Weekend Getaway Portland Oregon Things to Do
Only a couple hours from tinsel town, Joshua Tree National Park transports you to a landscape like nowhere else on this planet.  From twinkling night skies to hiking among fuzzy Joshua Trees, to climbing boulders the size of buildings, it’s easy to spend a weekend camping in Joshua Tree. The only thing left on your to-do list after a weekend getaway to camp in Joshua Tree National Park is to plan your return trip.
Joshua Tree in field at sunset
Joshua Tree presents the opportunity to explore both the high and low deserts. The meeting of these two kinds of desert results in the other worldly vegetation and landscape that you encounter.  The park received National Park status in the 1994 after years of threat from the mining industry. Today, millions of visitors enjoy the park and it’s surreal beauty every year.
Know before you go: Within the boundaries of the park, cell service is nil. Be prepared with everything you may need, you won’t be able to call anyone to bring that 6-pack of beer you forgot to buy at the store or post your favorite selfie to Instagram while you are visiting.

When to Go

Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree
Summertime temperatures easily reach into the triple digits during making any kind of strenuous activity dangerous unless you plan to do them very early in the morning. Crowds are thin and night skies show off the milky way. Springtime offers cooler temperatures and the possibility of wildflowers and cactus blooms, but it’s a poplar time to visit the park so you’ll have to plan to arrive early to get a camping spot. Wintertime in the desert has been gaining popularity in the last few years due to rock climbers, but you can still enjoy a thinner crowd (just be sure to bundle up!).  Fall is a great time to visit as well, temperatures are pleasant.  The best months to visit in terms of temperature are October/November and March/April. You’ll be able to hike and rock climb throughout the day. Winter and summer will have harsh conditions, but thinner crowds. It’s really up to you and what you are looking to get out of your time in the park.

Where to Stay

Tent and campsite in Joshua Tree
The only way to spend the night in Joshua Tree National Park is by camping at one of the 7 campgrounds or Backcountry camping. All but one campground within the park are first-come-first-served.  For those that are not keen on camping in the park without a reservations there are a couple campgrounds outside the park you can reserve in advance. In addition to the $25 per car entry fee to the park, each campground within the park has a nightly rate ranging from $15 a night to $40 a night. One way to maximize your time in the park is to plan to stay in a central location that is near any hiking or activities that you would like to do.

Camping within Joshua Tree National Park

The best way to avoid stress while looking for a campsite is to come with a game plan for your first, second, and yes possibly even third choice campground and arrive early in the morning (especially on a Friday) to claim a spot. You should definitely have a backup campground in mind in case your first choice is not available.

Belle 

  • $15/night
  • Pit Toilets
  • Tables
  • Fire grate
  • NO Water

Ryan 

  • $15/night
  • Pit Toilets
  • Tables
  • Fire grate
  • NO Water

Cottonwood 

  • $20/night
  • Flush Toilets
  • Tables
  • Fire grate
  • Potable Water

White Tank 

  • $15/night
  • Pit Toilets
  • Tables
  • Fire grate
  • NO Water

Hidden Valley 

  • $15/night
  • Pit Toilets
  • Tables
  • Fire grate
  • NO Water

Sheep Pass 

  • $40-$50/night
  • Reservation Only
  • Pit Toilets
  • Tables
  • Fire grate
  • NO Water

Jumbo Rocks 

  • $15/night
  • Pit Toilets
  • Tables
  • Fire grate
  • NO Water

Reserving A Campsite

Paybox at campground entrance Joshua Tree
Reserving a campsite in Joshua Tree is pretty simple, but can be overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. When you arrive at a campground there will be a brown paybox at the entrance. Grab a money envelope from the paybox so you have it on hand when you find a campsite. This way you can avoid what I did; get so excited we finally found a spot that I ran back to the paybox to get an envelope when I could have driven. I was a little paranoid we’d lose our spot. Then either drive to a campsite you’ve identified ahead of time or starting driving around the campsite to check if any of the site number posts are open. Once you’ve located an open campsite fill in the envelope (both sides) with the required information, tear the filled out reservation slip off the envelope, and hang your reservation slip from the campsite number post (there will be a clip for you to hang your clip). Don’t forget to put money into the envelope, seal the envelope, and place it in the paybox within the first hour of selecting a campsite. You should place money for all nights you plan to camp at that specific campground.

