You know how the phrase “like night and day” is used to describe two things that are completely different? That phrase makes complete sense when you compare the sunny, dry daytime to the starry, cool nighttime environment of Joshua Tree.
During the day, California’s Joshua Tree National Park is a sight to behold. You’ll see everything under the sun (literally) as you explore your way through massive boulders, pristine hiking trails, and viewpoints that will take your breath away.
At night, everything about the desert changes, and not just in terms of the temperature. The stars come out and the entire park is bathed in the light of the moon. Stargazing in Joshua Tree is something that everyone should experience, and out of nearly 500 campgrounds to choose from, these are the best ones to do it:
- Jumbo Rocks Campground
- Belle Campground
- Hidden Valley Campground
- White Tank Campground
- Indian Cove Campground
- Ryan Campground
- Cottonwood Campground
Out of all the campgrounds in the entire park, Jumbo Rocks is the largest. There are 124 campsites here, which is the first reason why so many eager campers come here. There’s almost always a spot available, so it’s your best chance of finding a site for staying overnight, especially for last-minute trips to JT.
The name “Jumbo Rocks” says it all, and not just when it comes to the size of the campground. There are literally jumbo rocks and boulders all around the site, so it’s the perfect choice if you plan on doing some rock climbing or bouldering while in the park.
One of the reasons that Belle Campground is so popular is its proximity to Skull Rock. Skull Rock, a massive rock formation that looks just like a human skull, is just a 6-minute drive from Belle. That means you can wake up and be at Skull Rock for sunrise, well before anyone else.
It’s also super close to Barker Dam, a small lake reservoir that was built in the early 1900s and is now home to one of the most popular walking trails in all of Joshua Tree. It’s about a 20-minute drive from Belle, but considering the size of the park, that’s not bad.
There are only 18 sites at Belle Campground, so good luck getting one of them. It’s first come first serve, and even though RVs are technically allowed, there aren’t many sites here that are large enough to accommodate them. Most of the Belle sites are just big enough for a small tent setup.
Hidden Valley is without a doubt the most popular campground in the entire park. It has plenty of space for small campers and tents as well as larger RVs, but more importantly, it’s conveniently located around some of Joshua Tree’s main attractions and best hikes, like Hidden Valley Trail.
Not only will you sleep under the stars at Hidden Valley, but you’ll do so while surrounded by massive boulders and Joshua trees. Similar to most sites, this one operated on a first come first serve basis, so consider yourself lucky if you get one of the 44 spots.
Since there are so many cool hikes in this area, a lot of people recommend hiring a tour guide. You can book Joshua Tree Hikes and similar experiences on a trusted website for the best rates and the best-rated tours.
Located on the eastern side of the park, White Tank is the perfect place to experience a night or two. You’ll have complete privacy since the sites are spaced far apart, making it a great choice for campers and RVs. Of course, tent campers are welcome as well.
The real reason that White Tank is so popular though, is its location right next to Arch Rock. Arch Rock is one of the most famous rock formations in the park, maybe even in any national park. It’s a massive arch that looks out on a spectacular viewpoint, and it’s just literally a 2-minute walk from this campground.
While some people prefer to camp in the main section of the park, others prefer to stargaze more remotely. If that applies to you, then you’ll love Indian Cove Campground. It’s located outside the entrance gates near Twentynine Palms and has a much lower elevation than many other campgrounds.
Since it’s located more to the north, it’s a great choice if you plan on seeing northern JT attractions like Maze Loop Trail, Willow Hole, Wall Street Mill, or Barker Dam. Another nice thing about it is that it can be reserved during high season, so as long as you plan ahead you’ll definitely have a place to camp at Indian Cove.
If you try for Hidden Valley Campground but aren’t able to secure a site, the next best option is Ryan. Ryan Campground is where you’ll find most of the overflow from Hidden Valley, mostly because these 2 spots are just 6 minutes from each other.
To be honest, there’s nothing overly especially about the campground itself, but the location is prime. If you want to be at the west end of the park but can’t get into Hidden Valley, this is the place to be.
Pitching a tent or parking an RV at Cottonwood has its pros and cons. It’s located on the southeast side of the park, so there’s not much going on nearby in terms of main attractions. However, it’s a great place for birdwatching, and it’s usually quiet since most people choose to stay in the middle of the action.
When choosing your campsite, always consider the things in the park you want to see most. There’s a lot to see here, so think about what you want to see most, then, choose a site that’s centrally located in a way that lets you see all the attractions on your daytime bucket list.