California

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park

July 13, 2017
Star gazing in Joshua Tree | A Guide to Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

If you know a bit about Joshua Tree, you’ve probably heard that summers are blazing hot. Average temps soar over 100°F June through September. So why would anyone want to go summer camping in Joshua Tree National Park? For us, it was the stars. Warm, balmy nights mean you can enjoy Joshua Tree’s amazingly bold and beautiful starry skies in shorts and a t-shirt.  Most of my childhood memories with camping revolve around wanting to dive into my sub-zero mummy sleeping bag as soon as the sun went down (probably exaggerating a bit since I’m from AZ, but hey, it snows there too). It was fun to actually want to venture out once the sun set. The trade-offs are obvious when the sun comes up, so I’ve gathered a few tips on making the best of your summer camping in Joshua Tree.

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

When to go

You’ll have to be prepared for the heat no matter what time you go in summer, but there’s usually a few days near the beginning or the end of the season with a dip in temperature. Your best bet is to be flexible with your dates, and hit the road when you see the forecast is low. In early June, you can still luck out with highs in the low 90s, which is a lot better than the almost guaranteed 110°F (43°C) in July. Things start to cool off again in September with most days in the 80s or 90s, but it may even drop to the 70s.

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California | Indian Cove Campground

Camp grounds

During the summer months, all campsites are first-come, first-served. This isn’t a problem because you’ll have plenty of spots to choose from. It’s important to note that the camp grounds listed below are typically closed after the first weekend in June through the end of September.

  • Cottonwood Campground, (Loop B)
  • Ryan Campground
  • Indian Cove Campground family sites (West Loop)
  • Black Rock Campground, sites (49-60 &69-99)

We found an awesome spot on the east loop of Indian Cove that was completely shaded by the large boulder hills in this area. Campsites throughout the park cost $15 to $20 per night and have a table, fire pit with grate and a separate small barbecue. All have some form of toilet, either pit or flush. Only Blackrock and Cottonwood have potable water.

You can find more information about each of the camp grounds on the NPS website here.

Bring your water

As noted above, only Blackrock and Cottonwood have potable water. Even so, it’s best to bring your water with you as you don’t want to take any chances in the summer heat. Plan on 1-2 gallons of water per person per day, plus a few more as backup.

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Short hikes

We planned our hiking in the early morning or late afternoon, and avoided anything too strenuous. Here are some short hikes for summer.

Barker Dam Nature Trail – 1.3 mile loop

Indian Cove Nature Trail – 0.6 mile loop

Arch Rock – 1 mile out and back from the White Tank Campground

Skull Rock – This cool rock formation is right off the main road, so you can pull over and hop out if you don’t want to walk. A 1.7-mile nature trail starts in the Jumbo Rocks Campground if you want to walk.

Keys View – There’s a small walking path around the area, but this place is mostly about the view. On a clear day, you can see down into the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea, and the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Star gazing in Joshua Tree | A Guide to Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Stargazing

We’re not expert star gazers (or night sky photographers) but we did learn a few things from our trip to Joshua Tree.

  • Try to go during a new moon. With no moon in the sky, the stars appear brighter and you’ll be able to capture some amazing shots of the Milky Way. The moon was up and bright during our camping trip, and it was easy to see why no moon is better. Even so, the stars were pretty spectacular, so don’t let that deter you from going on your trip.
  • The best time to see the Milky Way in Joshua Tree is April through October.
  • Anywhere within Joshua Tree National Park is amazing for stargazing, so you can either stick to your camp site, or venture out. We stayed near our campsite in Indian Cove, so we had to deal with the large boulder hills that partially blocked the view. Some campsites have better visibility, or you can check out these spots:

Arch Rock – it gets darker on this side of the park, and catching the Milky Way over the rocks looks incredible

Pinto Basin area – this is another spot that gets pretty dark. There are spots to pull off on the road  between Cottonwood and the Cholla Cactus Garden. Keys View is great if you want a wide open view.

Hidden Valley area – another spot with pullouts along the road

  • Joshua Tree is a great place to view the Perseid Meteor Shower, one of the most consistent meteor showers each year. The meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through the path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. In 2017, this occurs July 17 to August 24, with August 12 as the best day to view the meteors.
  • This isn’t in the summer, but Joshua Tree National Park holds an annual night festival. The 2017 Night Festival is November 10-12

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Places to escape the heat

If you want to completely avoid the mid-day heat, consider finding a nearby hotel on Airbnb where you can lounge away the day in your air-conditioned room or by the pool. There are a few great Airbnbs in the area with a pool and cool interiors. If you’re new to Airbnb, sign up with our referral link here, and get $20 towards your first stay!

Pool house starting at $45

Casa de Agave in the Heart of Downtown Joshua Tree, starting at $118

Mid-Century Poolside Getaway starting at $150

Mojave Modern Joshua Tree by Echo Ranch, starting at $180. The pool on this one is a bit questionable as it looks more like a watering trough, but the interior is pretty spectacular.

The hotels in Joshua Tree are limited and pretty basic, so if  you’re looking for more of a resort, you’ll have more luck in Palm Springs, about a 45 minute drive from the park.


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A Guide to Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Star gazing in Joshua Tree | A Guide to Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Arch Rock | Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Star gazing in Joshua Tree | A Guide to Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer Camping in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Happy Camping! And if you have any hot weather camping tips, let us know in the comments below.

