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Joshua Tree Park Ultimate Guide: Backpacking, Hiking & Camping

June 23, 2022

If you haven’t already made it a point to visit Joshua Tree National Park, then I’m so glad you found your way here because by the end of this you’ll be dying to go and have all the resources you need to plan your epic Mojave desert adventure.

Whether your looking to hike to a palm oases or going bouldering on the world famous monzogranite rocks— there’s definitely something here for everyone amongst the 794,000 acres of desert wilderness including:

  • Hikes ranging from easy nature strolls to strenuous multi day backcountry hikes.
  • Tons of rock climbing: mostly trad and bouldering but with a few sport routes sprinkled in there.
  • Desert camping.
  • Phenomenal photography opportunities.
  • One of the best places to stargaze and watch for meteor showers.
visit Joshua Tree national park

Before we start talking about all the cool, epic things there are to do in J Tree, here are some important things to know before you visit Joshua Tree National Park.

After all, it is a desert so summer days are brutally hot and winter nights are insanely cold so pack your bag like a smarty pants and plan your trip like a pro.

How much is the Entrance Fee to Joshua Tree?

  • Day Pass: $30
  • Annual Joshua Tree National Park Pass: $55
  • America The Beautiful Annual National Park Pass (for ALL the parks): $80

To Get A Day Pass or An Annual Pass, That Is The Question…

Buying an America the Beautiful Annual Pass is totally worth it! It gets you into every National Park for the next twelve months.

  • Covers the park admission to all National Parks.
  • Valid for one year from the month of purchase.
  • You can purchase an America The Beautiful Pass at the entrance of a National Park, Visitor Center, or at REI.
    • REI donates 10% of sale proceeds through 2020 to the National Park Foundation

Pro Tip: Pick up your America The Beautiful pass at either REI or the Visitor Center (located by the West entrance) before heading to the park’s entrance so you can pass up all those RV’s and tourists in lines. Psh, rookies. 😉

Why do National Parks charge entrance fees?

So glad you asked! That money goes towards some much needed projects like fixing trails, improving campgrounds, and some desperately needed TLC towards aging infrastructure.

We should we be stoked to pay an entrance fee to National Parks! #playoutdoorsprotecttheoutdoors #loveyourparks

see the cholla cactus gardens when you visit Joshua Tree

What are the Entrance Hours?

Good news: You can enter Joshua Tree National Park any time of day, any day of the year.

With that said, if you enter the park after ranger hours, be prepared to pay your dues on the way out.

Where are the 3 Entrances into Joshua Tree National Park?

different entrances when you visit Joshua Tree
  1. The West Entrance: Highway 62, Joshua Tree Town
    • Most popular entrance
    • Long lines on weekends and holidays
    • Most used entrance for folks coming from Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Diego
  2. North Entrance: Highway 62, 29 Palms
    • Just further east on the 62 from the West Entrance, but with shorter lines during busy weekends and holidays. 🙌
  3. South Entrance: Highway 10
    • Most used entrance for visitors coming from New Mexico, Arizona, Indio

When are the Visitor Centers Open?

The Joshua Tree Visitor Centers are open 8:00am – 5:00pm which you should totally check out for some sweet J Tree swag that supports the park! The Cottonwood Visitor Center is open 9:00am-3:00pm.

Drinking Water in Joshua Tree

Bring plenty of your own drinking water! Do not rely on being able to access any drinking water while in the park. The park recommends that you bring at least 1 gallon per person, per day.

Instead of buying a single-use plastic gallon of water, I highly recommend grabbing one of these 7 gallon water jugs in your car and filling it up before headed out. It’ll cost you less than a cup of coffee, keep you hydrated, and prevent single-use plastic from filling up our landfills. 🙌

And YES, it’s BPA free.

Where is there drinking water in Joshua Tree National Park?

That being said, there are a few places you may access some drinking water.

Purchase Drinking Water:

  • At the West Entrance
  • At the Oasis Visitor Center in 29 Palms (near the North Entrance)

Camp Grounds with Water:

  • Black Rock Campground
  • Cottonwood Campground
  • Indian Cove Campground

Are there showers in Joshua Tree National Park?

Nope.

Here’s your opportunity to embrace keeping things au naturale.

Where are there bathrooms in Joshua Tree?

All the campgrounds in Joshua Tree have bathrooms. And by bathrooms I mean very basic toilets— and no, not the kind that flush.

