Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features natural gardens of creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla cactus. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the Joshua tree. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Five fan palm oases also dot the park, indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally and wildlife abounds.
Days are typically clear with less than 25 percent humidity. Temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average high/low of 85 and 50°F (29 and 10°C) respectively. Winter brings cooler days, around 60°F (15°C), and freezing nights. It occasionally snows at higher elevations. Summers are hot, over 100°F (38°C) during the day and not cooling much below 75°F (24°C) until the early hours of the morning.
Joshua Tree National Park lies 140 miles east of Los Angeles. It can be approached from the west via Interstate 10 and Hwy 62 (Twentynine Palms Highway). The north entrances to the park are located at Joshua Tree Village and the city of Twentynine Palms. The south entrance at Cottonwood Spring, which lies 25 miles east of Indio, can be approached from the east or west, also via Interstate 10.
Entry fee options are as follows: The Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass, $30 for 12 months; vehicle entry, $15.00 for 7 days; walk-in entry, $5.00 for 7 days. Alternatively, the new National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass can be purchased for $80 and allows free entry to all National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Forest Service sites where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged for one year.
IMPORTANT: All fees must be paid in cash. They do not accept credit/debit cards.
Every campground has a unmaned post that says “Pay fees here” where you can collect the yellow envelope, write the details on it, put money in the envelope and place it in the secured box provided.
There are many campgrounds within the park, but they will often fill well before sunset, especially on weekends. Sadly, there are no longer any free sites, although costs are reasonable at $5 – $10 per night. All campgrounds are open year-round. Note that some sites may be reserved in advance through the National Park Service Reservation System.
A primitive campground located near the North Entrance Station. 18 sites, $10 per night, no water available.
Black Rock Campground
Located in the northwest corner of the park, this campground is not accessible from the main park roads. 100 sites, $15 per night, water and flush toilets available.
Located next to the park’s south entrance. 62 sites, $15 per night, water and flush toilets. There are also three group sites available for $25 per night.
Hidden Valley Campground
Hidden Valley is the first campground after the West Entrance Station. 45 sites, $10 per night. There is no water available and motorhomes and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not permitted.
Indian Cove Campground
This campground is not accessible from the main park roads and may be reached only via Highway 62 and Indian Cove Road, between the North and West Entrance Stations. 101 sites, $15 per night. Water is available from the ranger station, and thirteen group sites are also available for $20/$35 per night.
Jumbo Rocks Campground
The largest campground in the park, located near the junction of the park roads in the northern part of the park. Sites are surrounded by scenic granite formations. 124 sites, $10 per night, no water available.
Easily accessible from West Entrance Station, a primitive campground with 31 sites, $10 per night, no water available.
Sheep Pass Group Campground
Groups only, located along the West Entrance Road. Six sites, $20/$35 per night, no water available.
White Tank Campground
Located along the main park road, close to the North Entrance Station. 15 sites, $10 per night. There is no water available and motorhomes and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not permitted.
Group sites are available for reservation from the Recreations website. For group sites, a minimum of 7 persons is mandatory. Most of the other sites are first-come-first-serve basis.
There are no restaurants or stores in the park, but numerous options are available along Highway 62, north of the park, or in towns such as Twentynine Palms, located to the east and west of the park along Interstate 10.
Services within the park are limited, but food, gas, and supplies can all be purchased just outside of the park in the City of Twentynine Palms.
Park visitor centers all offer bookstores selling postcards, posters, and books of local interest.
Dangers within the park include rattlesnakes, abandoned mines, and the numerous prickly and thorny desert plants. In general, snakes can be avoided by being careful when in rocky areas. Mines can be found throughout the park, and while most have been sealed over, open mines can still be found. Do not enter mines – most of these areas are over 100 years old and are extremely dangerous.
Because of the high temperatures and lack of shade during summer months, make sure to drink lots of water.
Important things to carry
- Water, lots of it
- Insect repellants (non-electricity based)
- Wood, fuel, coal for camp fire
- Basic first-aid kit: bandages, advil, cotton, etc.
- Cash for fees – no credit/debit cards are accepted