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Car Camping in Joshua Tree National Park (7 Spots)

We recently spent a lot of time in Southern California with our converted SUV and wanted to find some places we could camp out of our car in and around Joshua Tree National Park. So, after doing some research and actually going, here’s what I found.

To car camp in Joshua Tree, you can either reserve a campground in the park for an average of $20/night or take part in free dispersed camping on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Joshua Tree Lake Dispersed Camping and Joshua Tree North BLM are both dispersed camping areas on BLM land.

Now, let’s get into more options and how to find the sites.

Where Can You Car Camp in Joshua Tree?

Joshua Tree with lots of land
Dispersed CampingReservation?Cost
Joshua Tree Lake Dispersed CampingNoFree
Joshua Tree North BLMNoFree
Gold Park Road CampNoFree
Jumbo Rocks CampgroundRequired$20/night
Ryan CampgroundRequired$20/night
Indian Cove CampgroundRequired$20/night
Black Rock CampgroundRequired $25/night

3 Dispersed Camping Spots in Joshua Tree (Free)

1. Joshua Tree Lake Dispersed Camping

Joshua Tree Lake Dispersed Camping is just north of Joshua Tree National Park, in between Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. The camping spot is on land classified as BLM, meaning you can camp here for free.

Don’t be fooled by the name, the area is actually a giant, dusty, dry lake bed with not much vegetation. However, it’s one of the most spacious dispersed camping areas I’ve seen with gorgeous night skies. Not to mention, you are in perfect viewing distance from Copper Mountain and other surrounding mountains.

They also have fire pits, water hookups, sewer hookups, and decent cell service.

Coordinates: 34.164145256417584 N, -116.21387550484383 W

2. Joshua Tree North BLM

My Photo of Joshua Trees From When We Went

This dispersed camping area is literally just a few miles west of Joshua Tree Lake Dispersed Camping and has just a little more vegetation, but seems to be a little less popular. The area is super flat and large, making it easy for setting up camp.

Unlike Joshua Tree Lake Dispersed Camping, there are no hookups.

Tip: It is recommended to arrive before sundown to scout out a good spot and see the beautiful sunset here.

Coordinates: 34.1648 N, -116.2202 W

3. Gold Park Road Camp

Gold Park Road Camp is known more as an off-roading area than a dispersed camping area but the government absolutely allows dispersed camping here on the sides of the road.

Remember to pack it in, pack it out and leave absolutely no trace!

This road is located north of the national park right below Twentynine Palms.

Coordinates: 34.0889882 N, -116.0140737 W

4 Campgrounds in Joshua Tree

1. Jumbo Rocks Campground

Jumbo Rocks at Jumbo Rock Campground

Jumbo Rocks Campground is one of the most popular camping spots in the area and for good reason. This campground is located conveniently near some of the park’s main attractions. Skull Rock, a fascinating granite rock formation, is just a short walking distance away, while other key sites like Cholla Cactus Garden and the Keys View are about a 15-minute and 30-minute drive.

As the name suggests, Jumbo Rocks Campground is beautifully surrounded by massive boulders and iconic Joshua Trees. There are 124 campsites available, perfect for car camping.

This campsite is equipped with a picnic table, a fire pit, grill grates, and restrooms. However, you should remember to bring your own firewood or purchase it locally, as collecting wood in the park is prohibited. Although, potable water isn’t available at the site, so make sure to bring plenty with you.

One of the big perks of staying at Jumbo Rocks is the dark night sky. This area is recognized as a fantastic spot for stargazing, thanks to the minimal light pollution.

2. Ryan Campground

Ryan Campground

Ryan Campground is a gem that offers an intimate, quieter camping experience. Positioned slightly off the main road, it’s a peaceful retreat for those seeking to disconnect.

Strategically located, Ryan Campground is about a 15-minute drive to popular sites such as the majestic Skull Rock and a 10-minute drive to Keys View, offering panoramic vistas of the Coachella Valley and San Andreas Fault. A short drive north will bring you to Barker Dam, a lovely place for an easy hike.

This campground only has 31 campsites and is more secluded than the park’s larger campgrounds like Jumbo Rocks. Here, you can enjoy the company of the native Joshua Trees and the views of the rock formations without the bigger crowds.

Each site is equipped with a picnic table, a fire ring, and a grill for those lovely campfire nights. It’s crucial to bring your own firewood, though, as wood collection in the park is not permitted. The campground also has pit toilets, but it doesn’t have potable water, so make sure to bring plenty for drinking and cooking.

One of the key highlights of staying at Ryan Campground is the access to the Ryan Mountain trailhead. This moderately challenging hike rewards climbers with incredible 360-degree views of the park, especially stunning at sunrise or sunset.

3. Indian Cove Campground

Indian Cove Campground View

Indian Cove Campground is set among towering rock formations and native desert plants, it’s a favorite spot for outdoor enthusiasts, particularly rock climbers due to its direct access to numerous climbing routes.

While slightly more removed from the heart of the park, Indian Cove is roughly a 15- to 20-minute drive from the popular Joshua Tree Visitor Center. The enchanting Wonderland of Rocks area is practically at its doorstep, and attractions like Barker Dam and Skull Rock are about a 30-minute drive away.

Each campsite comes with a picnic table and a fire ring, letting you dine and share stories under the starlit desert sky. Don’t forget to bring your own firewood, as you’re not allowed to collect it within the park. Restrooms are available on-site, but similar to other campgrounds in the park, there’s no potable water available at Indian Cove, so be sure to bring a good supply with you.

A unique feature of Indian Cove is the half-mile nature trail within the campground, providing an easy and educational walk around the area. You’ll learn about the local flora, fauna, and geology as you stroll along.

4. Black Rock Campground

Camping at joshua tree

Black Rock is approximately a 45-minute drive from the park’s major points of interest, including the renowned Skull Rock and Cholla Cactus Garden. However, don’t let this discourage you. The campground itself is nestled among massive Joshua Trees and features a variety of local wildlife, offering a unique and less crowded experience.

Amenities at Black Rock are designed to enhance your camping experience. Each campsite comes with a picnic table, a fire ring, and a grill for you to enjoy those cozy campfire evenings – just remember to bring your own firewood as it’s not available on site. Restrooms are well-maintained and potable water is available – a rarity among Joshua Tree campgrounds. Moreover, the campground has a dump station, making it more convenient for RV campers.

One major draw for Black Rock Campground is its proximity to multiple hiking trails. The Black Rock Nature Trail, a short 0.6-mile loop, is an easy trek perfect for families. The more challenging High View Nature Trail is a 1.3-mile loop offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Furthermore, Black Rock Campground operates a ranger station, providing visitors with useful information, park maps, and educational programs.

For insight into how we converted our SUV into a camper, give our video below a watch!