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There's no question about it: Joshua Tree camping is some of the best camping in Southern California. And all of California... and the entire country, frankly. From its iconic, otherworldly flora and fauna and epic stargazing to its gigantic boulders and world-class climbing, this is one of the best places to pitch a tent, build a fire and feel at one with nature—and we're here to tell you how.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Joshua Tree
Where is Joshua Tree National Park?
Just two and a half hours east of Los Angeles on the 10, the park is close enough for a weekend getaway while still feeling worlds away from the city. It's just east of Idyllwild and Palm Springs, and just north of the Salton Sea, so if you have time, you can hop from one desert destination to the next.
What's the best time of year to visit?
Anytime! The park is open year-round, and if you don't mind extremely hot days in the summer and extra chilly nights in the winter, you'll be fine no matter the month—just be sure to bring the right gear for the season. Springtime—between March and early June—is the most popular time in the park, due to warm days, cool nights and an abundance of Southern California wildflowers.
What if I don't want to camp, or all the campsites are full?
You have a few options. If you don't mind coughing up some extra cash, you can check out the charming, eclectic Joshua Tree hotels in the area. Or if you're okay with a more, er, rustic camping experience, you can find a map of BLM land (that's Bureau of Land Management), where it's technically legal to camp anytime. Or, if you have the gear and time (and the appropriate permits), you can choose to backpack instead and camp in the back country region of the park (just remember, no toilets, fire rings or picnic tables out in the wild).
How much will camping cost me?
The per-vehicle entrance fee to the park is $20, which is good for a seven-day stay. If you happen to be arriving on foot, motorcycle or bike, the fee is $10. On top of that, you'll pay $15 per site per night, or $20 per night per site at the three campgrounds with potable water.
Can I reserve a campsite in advance?
Most campgrounds in Joshua Tree are first-come, first-served—the park can get extemely busy on weekends from October through May, so if you can camp during the week, or try to arrive Thursday night or early Friday morning, you'll improve your chances of finding an open site. Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds do offer reservations (available for booking up to six months in advance online or at 877-444-6777) from October through May; in the summer, all sites are first-come, first-served.
What should I bring?
Aside from the essentials like a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, etc., you'll definitely want to bring firewood—the nights get cold and wood is not provided. And only three campsites in the park offer running water, so it's very important to bring as much as you'll need for cooking and cleaning, as well as staying hydrated during long, sunny days. (There's a coin-operated spigot just inside the entrance to the park, if you'd prefer to bring empty jugs and fill up on site.) Most campsites are equipped with fire grates for cooking, though you're welcome to bring a camp stove. And while each site has a picnic table, camp chairs for sitting around the fire are always nice. Aside from that, it's the necessities (sunscreen, sturdy shoes, etc.) and the fun stuff (card games, a guitar, s'more fixins), which is up to you.
What are the best places to camp in the park?
We've outlined each of the park's nine campsites below with everything you need to know to choose the best one for you and your group.