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27 Comments

  • Reply Lindz @ I've Been Bit! July 15, 2017 at 11:39 am

    I’ve heard so many good things about camping at Joshua Tree, but I didn’t realize just how hot it could get!! I’d love to enjoy the stars out there though, I’m sure it must have been breathtaking!

    Thanks for all these tips – I’ll be keeping them in mind for when I get out there! 🙂

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 15, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Summers are scorching, so good thing you’ve been warned! Hope you can make it soon!

  • Reply Anna July 15, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    The photos in this post are amazing! Especially the night time shots – they’re incredible!
    Thank you so much for sharing your time there 🙂

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 15, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks Anna! It was our first time experimenting with some night time shots. Joshua Tree is the perfect place to try out some Astrophotography because the stars are so incredible here!

  • Reply Travelling Dany July 15, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    We didn’t spend the night in Joshua tree but I see that we should have! This article brings back memories, thank you very much for posting it!

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 15, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      You’ll have to come back for another visit! 🙂

  • Reply Greta Pickles Travel blog July 15, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    Gorgeous photos! This is so well laid out in terms of your suggestions (and as a hater of crazy heat I love that you give tips for where to go to stay away from the hot heat too.) I always love star gazing photos but have never done it myself, but it sounds like that’s the best time of day to be out anyways so it’d be so fun to try!

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 15, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      Thanks Greta! We had so much fun taking these pictures, and the night time weather was perfect for it!

  • Reply Vanessa July 15, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    I’ve never been to Joshua Tree National Park, but these photos definitely make me want to visit. The stargazing sounds incredible. Thanks for all the tips, especially about the heat. I’m not a fan of super hot temps.

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 15, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      It’s definitely best to be prepared to deal with these hot temperatures, but definitely worth it!

  • Reply Global Brunch July 15, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    The landscape looks amazing and oh my I can only imagine how incredible star gazing there must have been. I’ve always wanted to visit Joshua Tree National Park, but I’d definitely have to pick a day with lower temperatures.

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 15, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      Summer is great for star gazing, but it’s definitely a good idea to come in another season if you want to do more hiking.

  • Reply Tarah Vongbouthdy July 15, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Great post! We’ve been dying to make it Joshua tree, so maybe this is exactly what we needed to make the road trip down! Would love to get some great Starry nights down there too!

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 15, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks Tarah! Joshua Tree is such an awesome stop on a road trip, hope you get to go soon!

  • Reply Lisa July 15, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    I would love to go hiking and photography this place.

  • Reply Kaisa Lee July 15, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    I really like any post that goes into this kind of detail about a National Park experience, but this post in particular was perfect. It’s a really good length, not rambling, but I feel like you didn’t leave anything out and I could use this as a guide for the park/area. Thanks!!!

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 16, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks Kaisa! 🙂

  • Reply Erin July 16, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    I’ve only lived in cold climates. So, camping in extremely hot places during the summer kind of scares me (will I melt away?) ha ha. I have avoided it so far. This post has good information though. I’m now willing to try it! Your photos are gorgeous. I especially like your tips about stargazing. I’m only just getting into it (even though I’ve been fascinated by space my whole life). I have binoculars, which I have realized are a good starting tool for stargazing before investing in a telescope. Really hope I can get a DSLR after grad school so that I can start taking (non-blurry/grainy) photos of the night sky.

    • Reply Kelly Barcus July 16, 2017 at 8:54 pm

      Hey Erin, glad I could sway you, even just a little bit. 🙂 But you can definitely visit when the weather is cooler too, the stars are still pretty great.

      Your photography is already beautiful! I’m sure you’d be able to take some great pictures of the stars, especially in a place like Joshua Tree.

  • Reply Agness of aTukTuk July 31, 2017 at 9:46 am

    The Joshua National park is on my bucket list for a while now and I really hope to cross it off soon! Do you have any camping tips I should consider before going there?

    • Reply nomanbefore August 2, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      Hey Agness, we tried to include most of our tips for summer camping in the post above. If you go in fall/spring, I’d definitely try to reserve a camping spot because it gets pretty busy. It can get quite cold in the winter, so you’d have to bring a few more layers if you go in the cooler months. Joshua Tree NP just received the Dark Sky Park designation which is awesome! It’s a great place to include on your bucket list!

  • Reply Julie July 31, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    OOOH loved this article and all your photos! Is Joshua Tree warm year round or does it get pretty cool? I would love to check out the Night Sky Festival!

    • Reply nomanbefore August 2, 2017 at 11:17 pm

      Thanks Julie! 🙂 Winters can get pretty cool, down to the 30Fs! We’d definitely have to pack a few more layers if we went in winter.

  • Reply jen lodge August 12, 2017 at 8:24 am

    we are headed there tonight with our 6 and 7 years olds to see the meteor shower. our first visit! so excited, but not for the 100 degree weather.

    • Reply Kelly Barcus August 13, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      The meteor shower should be awesome. Have fun and stay cool! 🙂

  • Reply Michelle | michwanderlust August 12, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    I love the pictures of the night sky! And yikes, the July temperatures sound awful. Did you have problems with flies and mosquitoes there?

    • Reply Kelly Barcus August 13, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      To say that it gets toasty is definitely an understatement. No big problems with flies, but I did get a few mosquito bites. There isn’t really much water around, so I didn’t come prepared with any bug repellent. I’m sure that would’ve helped. I did notice what looked like a beehive up above our campsite in between the cracks of the rocks, but they didn’t bother us. We just made sure not to leave any food or drinks out.

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