Where to Stargaze in Joshua Tree
Camping is one of the best ways to experience Joshua Tree National Park. There are several campgrounds in Joshua Tree, plus a handful of campgrounds near Joshua Tree.
There are nearly 500 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park, most of which are first-come, first-served. Only Black Rock, Indian Cove, Sheep Pass, and Cottonwood Group campgrounds accept reservations from September through May.
If you plan to visit Joshua Tree, the closest major airport is Los Angeles International (LAX). It’s a 2.5-hour drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park on I-110, I-610, and I-10, with no traffic; in the likely event there is traffic, you can expect the drive to take up four hours.
Base yourself to explore the national park from Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, or Twentynine Palms.
If you don’t want to drive, another option is to hop on a flight to Palm Springs International Airport. From here, it’s a 45-minute drive to the Cottonwood Springs entrance of Joshua Tree National Park or a 55-minute drive to the West Entrance.
In this case, you may choose to base yourself in Palm Springs; this guide doesn’t offer additional information about attractions in Palm Springs, so we recommend booking accommodation in Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, or Twentynine Palms, as mentioned above.
How to see the most stars at Joshua Tree at night
At 4000 feet elevation and hundreds of miles from the nearest city, you’ll experience some of the darkest skies left in Southern California at Joshua Tree.
The skies here are so insulated from light pollution that Joshua Tree was recently designated as an International Dark Sky Park.
To park rangers, eliminating artificial light sources in the park, and lobbying for better light ordinances in nearby towns is part of keeping Joshua Tree wild.
Many nighttime visitors will see shooting stars, learn the constellations, or get their first views of the Milky Way in Joshua Tree.
Here is a list of the best nights for stargazing and astronomy so that you can plan your trip. While night sky views are good throughout the park, astral visibility is best on the eastern side, further from Palm Springs.
Tips for Stargazing
- Use Red Lights Only
Do not use bright white flashlights, headlamps, or cell phones. It takes 20-30 minutes for the human eye to adjust to shallow light conditions fully. Bright lights delay this process. You can turn a regular flashlight into a red light by covering it with red cellophane, tape, fabric, paper, or similar materials.
- Bring Food and Water
Plan ahead. There is no running water in most areas of the park.
- Layer Up
Temperatures drop quickly in the evening. Bring extra layers of warm clothing.
- Bring a Chair
You may be on your feet and looking up for long periods. A lightweight folding chair will help keep each person in your group comfortable and reduce strain. Do not trample vegetation and be aware of cacti in your area.
- Watch Your Step
Cacti, nocturnal animals, and uneven surfaces may be difficult to see at night. Use a red light to check your viewing area for hazards.
- Avoid the Moon
Bright moonlight reduces the number of stars you’ll see. Check the moon’s phase and rise and set times to find the best time to stargaze.
Here are the best Campsites in Joshua Tree for Stargazing
Belle Campground is home to just 18 campsites, making it a great choice if you’re looking to get away from the crowds often found at larger camps.
This is an excellent campground in a beautiful national park. It is small, and many of the sites are surrounded by beautiful rock formations.
The hiking in the park is extraordinary. Perhaps due to a lack of support from the federal government, there were no ranger programs while we were there. The handout material on the park was from a season or two ago, and there was a general lack of enthusiasm from the rangers.
Of course, this is dry camping, but the only pump-out station for this large park is at the Black Rocks campground and is not close to the park’s central part. We camped at Belle Campground in a Travel Trailer.
Although a bit removed from the park’s Mojave Desert highlights, it provides easy access to the Pinto Basin and the Sonoran Desert part of the park. Elevation: 3,800 feet (1,158 meters).
Jumbo Rocks Campground
If Joshua Tree camping is on the mind, staying at Jumbo Rocks campground is a must! The Family-friendly Jumbo Rocks campground is located just a short hike from Skull Rock, one of the most incredible rock formations in the park.
Jumbo Rocks are one of four campgrounds in the park that requires reservations year-round. Travelers who enjoy warm, dry winters flock to Joshua Tree from October through May, when temperatures hover between 70-90 degrees during the day and drop to a 40-60 degree range at night.
Summer is the park’s off-season due to the uncomfortably high desert heat. Jumbo Rocks are at an elevation of 4,380 feet.
Jumbo Rocks campground is the biggest of all campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park. Pick from 124 reservable sites that have picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets.
Potable water is not a luxury at this campground; make sure to bring plenty, especially in the summer months!
Jumbo Rocks campground usually fills on weekend nights October through May and can be especially busy during holiday months.
Remember to make reservations as they are required at this acclaimed campground.
Indian Cove Campground
Outside of Twenty-nine Palms, discover some of the best camping in JTree at Indian Cove. Adventure the day away among the steep and tall rock formations that rise from the desert floor. Fall asleep in your tent tucked away amidst it all.
Indian Cove Campground is a hidden gem of a scenic camping area located in the Southern California Desert area of Joshua Tree National Park AND 29 Palms California.
You drive southwest off 29 Palms Highway approximately 5 miles, past the Indian Cove Ranger Station, onto the geologic boulder valley of Indian Cove.
Proximity to rock climbing routes makes this expansive campground particularly appealing to climbers.
