Ah, the wonders of drinking a beer in the great outdoors! That’s pretty great stuff as long as you’re not still stressed out from the day leading up to that moment. Joshua Tree National Park is an incredibly beautiful and rewarding place, however during its peak season of October through April (when it’s cooler outside) camping can become quite a chaotic undertaking. I recently visited Joshua Tree for the second time and this most recent experience was certainly much more fun than the first time. Why? Because of all of the failures of the first adventure roughly a year ago. I’ll explain.

If you want to camp at Joshua Tree (which I highly recommend) you’re going to have to beat everyone else to the punch. Most of the camp sites at Joshua Tree are first come first serve. Therefore, if you want a prime spot, or any spot at all for that matter, you’re almost always going to need to get there during the week before all of the weekenders like myself decide to venture out there and hunt for a spot.


THE FIRST TIME

Having taken advice only off of Joshua Tree and other hiking / climbing forums, the first venture went a whole lot like this:

  1. Researching on blogs and forums, and concluding that although the park itself warns against coming on the weekends of prime season looking for a spot due to lack of availability. Many of the users said that they are liars and that spots often open up and even if you arrive on a Saturday, you’ll still most likely find one (very bad advice!).
  2. Driving out to Joshua Tree hopeful of finding a spot.
  3. Searching most of Joshua Tree’s campgrounds, hoping for a spot.
  4. Hovering people that looked like they were packing up.
  5. Getting frustrated.
  6. Searching further for a spot.
  7. Sun going down and we’re going home — without a spot.

So yeah, that was pretty terrible. Although we were able to see a lot of Joshua Tree National Park by simply driving around, we missed out on the full experience as well as a campsite.


HERE IS WHAT I RECOMMEND

Campsites at Joshua tree are very hard to come by during peak season. If you can’t get to Joshua Tree before everyone else (arriving Thursday or so) I’d highly advise you not to chance it. Here is what I would do:

  • Reserve a campsite online: You can book Black Rock and Indian Cove online, as well as all of the larger group sites (if you have enough people). Although I haven’t seen Black Rock, I stayed at Indian Cove the second time around and it was incredible. Reservations are bookable 6 months out and if you have a specific weekend that you’re planning on, I highly suggest getting a reservation as far out as possible.
  • Even if you aren’t arriving on the weekend, I recommend a reservation at Indian Cove. This is because it’s my favorite of all of the campgrounds (yes, even over Jumbo Rocks) as the campsites do not feel as crammed together. Indian Cove is also reservation only although if you arrive during the week and find an open spot, a quick trip down to the nearby ranger station should reserve it.
  • Book on the side of the campground away from the highway / town below. The only complains I’ve read about on the campground is that from the closer side, you can see a bit of city lights? If you stay anywhere close to where I did (tent site #80) The rocks completely block any of that, and you’ll get a full field of stars above.
  • Bring lots of warm clothes and blankets in addition to decent sleeping bags. The peak season exists because it’s not overbearingly hot during the day, but the nighttime can get cold. Expect 40 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Lastly, and this isn’t really a suggestion and more of “you better do this!” — Pick up your trash. Keep your tent site clean. Obey the rules of the park rangers. National parks like Joshua Tree are very special places and the better we take care of them, the better they’ll take care of us (as cheesy as that sounds).

My second time camping at Joshua Tree National Park went off without a hitch. I was honestly pretty stressed out, with fresh memories of the previous time still in my head (What’s going to go wrong this time?), but because we reserved a site, and came very prepared we had a great time. It was simply sublime to sit by the campfire, tasty IPA in hand, and look up at those stars, wondering what other adventures await next.

Have you ever ran into a similar situation at Joshua Tree? Planning a visit? Let me know in the comments!