is its distance to the main section of the park, which is at least a 45-minute drive away. However, campsites here are reservable and that may be an important factor from fall to spring.

Where to Stay Near Joshua Tree National Park

Day Use Area near Skull Rock
Day Use Area near Skull Rock | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you find yourself unable to secure a campsite, sometimes the only option is to find a hotel. If you have all of your camping equipment with you, stay at a hotel and use the park's well-equipped day use areas to cook your meals, and spend your daylight hours outside enjoying the beautiful surroundings. The best selection of hotels, which are mainly mid-range and budget, can be found in Twentynine Palms, along Highway 62, just outside the park. Below are some good-value hotels in Twentynine Palms:

  • Mid-Range Hotels: The Fairfield Inn and Suites is one of the best hotels in this category. This is an all-suite hotel with a complimentary breakfast and heated pool, and it's just a few minutes away from the park. Other options include the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites and the BEST WESTERN Gardens Hotel, both with large pools, free breakfast, and easy access to the park.
  • Budget Hotels: One of the most reasonably priced hotels in the area is the pet-friendly and recently renovated Motel 6 Twentynine Palms, with decent rooms and an outdoor heated pool and hot tub. Another good-value motel is the 9 Palms Inn, with colorful rooms in a single-story motel-style building. The no-frills Rodeway Inn and Suites is well positioned and comes with a free breakfast and outdoor pool and hot tub.

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