Van camping in Joshua Tree National Park puts you right in the middle of two stunning desert ecosystems and beneath one of the starriest night skies in the southwest.
The best part? Joshua Tree National Park in southern California is an easy 3-hour drive from Las Vegas. It’s the perfect spot to spend a long weekend camping, climbing and hiking in both the Mojave and Colorado Deserts (yes, the colorado desert is in Southern California).
With 93 miles of paved roads and more than 500 campsites, Joshua Tree National Park is a great destination for van campers who want to get out and explore the desert.
However, summer in Joshua Tree can be pretty grueling and temperatures drop below freezing in winter. Most visitors head to the park in spring and fall, which can make finding a campsite difficult. Make reservations ahead of time to secure a spot before you arrive. While most campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park require reservations, but there are a few first-come-first-serve sites where you may be able to find a spot. We recommend the Campendium, Recreation.gov, and Hipcamp apps to find campgrounds in the park and outside of park boundaries.
From Vegas, expect to drive about 400 miles altogether to the park. You’ll need to purchase a $30 entrance fee per vehicle that’s good for seven days. Campsites are about $20-$25 per night.
(If you're visiting more than one park, consider the NPS annual pass. Military, seniors, and a few other discounts are also available)
Road trip! Arrive at the park from Las Vegas and stop in at one of the four Joshua Tree Visitor Centers before finding your campsite
Wind down from the drive with a short walk through the Cholla Cactus Garden. While we certainly don’t recommend hugging one of the garden’s teddy bear cholla cacti, they definitely make for a cool photo. In spring, the garden comes alive with a rich variety of colorful desert flowers and blooming cacti.
You also can’t miss the famous Skull Rock, a 20-minute drive down the main road from the garden. The ancient rock took on the shape of a skull as rainwater eroded the granite into the spooky shape we see today.
Stay up long enough to do a little stargazing under Joshua Tree’s breathtaking night skies.
Grab your boots and plenty of water for a full day of hiking in the desert.
Between the sweeping desert views and thick groves of Joshua Trees, it’s hard to find a better hike than the 6.5-mile Panorama Loop. You’ll see Mount San Jacinto, San Gorgonio and lots of Joshua Trees.
If you’re itching to do a little climbing, head to Split Rock Trail. The 2.5-mile loop has lots of options to explore massive rock formations and caves.
Families love the Discovery Trail, a short hike beginning near Skull Rock that shows off some of the coolest rocks in the park.
If you’re visiting in spring, the 6.8-mile Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail makes for a moderately challenging hike that’s pleasantly lined with blooming desert wildflowers.
End the day at Inspiration Peak to watch the sun dip under the mountains. The 1.2-mile hike only takes about 30 minutes, so you’ll have time to make it back to the van before dark.
Pack up the van and hit the road for a few hours of scenic driving and easy hikes through the park before heading back to Las Vegas.
In good weather, try the two-hour drive along Geology Tour Road for interesting rock formations.
Take a short, shady walk along Cottonwood Spring Trail. You’ll end the hike in a peaceful meadow that’s ideal for birdwatching. Or, you can spot even more desert wildflowers along the short Cap Rock Trail hike.
Final stop: Keys View. The popular lookout spot in the Little San Bernadino Mountains has some of the park’s best panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, and surrounding mountains.
The Salton Sea is a bizarre, slightly eerie lake. Once intended to be a resort haven, it became too salty and uninhabitable for wildlife and swimming alike. Not worth staying for a long period of time, but fascinating for a visit.
Idyllwild is a great mountain town at high altitude. Wonderful hikes, beauty, and climbing.
Mohave National Monument is an awesome way to drive to get to Joshua Tree. Slower, but more entertaining
Kelso Sand Dunes is a hidden treasure.
VegasCampers has a small fleet of fully stocked camper vans ready for your next adventure to Zion National Park and other popular destinations. Reserve your van today.
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