If you plan on hiking, backpacking, or climbing out of walking distance from the bathroom, be prepared to pee in the wilderness like a pro and be sure to respect the 7 Leave No Trace Principles when taking care of business to protect this beautiful National Park we love so dearly.

Remember, catholes in the desert should only be 4-6 inches deep instead of the typical 6-8 inches.

If you need a Leave No Trace refresher, check them out here.


Now that we got all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the fun stuff to do in Joshua Tree National Park!

Backpacking in Joshua Tree

Registration

Backpackers must register at one of the backcountry boards, there are 13 throughout the park.

Parking

Overnight parking is only allowed at backcountry boards in Joshua Tree.

Where To Set Up Camp

Backpacking campsites must be at least 1 mile from the road and at least 500 feet from the nearest trail. Unfortunately, you can’t set up camp in any of the Day Use Areas.

Campfires

Sorry my adventure friends, but campfires are not allowed in the backcountry.

Trash

Pack it in, pack it out. This includes banana peels, pistachio shells, toilet paper, and other things hikers commonly mistake as LNT friendly.

“Bathrooms”

Don’t expect to find any poopers out there in the wild desert of Joshua Tree so come prepared with a poop kit (trowel, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and baggie to carry out used toilet paper).

Related: Dear Outdoor Adventurers, Please Pack Out Your Toilet Paper

Water

All water for all the purposes (drinking, cooking, cleaning, hygiene) must be carried in by hikers.

The park rangers recommend at least one gallon, per person, per day.

Popular Backpacking Trails in Joshua Tree

Camping in Joshua Tree

Camping in Joshua Tree is a must experience.

Mind blowing sunsets, epic star gazing at night, and magical, sunny mornings waking up to giant boulders that look like they’re from outer space. It’s a no brainer that you have to try camping out in J Tree when you come visit.

Good news is, there are over 300 campsites and they typically cost about $20/night.

RADICAL RESOURCE LIBRARY FOR WILD WOMXN_ACCESS

Campsites with Reservations

These Joshua Tree campgrounds allow you to reserve a campsite up to six months in advance:

  • Black Rock
  • Cottonwood
  • Indian Cove
  • Jumbo Rocks
  • Sheep Pass

First Come, First Serve Campsites

  • Belle
  • Hidden Valley
  • Ryan
  • White Tank 

How to camp at the first come, first serve campgrounds in Joshua Tree:

  1. Find your empty campground and high five your friends because you guys just scored.
  2. Grab a yellow envelope at the campground entrance.
  3. Put your dollars in said yellow envelope.
  4. Put the envelop in the metal box at the campground entrance.
  5. Do a happy dance.

Summer Campground Closures

Did you know that many campgrounds are closed during the summer? If you’ve ever experience the Mojave Desert summer heat then you might understand why.

The following campgrounds are affected by the summer closures:

  • Belle Campground: 
    • Summer Closure: June 10 – August 29
    • Campsites open back up starting August 30th and all sites are available by reservation only.
  • Black Rock Campground: 
    • Summer Closure: Sites 40–60 and 66–99 are closed June 10 – August 29.
    • All other sites are first-come, first served during the summer.
    • Campsites open back up starting August 30th and all sites are available by reservation only.
  • Cottonwood Campground: 
    • Summer Closure: Loop B is closed June 10 – August 29.
    • Loop A sites are first-come, first served.
    • Campsites open back up starting August 30th and all sites are available by reservation only.
  • Hidden Valley: 
    • All campsites are first-come, first-served year-round.
  • Indian Cove: 
    • Summer Closure: Sites 40–101 are closed June 10 – August 29.
    • All other sites are first-come, first serve.
    • Campsites open back up starting August 30th and all sites are available by reservation only.
  • Jumbo Rocks Campground: 
    • All sites are first-come, first-served June 10 – August 29.
    • Campsites open back up starting August 30th and all sites are available by reservation only.
  • Ryan Campground: 
    • Summer Closure: June 10 – August 29.
    • Campsites open back up starting August 30th and all sites are available by reservation only.
  • White Tank Campground: 
    • Summer Closure: June 10 – August 29.
    • Campsites open back up starting August 30th and all sites are available by reservation only.

Camp for Free on BLM Land

Did you know that you can camp for free outside of the park on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Land?

If you find yourself headed out for a spontaneous trip to visit Joshua Tree without a campsite reservation, consider camping out on BLM Land.

“Camping is allowed anywhere in the indicated areas (see images below) except within 300 feet (91 m) of roadways. There are no developed facilities in dispersed camping areas: no restrooms, no water, no trash collection. Bring what you need and pack out all your trash. All vegetation, living or dead, is protected by law. Campfires require a permit, available from BLM offices or online.”

