Located less than an hour away from Palm Springs and 2.5 hours east of the bustling L.A. metropolis lies a national park like no other. Upon entering the park you will, of course, see the unique trees that the park is named for, however, if you keep driving, you’ll find cell coverage drops out, huge rocks rise out of the desert, and you are transported into a sanctuary devoid of all of the distractions of modern day life. Combine that with the exquisite lack of humidity and sunsets/sunrises that are out of this world and you have one of the most enjoyable places we’ve ever camped.

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If you follow our blog, we’re going to bet there is a solid chance that you’ve got kiddos along for the ride. Like most things, bringing the littles along (and making sure everyone has a good time) requires some advanced planning, a little extra equipment, and of course s’mores. Additionally, the campsite itself ideally meets a few criteria:

  • Reservations available during the high season (i.e. not first come, first serve sites) because who really wants to sink the time and effort into planning a trip only to drive out to said location and find out its full? Me please, said no parent ever. Thus, all the campgrounds below accept reservations from early-September to late-May (i.e. the most ideal camping months for this area) up to 6 months in advance. You can log onto recreation.gov to see what is available and snag your site!
  • Ideal location (this is of course dependent on the type of experience you are seeking as well as the facilities you desire to have available at the campground)
  • Solid facilities available. Each of the campgrounds below will have picnic table, fire pit, BBQ/grill all on site, as well as community toilets (some vault style while others flush). 
  • Great hiking options within close proximity.

3 Best Campgrounds for Families in Joshua Tree National Park

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3. Black Rock Campground

Black Rock offers excellent camping for numerous reasons, but definitely exudes a different feel than both Indian Cove and Jumbo Rock. Although it offers more Joshua Trees than Indian Cove, it lacks the sea of boulders making for fewer spots for our kiddos to play “Elsa’s Castle,” “pirates,” or “club house.” It sounds like a small thing, but the ability for our kids to self-entertain when we are setting up/breaking down camp, as well as preparing meals is huge. Additionally, the close proximity of sites and lack of giant rocks lend the sites to a more “open feel” equating to less privacy. Though this isn’t a deal breaker for us as Black Rock still has a ton to offer, it is nice to feel a bit more isolated and tucked in-between some boulders when camping (you’ll see what we mean when you hit campground #1 on our list).

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On the flip side, however, Black Rock is located in a different section of the park and away from the “main drag” making it much less populated and overrun. It’s surprising how many folks come to Joshua Tree NP to visit and never even see this portion of the park. Moreover, the location of Black Rock allows for easier to access to Hwy 62 meaning it is much closer to stores should you forget a camping essential (contrast this location to Jumbo Rocks, which would be a 45 min drive or so to get anywhere for supplies). Additionally, if you need to be within cell range (like when Dom was on call for work) the major benefit of Black Rock is that the entire campground has reliable cell coverage with the carrier, Verizon.

For the record, we have stayed at sites #99 and 72, both of which were nice, but neither stood out. Honestly most sites at this campground are fairly equal. *The site pictured above is site #99.

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Loves:

  • It’s big. With 99 available sites which come in a variety of sizes accommodating anything from a small backpacking tent to a 32′ RV. Tent sites are $25/night.
  • Reservations needed during peak season from end of early-September until late-May, so assuming you plan ahead there is no showing up and finding everything taken!
  • Located fairly close to a trusty Walmart just in case you forget fire wood, water, or any other camping essentials.
  • High numbers of Joshua Trees (we’re assuming you came to see some of those)
  • Lots of birds, especially Desert Quail – our kids loved these little guys!
  • Connectivity. No need to worry about losing cell signal at this location (at the time of our adventures we had Verizon and never had an issue with signal) and “being off the grid.”
  • Flush Toilets (the park’s staff does a great job of keeping these tidy and it shows!)
  • Lots of hiking options (see below a list of our favs!)

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Dislikes:

  • Located outside the entrance gates to the park. Simply, Black Rock although part of the National Park is not connected via road to the rest of the park. This means that you’ll have to leave the campground, drive into the neighboring town of Yucca Valley and drive to the park’s west entrance to access the rest of the park’s attractions (40 minute to the west entrance of the park).
  • Gorgeous and definitely able to stand on its own, however doesn’t quite have the same “Wow, this is amazing!” feeling that Jumbo Rocks or Indian Cove exude (giant boulders are absent at these sites).

Hiking Options

Avid hiker? We highly recommend getting the pro version of the AllTrails app, so that you can stay connected while hiking. In the meantime, check out the linked map of the hikes in the Black Rock area to get an overview!

