Can You Touch a Joshua Tree?

No, you should not touch the Joshua trees if you care about this iconic species that gives Joshua Tree National Park and the area around Joshua Tree its name. While touching a Joshua tree or posing leaning against it or hanging from it for that perfect Instagram photo may not technically be illegal, you don’t want to risk damaging these unique and fragile plants. The best choice is to admire them without actually touching them.

What is a Joshua tree and why should we avoid touching them?

Known officially as Yucca brevifolia, Joshua trees are actually succulents that are native to the Mojave Desert. With their rough bark, and twisty, gnarled branches, they may look tough and indestructible. But, in fact, Joshua trees are quite fragile. That’s because they have shallow root systems, which can break, collapse and eventually die, when subjected to extra stress. Leaning, climbing, or hanging items like hammocks from the succulents may seem like harmless activities; but for vulnerable Joshua trees, they could cause real damage and potentially even destroy the plants permanently.

In addition to being delicate, Joshua trees are actually slow-growing, averaging only about 5 or 6 centimeters per year and taking some 60 years to mature. What’s more, climate change is having a negative impact on the plants. While Joshua trees used to thrive throughout the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico, due to rising temperatures their range has now contracted to Joshua Tree National Park, as well as small parts of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. This means that when many Joshua trees die out, they aren’t being replaced by new ones because the climate isn’t suitable — making it even more imperative to treat them with care and respect.

What do the laws say about Joshua trees?

In 2015 conservationists petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to have the Joshua tree listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. But the Federal agency determined in 2019 that Joshua trees did not require protection. Despite this decision, there are other protective policies in place. For example, Joshua trees are a protected species under California state law, which means that it is illegal to harvest them except for scientific or educational purposes under a permit issued by the commissioner of the county in which the native plants are growing. Additionally, Joshua Tree National Park prohibits the use of fixed lines — any line made from any material which is stretched between two points — and attachment to vegetation, natural features or government property. This means that the use of hammocks, clothes lines, dog runs, slack lines, high lines and other fixed lines is strictly prohibited anywhere in the park (including, of course, attaching lines of any kind to Joshua Trees).

So, when we’re snapping photos of our desert adventures among the Joshua trees, let’s all avoid touching them, hanging from them, or leaning up against them. We don’t want to run the risk of forever damaging this iconic, fragile, and important part of the desert ecosystem.

9 sites where you can camp and glamp among the Joshua trees

There are a number of Hipcamps where you can sleep underneath and sit among the Joshua trees. Here are some unique options.

Stargazer Yurt is an excellent site to view stars near Joshua Tree.

1. Stargazer Yurt at Luna Vista Ranch Located 10 miles from the West Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, this well-appointed yurt has sinks with potable water and a gorgeous outdoor shower and bathtub, and you can roll out of bed and then enjoy your morning coffee while sitting among the Joshua trees.

The Grand Tipi has a table in the kitchen area where you can sit and eat a meal alongside several Joshua trees.

2. Grand Tipi @ Camp Temenōs Located on the north edge of Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, just 30 minutes from the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, this peaceful campsite offers a king-sized bed and indoor sink and hot plate. Views of Joshua Trees are also directly outside the door of the tipi. There is also hot and cold running water for showers and cooking. And the kitchen area has a table where you can sit among the Joshua trees while enjoying a drink or a meal.

The Joshua Tree Ranch House gets you outside in your own western town amid Joshua trees.

3. Joshua Tree Ranch House This spacious 3 bedroom Ranch Style home rests on 2.5 picturesque acres amidst the Joshua trees and features a Western theme inside and out, with many creative touches. The large site features your own personal “Town of El Dorado” including a livery capable of hosting an actual live horse (if you happen to have one) and private open-air saloon complete with gaming tables and a bar.

At Majestic Mesa you can camp underneath Joshua trees and yucca palms.

4. Majestic Mesa The High Desert Coyote Crossing at is a 10-acre plot of wild desert just 15 miles from the West Entrance to Joshua Tree. You can camp underneath Joshua trees and yucca palms. Note: you must bring your own water.

At Raw Wood Deck, you can pitch your tent so that you are sleeping alongside the Joshua trees.

5. Raw Wood Deck This is an excellent campsite for groups (you can bring up to 14 people!), located at Pink Cloud Ranch, just 5 minutes from the main entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. You can pitch your tents close to the Joshua Trees and enjoy the stars and the wildlife, including jackrabbits, coyotes, and lizards.

The Pathfinder Tipi sits among Joshua trees in a gorgeous location just 30 minutes from Joshua Tree National Park.

6. Pathfinder Tipi at Camp Temenōs The Pathfinder Tipi at Camp Temenōs will be an unforgettable part of your Joshua Tree trip. Inside this canvas-walled tipi is a queen sized bed. The Camp Temenōs sanctuary features a heated indoor shower and outdoor kitchen so you can experience the desert in comfort night and day.

At Joshua Tree Rock House you can sit in a swinging chair in sight of the Joshua trees.

7. Joshua Tree Rock House This spacious two bedroom 1940s Rock homesteader cabin has a great outdoor space for entertaining. There are expansive views in every direction from the porch swing, and you can fire up the grill and enjoy the starry skies as you gather around the fire pit. The cabin is one of the oldest structures in the area and sits among the Joshua trees.

The Instagrammable Spartan trailer sits amid Joshua trees on the north edge of Pioneertown Mountains Preserve.

8. The 1950 Spartan at Camp Temenōs This immaculately-restored midcentury trailer sits amid Joshua trees. The Spartan trailer sleeps three and has a kitchen with original, working refrigerator, and its own bathroom with sink, toilet, and hot shower.

Camp Ruffin’ It allows you to bring your dog to camp among the Joshua Trees.

9. Camp Ruffin’ It at Joshua Tree This dog-friendly campsite is 5 minutes from Joshua Tree National Park and allows you to pitch your tent alongside the Joshua trees.

Find out more about Joshua Tree

Book your next camping, glamping, or RV trip now

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)

Kim Conte is a writer, editor and content strategist who was born in the Midwest and now lives in Southern California. She's still getting used to seeing mountains when she wakes up and being outside in the winter and not hating it.

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