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.
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.
Campgrounds for Summer Camping in Joshua Tree
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 campgrounds listed below are typically closed after the first weekend of 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 a toilet, either pit or flush. Only Blackrock and Cottonwood have potable water.
You can find more information about each of the campgrounds 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.
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.
We’re not expert stargazers (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 campsite 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 from 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
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.