Yes, you can backpack in Joshua Tree National Park, and in the area around Joshua Tree. The park has 13 trailheads from which you can embark on a night of backcountry camping in the wild undeveloped Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Because of its mild winter season, Joshua Tree extends the California backpacking season long after the Sierra Nevada is snowed-in.
As a desert at 4,000 feet elevation, Joshua Tree is an extreme environment year-round. There are unique challenges to backpacking in Joshua Tree that go hand-in-hand with its unique rewards.
First, you’ll need to carry all of your water in with you. According the the park, “natural water sources are scarce, easily polluted, and should not be used.” The park recommends 1-2 gallons of drinking water per person, per day. You are, however, allowed to cache food and water in advance for multi-day journeys.
Second, the desert sun is strong. Even if you’re visiting in the milder winter months, you’ll need to bring skin and eye protection.
Third, the desert night gets cold, and you’ll want warm camping gear to sleep comfortably. Because temperatures at Joshua Tree can fluctuate 40 degrees in 24 hours, dressing in layers is key.
More information on Joshua Tree backpacking from the park is located here and here. As always, make sure to bring a map of your route, a compass, and contact rangers for current trail conditions in advance of your backpacking trip.
Joshua Tree has 13 backcountry staging areas at park trailheads with parking, information panels and a self-registration board. Permits are free, and you’ll need to register so rangers know your route and your car doesn’t get towed.
Backcountry camping rules in Joshua Tree stipulate that you can camp anywhere 1 mile from the road and 500 feet from the trail or water sources. This creates a lot of potential for shorter, out-and-back backpacking trips that cut down on the logistical stress of hauling drinking water long-distance.
1. Boy Scout Trail – Follow the footsteps of many an intrepid youth along the Boy Scout Trail, an 8-mile trail that connects Indian Cove with the Boy Scout Trailhead on Park Boulevard. The Boy Scout Trail traverses the Wonderland of Rocks, a region dense with Joshua Tree’s iconic monzogranite rock formations. Use a two-car shuttle system or arrange a pick-up ride if you want to backpack this trail one-way.
2. California Riding and Hiking Trail – At 35 miles long, the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) is a 2-3 day endeavor. It starts in Black Rock Canyon and concludes at the North Entrance of the park, interloping with roads and campgrounds along the way which allow you to cache water and food. You’ll see diverse Mojave Desert landscapes, gain some elevation, and feel like you have the entire desert to yourself on the CRHT. There are a few helpful CRHT guides like this one published online, or contact the park rangers for information on planning your through-hike.
A great alternative to backpacking is to find and book a basecamp and focus on day hikes. Hipcamp offers a wide variety of campsites, glampsites and RV accommodations in the area surrounding Joshua Tree that make excellent jump-offs for visiting the park. Some of these Hipcamps are adjacent to mountains, rock formations and hike-able land that you’ll have all to yourself. Thanks to our activity Filters, you can see options for Joshua Tree Hipcamps with nearby hiking.
1. A View of Joshua Tree at David’s Old Buffalo Ranch David’s Old Buffalo Ranch is everything you want in a Joshua Tree Hipcamp: an affordable, uncluttered desert tent site with water, showers, picnic table and stove right near the park. It’s also across the street from a small mountain that guests can hike and explore for epic views of the sunrise and sunset.
2. Camp Nylen This group campsite is at the foot of a boulder mound on 10 acres of private land. It’s surrounded by private BLM land with dirt roads for hiking and mountain biking, as well as hiking access Black Lava Butte.
3. Joshua Tree Gypsy Camp The Gypsy Springs Ranch is a permaculture ranch just 25 minutes drive from Joshua Tree. It has an outdoor Benjamin Franklin stove for cozy stargazing and a covered outdoor kitchen.
4. DE/TOUR Joshua Tree DE/TOUR lets you sleep in a renovated 1970 Aljo trailer with a large shade structure just minutes from Joshua Tree National Park. DE/TOUR makes a comfortable respite from the desert elements, ensuring that you rest well and limit your sun exposure to the trail.
5. Stargazer Yurt at Luna Vista Ranch If you could transport a yurt with a queen sized bed to the backcountry, it might resemble the Stargazer Yurt at Luna Vista Ranch. Thanks to the Ranch’s 40 acre desert property, the Stargazer Yurt provides palatial respite from the Mojave Desert while still being immersed. There’s even an outdoor soaking tub on-site to help you recover from a long day of hiking in nearby Joshua Tree.
Now’s a great time to find the perfect spot in Joshua Tree for your next camping, glamping or RV adventure. #FindYourselfOutside (TIP: Get $10 off your first booking when you create a new account here and use the referral code JOURNAL)