Top Ten National Park Campgrounds
Used to be, southern California's deserts were largely ignored by Angelenos with outdoor play on the brain. Joshua Tree was a little-visited national monument - it had plenty of desert scenery but lacked the kind of dramatic natural wonders that put Yosemite, Death Valley, and Yellowstone on the map. Then, slowly but surely, word began to trickle out that the best winter rock climbing anywhere in the United States was here. Instead of stowing their ropes and rock shoes when snows ended the season in Yosemite and other Sierra Nevada hot spots, climbers began to make pilgrimages to the warm monzogranite faces of Joshua Tree.
Share campgrounds with climbers—a daring and colorful race of outdoor adventurers.
The two largest campgrounds are Black Rock Canyon and Indian Cove. These qualify as small villages, attractive to campers who like their creature comforts, less to campers who want to sleep away from it all.
The temperature ranges from blazing in the day to maximum chilly at night. Once the sun drops and you're snuggled up inside your cozy bag, you'll be treated to as brilliant a night sky as you'd find anywhere in the state. No overhanging trees to block your view; no city lights to wash it out. If there's any park that was made for sleeping under the stars, this is it. There are nine campgrounds. Each of the campgrounds accepts RVs as well as tents, but generator restrictions minimize the trailer park effect. Even the busiest of these campgrounds benefits from being situated amid lots and lots of open space - escaping noisy neighbors is often as easy as taking a walk behind the nearest rock.
Not far from a main park attraction, the Wonderland of Rocks, this campground provides a good home base for visiting climbers. The drive in from the town of Joshua Tree isn't far, but the relatively small number of sites helps you feel a bit more removed from civilization than some of the larger campgrounds. Be sure to hike the short loop leaving from Barker Dam that takes you to a tiny lake. No fee, no reservations, no water. Open year-round.
From this little campground you can explore countless nearby rock formations and hike the three-mile loop trail to Ryan Mountain (5,470 ft.), where you'll look out over San Gorgonio and San Jacinto peaks, as well as J-Tree's own Wonderland of Rocks. No fee, no reservations, no water. Open year-round. Black Rock Canyon - Large, horse camp. Indian Cove - Large, hectic.
True to its name, this spot features giant granite boulders that are scattered across the campground. For climbers, this is ground zero. A short loop trail takes you from here to Skull Rock, which is definitely worth the trip. The downside: 125 sites that fill to capacity on busy weekends. At 4,400 ft., this is the highest non-group campground in the park. No fee, no reservations, no water. Open year-round.
Another option for climbers that's a bit closer to Twentynine Palms, this tiny campground features plenty of rocks and Joshua trees. Hiking trails and bouldering nearby. No fee, no reservations, no water. Open year-round.
Located in the heart of Joshua Tree, White Tank tends to draw the fewest visitors, though the scenery and surroundings compare to any other campground in the park. Climbing and hiking nearby. No fee, no reservations, no water.
Just the Facts
Route: Glacier to Artist Point on WA 542.
Length: 24 miles (one hour)
Season: Summer to early fall.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication