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Joshua Tree National Park: History, Camping Tips and Things to Do

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most iconic and esteemed national parks in the United States. With wild and intricate boulder formations decorating the desert landscape, visitors come from miles around to take in the stunning natural beauty.

Joshua Tree is the closest national park to Los Angeles and San Diego. It attracts about three million visitors annually from the southern California region and beyond.

First-time RV owners and seasoned RV professionals will find dozens of campgrounds to in the area to immerse into this unique geologic landscape. From boondock camping to full hookup RV sites, there’s something available for every type of rig.

Joshua Tree National Park is incredibly large and it can take more than an hour to drive from end to end. That’s part of what makes this national park so incredible. There are the more popular tourist destinations in the center of the park, but Joshua Tree also offer visitors a chance to get away from the large crowds.

With hundreds of unique rock clusters, dozens of unmarked locations to find, and long stretches of intersecting trail systems, RV enthusiasts are guaranteed to have the visit of a lifetime. No matter whether you stay just for the weekend, or plan to hang around for the entire week, the weird and wonderful landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park will surely make for long-lasting memories.

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide for RV adventurers to take full advantage of everything that Joshua Tree National Park has to offer.

All about Joshua Tree National Park

The History of Joshua Tree National Park

The naming of the iconic yucca plants that gave the national park its name has a fabled history. Rumor has it that mid-19th century Mormon settlers gave the Yucca brevifolia its biblical moniker, the Joshua tree. However, this story has been contested by a number experts and it seems that no one can really be certain how the name became popular.

One thing is certain however, the large yucca plant covers thousands of acres throughout the park. 

The historic visitation of the park has been increasing at a staggering rate since the area was first recognized as a national monument in 1936. Throughout the 20th century, Joshua Tree faced a number of continuing challenges with mining operations being set up in and around the area. In 1950, the size of the park was even reduced by nearly 290,000 acres to open up the land to more mining operations.

It wasn’t until October 31st, 1994, under the Desert Protection Act, that the national monument was redesignated as a national park. This bill also added 234,000 acres back to the park. In 2019, the park was further expanded by 4,518 acres, bringing the total acreage to 790,636 acres—about the size of Rhode Island.

The true testament to Joshua Tree’s historical heritage is its deep saga of ancestral traditions inhabiting the area. The earliest known inhabitants of the Joshua Tree National Park area were the people of the Pinto Culture, who lived and hunted in the region between six thousand and ten thousand years ago.

Prior to colonization, the area was also inhabited by the Serrano, the Cahuilla, and the Chemehuevi peoples. The Mojave tribe also used resources from the Joshua Tree region on their migrations between the Colorado River to the Pacific Coast.

The rich and eclectic history of Joshua Tree National Park truly makes the region a remarkable sight to behold, with hopes of continued preservation for years to come.

How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is roughly two hours from Los Angeles, two-and-a-half hours from San Diego, and approximately one hour from the Arizona border.

There are three main entrances to Joshua Tree National Park—west, north, and south. The most popular entrance, by far, is the western entrance, because it is the closest entrance for most of the visitors from Los Angeles and San Diego. This entrance is located off of Highway 62. 

In order to avoid long lines to get into the park, it’s best to visit on a weekday, or to consider one of the alternative entrances to the park. The north entrance, for example, is not much further down Highway 62 and receives considerably less traffic.

For those coming from the east, or southern regions, a great option is to follow Interstate 10 to the southern entrance of the park. This entrance is due east of the Coachella Valley.

Entrance permits are good for up to seven days and can be purchased at the West Entrance Station (near the town of Joshua Tree), the North Entrance Station (near the city of Twentynine Palms), the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, the Oasis Visitor Center, or the Cottonwood Visitor Center. Weekly passes cost $30 for cars, $25 for motorcycles, and $15 for individuals on foot or bike. There is also a Joshua Tree National Park Annual Pass available for purchase for $55. 

Another great option for individuals 62 years of age and older is to purchase the America the Beautiful National Parks and Recreational Lands Senior Pass. The Senior Annual Pass is $20 and the Lifetime Senior Pass is $80. These passes cover entrance and access to over 2,000 national lands sites, including all national parks and national park recreation areas across the United States.

RV Camping near Joshua Tree National Park

There are a variety of campsites available for RV campers near Joshua Tree National Park. Since Joshua Tree is located in the Mojave Desert, most of these campgrounds do not have full hookup sites available for RVs. That means, in most cases, you’ll be dry camping in rustic settings.

However, there is one full hookup RV campground in close proximity to the national park. The Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground has 20 and 30 AMP or 50 AMP electrical hookups and water hookups available. It is $45 a night for partial RV hookups and $50 a night for full RV hookups, however, dry RV camping only costs $30 a night. Most sites are pull-through and have a maximum length accommodation of 40 feet.

Calling to make reservations well in advance is highly advised for the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground because there are only 44 sites available. However, there are several other campgrounds available in the area if you don’t mind the more rustic style of desert camping.