Free Dispersed Camping North of Joshua Tree National Park

camp for free on BLM land when you visit Joshua Tree

Free Dispersed Camping South of Joshua Tree National Park

camp for free on BLM land when you visit Joshua Tree

Learn more about dispersed camping outside of Joshua Tree here.

Hipcamps in Joshua Tree

If you’re wanting to visit the park and kind of want to camp but you also low-key want to stay in an Air BnB so you can charge your phones at night and take a shower in the morning, check out the many hipcamps available in Joshua Tree.

Personally, I wouldn’t be mad about waking up in one of those yurts. Just saying!

Climbing in Joshua Tree

Attention all trad climbers and boulder-ers, you definitely need to visit Joshua Tree for some rock climbing.

With hundreds of thousands of unique rock formations, Joshua Tree has over 8,000 known climbs. It’s no wonder this place has become a world-class destination for climbers everywhere.

J Tree offers tons of bouldering and trad climbing. There are some sport climbing routes but they are most definitely not as abundant.

Word of warning: the grades are steep and J Tree has been crushing climber egos for years. So no need to cry if the struggle is real on a grade that’s usually pretty damn easy for you. Okay, you’ve been warned.

visit Joshua Tree for rock climbing

Classic Bouldering Problems in Joshua Tree

Gunsmoke, an 80-foot traverse and classic J Tree bouldering problem.

Classic Trad and Sport Routes in Joshua Tree

Hiking in Joshua Tree

YouTube video

If you making a trip to visit Joshua Tree National Park, you have to take a hike! And yes, climbing approaches count too. 😉

Nature Trails in Joshua Tree

Skull Rock

Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree

Moderate Hikes in Joshua Tree

Harder Hikes in Joshua Tree

Potential Dangers in Joshua Tree

rattle snakes when you visit Joshua Tree national park
  • Rattle Snakes– Rattlesnakes aren’t aggressive creatures and they don’t eat to run into you as much as you don’t want to run into them! If you encounter a rattle snake, be kind and give them space to do their wild thing.
  • Scorpions– Scorpions aren’t aggressive creatures either and just want to be left alone. Watch your step and don’t stick your hands into dark crevices where you can’t see what’s inside.
  • Flash Floods– If you find yourself caught in the rain or even even simply feeling threatened by looping rain clouds overhead, be sure to stay out of washes and canyons.
  • Abandoned Mines– Fun fact, there are almost 300 abandoned mines in Joshua Tree. Many of them have been boarded up but there are some still with often shafts and deep drops reaching hundreds of feet.

Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree:

  • Joshua Tree National Park is an ancient dessert. So come prepared with all your goods and don’t have expectations to find:
    • Food
    • Water
    • Electricity
    • Hotels
    • Cell Reception
  • Temperatures can fluctuate 40 degrees within 24 hours so come prepared with the right outdoor clothing.
  • Do yourself a favor and grab some pizza at Pie For The People!

Stargazing in Joshua Tree

visit Joshua Tree National Park 2020 for stargazing

Did you know that nearly two-thirds of people in the US can’t see stars where they live due to light pollution? Sad!

Well fear not— Joshua Tree has some of the darkest skies in Southern California for your star gazing pleasure.

Be sure to check out the Sky’s The Limit Observatory for some awesome star watching events throughout the year.

There’s even a Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival held there in the fall.

Meteor Showers in Joshua Tree 2020

Observing an epic meteor shower is just one of the many reasons why 3 million people visit Joshua Tree last year.

  • January 3-4
  • April 22-23
  • May 6-7
  • July 28-29
  • August 12-13
  • October 7
  • October 21-22
  • November 4-5
  • November 17-18
  • December 13-14
  • December 21-22
RADICAL RESOURCE LIBRARY FOR WILD WOMXN_ACCESS

Pin For Later: Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Everything You Need To Know BEFORE You Visit Joshua Tree National Park
Everything you need to know about visiting Joshua Tree National Prk
everything you need to know about visiting Joshua Tree National Park
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Hey you! I’m so glad you’re here!

Hey you! Welcome to my little arête on the internet! This blog is for wild women doing wild things including backpacking, rock climbing, low-waste living, protecting wild spaces, and sustainable adventure travel. My mission is to bring you radical resources and inspiration to add more adventure and less plastic into your life. I don’t subscribe to living an ordinary life. And if you have made your way to this blog, I don’t think you do either. Dare to live wild. See you outside!

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