Camping outside Joshua Tree National Park

There are two campgrounds that you can reserve in advance for camping (October-May reservations required); Black Rock and Indian Cove.  If you stay at either camp,  you will have to drive into the park to access hikes.

Black Rock

  • $20/night
  • Managed by NPS
  • Flush Toilets
  • Tables
  • Potable Water
  • Staff Onsite
  • Fire Grates
  • Dump Station

Indian Cove

  • $20/night
  • Managed by NPS
  • Pit Toilets
  • Tables
  • NO Water
  • Fire Grates

Primitive Camping

How to get Around

Unless you plan to hitchhike in, you’ll need a car. The main areas of Joshua Tree National Park are about 3 hours from San Diego and Los Angeles.  Once inside the park you can drive to all the main sites, hike to trailheads, and bike on any road open to vehicles.

Things to Do

Joshua Tree National Park has miles of trails and an almost limitless supply of boulders to climb.  The park is also in the process of getting 29 miles of backcountry roads designated for mountain biking.

Hiking

Skull Rock from below in Joshua Tree

Trails ranging from easy to strenuous are available in Joshua Tree. Depending on what you would like to see on your hike, how long you’d like to hike, and how much of a challenge you’d like all factors that will contribute to what hikes you choose.  On our first weekend in Joshua tree we did a mix of moderate and easy hikes.  There are a variety of trails within the park that provide an opportunity to hike up to the summit for amazing ariel views, to abandoned mines, amazing rock structures, and oases. One of my favorite hikes was our climb up to Ryan Mountain which gave us 360 degree views of the park. Popular trails for first-timers include: Arch Rock Trail, Ryan Mountain Trail, Hidden Valley Loop, Wall Street Mill, Barker Dam Trail, and Warren Peak Trail.

Rock Climbing, Bouldering, & Slacklining

Boulder in field at sunset Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is famous in the rock climbing community. With thousands of climbing routes throughout the Park it’s not hard to see why.  Its grippy rock and amazing landscape make it a bucket list destination for climbers around the world.  I’m not one of those people, however I wouldn’t be opposed to taking a rock climbing course the next time I’m out there. Along with rock climbing, bouldering and slacklining are popular activities as well.

Stargaze

Milkyway with Joshua Tree Silhouette

If you’re anything like me, then stargazing is high on your list of things to do when visiting Joshua Tree. Wintertime is perfect for those that don’t want to stay up late to see the spectacle of twinkling lights in the sky. Summertime is when the Milky way is at its best, but requires even the night owls to stay up well into the night. Fall and Spring offer unique opportunities to see celestial bodies with the naked eye.

Take Time to Chill by the Campfire

Camp fire next to tent in Joshua Tree

Camping is hardly camping unless you have a campfire, well at least you can say this for car camping. There’s nothing quite like hearing the crackle of the wood as the flames cast a beautiful golden hue across your campsite and winding down from an action packed day while drinking your favorite adult beverage.

Helpful Resources for Joshua Tree

My brother was so excited about his trip to JTree that upon his return to our apartment he gifted me these three resources.  When we finally travelled to Joshua Tree I found these to be incredibly helpful not only before our trip, but while we were out exploring the park. No matter what you decide to do in Joshua Tree National Park, you are bound to have an amazing time.

Pin it!

PLAN BETTER. TRAVEL MORE. LIVE ADVENTUROUSLY. GET ON THE LIST.

Subscribe to Headed Anywhere's newsletter to get exclusive travel tips, advice, and inspiration to help you make your travel dreams a reality!

Delivered to you for free.
Powered by ConvertKit

Check Out Our Favorite Travel Essentials!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This