The White Tank Campground accommodates rigs up to 25 feet in length. It is also one of the darkest areas in the park, making it a great option for stunning night skies. There are 15 first-come-first serve sites available.

The Ryan Campground has four reservable sites and 31 first-come-first-serve sites. The Hidden Valley Campground has 44 first-come-first serve sites for a maximum length of twenty-five foot rigs. The Belle Campground has 18 first-come-first-serve-sites and is also a great spot for night sky photography. Each of these campgrounds do not have potable water or dump stations, however.

Two of the largest campgrounds in the area are the Indian Cove Campground and the Jumbo Rocks Campground. The rock formations surrounding Indian Cove make it a popular campground with 101 reservable sites and 92 first-come-first-serve sites. Jumbo Rocks also offers great views of rock formations with 124 sites available for reservation.

Other possible campgrounds to consider are the Black Rock Campground and the Cottonwood Campground. Both have reservable sites, dump stations, potable water, and generators can be run during specified times.

Attractions at Joshua Tree National Park

The amount of things to see and do in Joshua Tree National Park could take weeks to fully experience them all. With 191 miles of hiking trails, 32 trailheads, hundreds of unique rock formations to scale, historic sites scattered throughout the park, and over 700 species of plants, Joshua Tree National Park is much more than the iconic yucca that give the park its name.

One of the most picturesque hotspots in the park is Arch Rock. Although it’s not as big as the park in Utah by the same name, Joshua Tree’s Arch Rock is certainly a noteworthy sight. At dusk the arch rock boulder formation is brazen with amazing crimson hues.

Another popular site is Keys View, the highest viewpoint in Joshua Tree National Park. This incredible lookout point offers 360-degree panoramic views of the Coachella Mountain Range, Palm Springs, and miles of the horizon across the park. Keys View can be driven to and it is also a great destination for watching the sunset but be prepared to arrive early to beat the line of cars.

There are a number of historic scenes throughout the park as well. Wall Street Mill has a number of old abandoned cars and a historic mill that visitors can walk around. There is also the Lost Horse Mine and the Desert Queen Mine, which were both abandoned along with their equipment many years ago. 

The Barker Dam is also a historic dam over a hundred years old. In the winter and spring seasons, the reservoir fills up with water and attracts all kinds of wildlife.

Other notable locations are the Cholla Cactus Gardens, Mastodon Peak, the Samuelson Rocks, the Eagle Cliff Mine, and the Desert Queen Ranch.

When to Visit Joshua Tree National Park

The area of southeastern California that Joshua Tree National Park is situated in is classified as a rain shadow desert. With Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio to the west, the Mojave Desert region typically receives very little rainfall for most of the year.

In August and September, however, occasional tropical storms do make their way into the region from the south, sometimes causing violent downpours. But for most of the year, rain is almost nonexistent. 

Average temperatures fluctuate around 80°F in the summer months, but can sometimes reach highs of 100°F. In the winter season, daily averages center around 50°F. In order to visit during times with ideal temperatures, visitors should plan their trips between March and May, or October and November.

One thing to be aware of is that much of the heat escapes from the desert after the sun has set. For this reason, it’s important to pack various layers of clothing to stay cool during the middle of the day and to keep warm at night. It’s also highly recommended that you pack adequate footwear for hiking through the rugged desert terrain.

In addition, always make sure that you have enough water on hand, no matter what time of year you plan on visiting.

A National Park with Giant Yuccas and Granite Monoliths

There is little else that compares to Joshua Tree National Park. Visitors are often shocked to see the contrast between the arid low desert of the Sonoran and the more vegetated Mojave high desert. From within the very heart of the Joshua Tree area, these two deserts come to meet, making for a vivid and intriguing display between two contrasting ecosystems.

Joshua Tree National Park is also a mecca for thrill-seeking rock climbers seeking to take advantage of the gritty boulders and massive formations. In the spring, a vast covering of desert wildflowers blanket the landscape, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to marvel at the scene.

For RV enthusiasts looking to get away from it all and connect with the elegant landscapes of the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park is undoubtedly a destination to have next up on your list.

Hike out to historic buildings scattered across a terrain of gigantic yucca plants and chestnut-colored rock cathedrals. Ascend rugged peaks to watch the sunset from 360-degree panoramic views. Then wind down for the evening underneath clear desert skies and a sparkling net of stars.

Joshua Tree National Park is southern California’s most incredible national park. No matter whether you decide to stay in the area for a day, or weeks on end, this national park has so much to offer. 

For these reasons and more, it’s easy to see why RV adventurers come from miles around to experience this beloved desert gem.

So what are you waiting for? Book your trip today and prepare to visit the fascinating other-worldly scenes of Joshua Tree National Park.

Looking to visit other National Parks in California? Read our tips for visiting and camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park, Pinnacles National Park and Sequoia National Park.