Tuesday, September 27, 2022


National park campground alternatives: Joshua Tree

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

R & T De Maris

We never thought we’d see the day when it would be nearly impossible to find a spot for our RV in one of this California park jewels’ campgrounds. But the phrase we’ve been hearing so much lately, “Our national parks are being loved to death,” might apply to this Southern California not-so-quiet-anymore place.

We climbed the hill up from the south side of the park, coming off Interstate 10 one early April afternoon, and it became evident even before we got to the park entrance that there was trouble on the horizon. RVs of every size, shape and economic class were parked outside the park entrance. Yep, good old Joshua Tree has been “discovered.”

R & T De Maris

But just because all the in-the-park sites were full up it didn’t spell a disaster for us. Like many national parks, Joshua Tree is at least partially bounded by public lands. In this case, the southern boundary of the park, between the interstate and the park itself, is Bureau of Land Management territory. And the BLM permits “dispersed” camping in this area.

Mind you, as we drove up Cottonwood Road toward the park entrance, it looked like somebody had issued an invitation for a tailgate party. Dozens of rigs were hunkered down, practically awning-to-awning in some areas. This is NOT our idea of RVing. Happily, there is a road traveling in an east-west direction, paralleling the park boundary. The main road is owned (and marked “permission to travel can be revoked at any time”) by the local water district. As long as the yahoos don’t overdo it and cause the metro to pull the welcome mat, we moved west down the road, looking for more open areas.

R & T De Maris

It didn’t take long, and we soon found plenty of open area where the “dispersed” camping was indeed a lot more dispersed. We pulled the trailer on down a little side path, and within short order were leveled up and sited. Looking out the window during breakfast this morning, we had great views of the hills overlooking the Coachella Valley, nicely framed with spring wildflowers and blooming Ocotillo bushes, taller than our rig.

While the campgrounds back inside the park are indeed much quieter (well, at least they used to be), the buzz of the distant interstate didn’t intrude on our sleep. Getting into the park to catch the scenery or hike a trail up through those mystical Joshua trees is simple enough. We could just leave the trailer where it was and head up to the entrance station, only minutes away. And since we’re on BLM land, thanks to Uncle Sam, our overnights here are free of charge. Sure, bring your own water, and no place to dump a tank, but most of the campgrounds inside the park have the same restrictions.

In future posts we’ll talk about other National Parks where “if the inn is full,” there’s still plenty of space nearby.



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Sheridan Ball
5 years ago

My wife, Kathy, and I stayed in the same BLM area south of the Joshua Tree entrance. Very peaceful, beautiful setting but, as you said, take the road away from the groups gathered near the entrance. The farther you go the better, if you truly want to get away from the “Madding Crowd.”

Fred Burns
5 years ago

The north end of Joshua Tree N/P also has a huge dispersed camping area right near the town of Joshua Tree. It gets busy on the weekends with over a 100 campers, but during the week, only about a dozen campers the area. It’s a wide open flat area with some short scrub brush but no trees. Just don’t camp there during or after a heavy rain, as it turns in to a quagmire.

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