Non-climbers will still love the vibrant spring blooms, Mojave yuccas, shrubs, and desert tortoise sightings in the spring and early fall.
Choose from 91 individual campsites and 13 tent-only group campsites. The park allows six individuals and two cars per campsite.
Some sites are on the smaller side and may not be able to accommodate this amount. At Indian Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, water is available two miles away at the ranger station.
Hidden Valley Campground
The Hidden Valley Campground has 44 sites, pit toilets, and no water. The campground is located along the park boulevard and is surrounded by large boulders and Joshua Trees.
Popular among hikers and climbers, the campground is situated in a beautiful desert landscape with an easy trail and climbing access.
Potable water is not available, so be sure to bring plenty of your own. RVs are welcome but must not exceed 25-feet in length.
Because of the park’s arid climate, fire danger in Joshua Tree is almost always very significant. Be cautious.
Campfires are allowed only in designated fire rings or grills found in park campgrounds or picnic areas. Keep fires small. Bring your firewood.
You may not gather park vegetation, whether living or dead, to fuel your campfire. If you plan to have a campfire, bring extra water to douse it thoroughly.
White Tank Campground
If desert camping is on your radar, set your sights upon White Tank Campground at Joshua Tree National Park, where scrambling around striking rock formations and stargazing among some of the darkest evening skies in Southern California are just a few of the highlights.
This small campground with hiking trail access offers 15 campsites, each available on a first-come, first-served basis. Enjoy dinner cooked over the fire pit at the picnic tables available at each site.
Like most campgrounds in this park, the White Tank campground does not have potable water, so bring plenty of your own.
The Joshua Tree National Park camping experience can vary depending on fluctuating weather patterns throughout the year, so visit in late Fall or early Spring if you’re after some of the most pleasant weather.
Wonderful gem outside the Phoenix area. Quiet and clean. Well maintained and level sites with fire rings, grill, and picnic tables.
The sites are nicely spaced from each other—great hiking and mountain biking trails. Close by the playground at the park but not at the campsite. We were shopping in a town nearby.
Sheep Pass Group Campground
Gather your crew and experience the sheer amazingness of Joshua Tree camping at Sheep Pass Campground, one of three group campgrounds in the park.
With stunning rock formations, beautiful starry night skies, a visually captivating landscape dotted with Joshua trees, and easy access to climbing routes and hiking trails, Sheep Pass Campground is a great place to visit; find out how unique Joshua Tree National Park camping is.
The campground offers six group sites, but don’t come expecting electrical hookups. Drinking water is not available, so be sure to bring plenty of your own.
Sheep Pass Group Campground is centrally located within Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California and is easily accessible to hiking trails and rock climbing routes.
It is one of three group campgrounds in the park. Towering rock formations and uniquely shaped Joshua trees surround the facility.
Travelers who enjoy warm, dry winters flock to Joshua Tree from October through May, when temperatures hover in the 70 to 90-degree range during the day and drop to a 40 to 60-degree range at night.
Summer is the park’s off-season due to the uncomfortably high desert heat. Sheep Pass is at an elevation of 4,500 feet and has a mix of both sun and shade.
Located near the park’s southern boundary, Cottonwood Campground has an entirely different feel from other Joshua Tree campgrounds.
For one thing, Cottonwood Campground is located in the Sonoran Desert, so Joshua trees are nowhere to be found.
And because of its relatively low 3,000-foot (914-meter) elevation, it’s generally warmer than the other campgrounds (a good thing in the winter, a bad thing in the summer).
Another plus: Cottonwood Campground is also located near one of our favorite hikes in the park: Lost Palms Oasis. 62 campsites.
Visit Ryan Campground on your next Joshua Tree camping trip for the rare experience of sitting atop a towering boulder as the golden glow of sunset lights up the desert before the stars take over the sky.
Choose from 31 reservable campsites near the park’s center with easy access to Mt. Ryan and Cap Rock. Sites come equipped with fire rings, picnic tables, and pit toilets.
Like many Joshua Tree National Park camping locations, Ryan Campground does not offer potable water, so be sure to bring plenty for drinking and cooking.
Horse lovers are welcome—Ryan Campground houses one of just two designated horse camps in Joshua Tree National Park.
The campground has a peaceful setting, mostly large & spread out campsites, tons of rock formations, and giant Joshua Trees. There are also miles of trails to explore, including the three-mile loop trail up to Ryan Mountain (5,740 feet).
The campground has a vault toilet but no water. Each site also has a table, fire ring, and grill.
Campground roads and campsite parking pads are gravel. Pets are okay (on leash) in the campground but not on the trails.
Black Rock Campground
Sleep and adventure within one of Joshua Tree National Park’s densest Joshua Tree forests at Black Rock Campground.
With 100 individual sites, Black Rock is a quiet and family-friendly Joshua Tree camping location that can be good for both seasoned and first-time campers.
The campground also offers a separate camping area for those with horses. Black Rock is one of only two in Joshua Tree National Park with drinking water, but warm and dry Joshua Tree National Park camping conditions mean you should still bring in plenty of your own.
Choose from a selection of 100 individual sites, each with a picnic table and fire ring. Flush toilets and a dump station make Black Rock Campground convenient for RV camping, but there are no hookups.