If you want to explore two other entrances into the park, you can take State Highway 62 east toward the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms and visit Indian Cove or Canyon Road. Indian Cove is home to a campground, picnic area, and the half-mile long Indian Cove Nature Trail. The trailhead to the sixteen-mile long Boy Scout Trail is also located here. Indian Cove is the third region in Joshua Tree that provides excellent rock climbing opportunities. The trail heads south toward Hidden Valley passing through the Wonderland of Rocks region of Joshua Tree. Canyon Road dead-ends at the border of the park where the 49 Palms Oasis Trailhead is located. The three-mile long trail climbs steeply to a smaller oasis of fan palms and pools.
Joshua Tree has a total of nine available campgrounds open all year. None of the campgrounds have hookups or showers and are open due to the sparse desert vegetation. Only Black Rock and Cottonwood have potable water. Black Rock, Indian Cove, and Sheep Pass accept reservations. Jumbo Rocks is the largest campground with 125 available sites. Sheep Pass is the smallest with only six sites. Belle, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan, and White Tank are free campgrounds. Black Rock, Cottonwood, and Indian Cove charge a $10 per night fee. Sheep Pass charges a $35 camping fee. Black Rock and Ryan campgrounds have provisions for horses. Cottonwood and Indian Cove offer group campsites. We recommend contacting the park for more specific information, however Jumbo Rocks was by far our favorite campground due to its central location and nearby bouldering opportunities.
Vast sections of Joshua Tree National Park are undeveloped creating a backcountry paradise. Make sure to park your car by a backcountry board. Cars left parked overnight by the side of the road are a cause for major concern (as odd as it may seem, many people come to Joshua Tree to commit suicide) and your car may get towed. Registration is required, however camping in the backcountry is free. Rules are actually very simple. Campsites must be at least one mile from any road and 500 feet from any trail or day use facility. It is illegal to use any natural water sources in the park (the water isn't potable anyway) so you will have to pack in every drop you plan to use. Be sure to bring a stove, as open fires are not allowed in the backcountry. Leave no trace ethics should be followed including burying all feces and urine in a cat hole.
Until recently mountain biking was only allowed on about 93 miles of four-wheel drive jeep roads. Recently 29 miles of multiuse trails have been opened up to cyclists. One of the most popular routes is a seven-mile stretch of the California Riding and Hiking Trail. The trailhead is located on Park Boulevard just past the North Entrance Station. Most of the route is on an open wash but a compact section provides for a fun ride. Mountain bikers can take the Park Road back to the North Entrance or return via the same route. Another popular region is Queens Valley, which has a tangle of dirt and four-wheel drive roads providing thirteen miles of options through massive boulders and Joshua trees.
During the cooler winter months Joshua Tree is a rock climbing paradise. There are over 4,500 established routes within the boundaries of the park, with most of them located in a 100,000-acre strip between Indian Cove and Jumbo Rocks. Routes range from technical scrambles to extreme climbing experiences over massive boulders of granite. Permits aren't required, however the park is working on coming up with permits for climbing in wilderness regions of the park. Using chalk that matches the natural stone is requested. The use of glue, epoxy or cement to reinforce hand or foot holds is prohibited, as is chipping. Don't start your climb in some ones campsite without permission, and don't climb within fifty feet of any petroglyphs or rock art. If you're going out into the backcountry never climb alone, and always stay within your level of expertise.
Whether you plan to tour the park by car, hike, camp, backpack, mountain bike, horseback ride, Joshua Tree National Park offers a wide variety of activities for park visitors. An incredible biological crossroad, the park offers visitors a unique opportunity to see the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in a single visit. The vast size and remoteness of the park provides a rare opportunity for quiet solitude away from the rush of life.
Just The Facts
Name: Joshua Tree National Park
Location: Southeastern California, Palm Springs
Nearest Major Air Service: Palm Springs, California, Los Angeles, California, Las Vegas, Nevada
Fees & Permits: $10 access fee per vehicle. Backcountry camping permits are free. Permits for rock climbing are not required at this time, but are under review.
Why Visit: Incredible desert paradise. World famous Joshua trees in full bloom from February to April. Tremendous bio-diversity with the Mojave and Colorado deserts meeting in the park. Good nighttime visibility for stargazing compared to nearby urban centers.
When To Visit: October to May
Essential Gear: Depends on activity, sunscreen, hat, lip balm, plenty of drinking water, sunglasses, camera, binoculars, light jacket for changing weather (other equipment strongly recommended)
You Should Know: Summertime temperatures can exceed 110 degrees. During the night, temperatures can drop as much as 40 degrees. Africanized Honey Bees (a.k.a. killer bees) are in the park and there has been one attack on humans. Weather can be unpredictable, stay out of washes as flash floods can happen even if it is not raining in your area. In the winter months it is possible for the area to receive a light dusting of snow. The eastern side of the park is hotter and dryer than the western side.
More Information: Joshua Tree National Park, 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, California 92277, (760) 367-5500.