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Short Loop Hike (3.9 miles roundtrip)

This hike takes you on a quick loop around the hills to the east of the campground. It’s a great length if you’re tight on time making it possible to easily squeeze in during the morning or evening hours (just budget ~2 – 2.5 hours to complete). Like most hikes in the national park, there is very little shade, so make sure to bring adequate water with you, as well as don the appropriate gear to protect you from the powerful rays (hat, long sleeves, long hiking pants, sun glasses, etc.). 

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West Side Loop (4.4 miles roundtrip)

This is another relatively easy hike that takes you on a loop around the (surprise) west side of Black Rock. There was more elevation change than we originally anticipated, but the payoff is that you get some great views of the surrounding mountains. This was one of our favorite hikes to get out on in the evening and enjoy the sunset over the mountains. Just make sure to get out there with enough daylight left (we recommend budgeting 2.5 hours to complete).

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Warren Peak (5.5 miles roundtrip)

Looking for something a little longer in length than the Short Loop hike mentioned above? Warren Peak offers views for days, Joshua Trees at the start and Pinyon pines the higher you climb. Plan on budgeting ~2 – 2.5 hours to complete the hike with littles and don’t forget to pack some snacks for along the way or if it’s cool enough, a lunch to enjoy at the summit (5,103 ft.).

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Panorama Loop (6.5 miles roundtrip)

Looking for something even longer than Warren Peak? Panorama Loop has just a wee bit more length and while the time committment is larger, as well, you are rewarded with some of the best views of this section of the park. One of the highlights is a birds eye view of the Morongo basin, with Mount San Jacinto on one side and San Gorgonio on the other. Like many of the hikes in this area of the park, budgeting ~2.5 hours to complete the loop should be sufficient.

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2. Indian Cove Campground

Like Black Rock, Indian Cove is easily accessible off of Hwy 62, however, it is located much farther west and closer to Twentynine Palms instead of Yucca Valley. As you drive up to the area it’s hard not to be impressed by the imposing mountains. We scoped out this campground a few times and even booked a site for the spring of 2020, however, thanks to COVID (*insert side-eye here*) that booking was cancelled and we were never able to make the trip happen. Luckily, Dom and Miles were able to make it out to the area with a coworker and his boys for a “dudes night” right before we moved to Spain, so thankfully at least some of our crew got the “Indian Cove Experience.”

Although cell signal is strong as you drive up from the highway, it quickly drops off and while a few spots do have some coverage it’s not the most reliable (if cell coverage is important, Black Rock is most likely a safer bet). As far as picking up last minute items that may have been forgotten, there is a small convenience store by the Highway, but bigger stores will be closer to 20 – 30 minutes away.

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Loves:

  • It’s big. With 101 available sites which come in a variety of sizes accommodating anything from a small backpacking tent to a 35′ RV. Tent sites are $25/night.
  • Reservations are available during the park’s high season from early-September to late-May.
  • Still has the “Jumbo Rocks feel” with many of the sites surrounded by giant boulders.
  • Connectivity (there is some cell signal at certain sites).
  • Each site has a fire pit, grill, and picnic table.
  • Easier to find a shaded spot, as several sites are adjacent to big rock cliffs that shade the morning sun (we still recommend a sunshade though as the sun is fierce once it’s at its peak).

Dislikes:

  • Located outside the entrance gates to the park and closer to Twentynine Palms. Simply, Indian Cove although part of the National Park is not connected via road to the rest of the park. This means that you’ll have to leave the campground, drive out onto Highway 62 and access the park via the north entrance (15 minutes).  This easier to access nature sounds good in theory, however, it also makes the area more susceptible to vandalism as well as petty theft (our friend’s sunshade was stolen).
  • Lower elevation compared to the other two campgrounds. This equates to fewer Joshua Trees in the area and slightly warmer temperatures.
  • Vault toilet (flush toilets aren’t necessary for camping, but they usually equate to a cleaner experience – note we didn’t say *always* there!)

Hiking Options

Avid hiker? We highly recommend getting the pro version of the AllTrails app, so that you can stay connected while hiking.

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Forty-nine Palms Oasis (3 miles roundtrip)

If you’ve never had the chance to visit a real desert oasis, this is your chance! This short, very well-maintained hike, like Indian Cove Campground, does not require you to go through one of the main park entrance gates. However, it is a very cool way to see first hand the life giving miracle of water, and made for a great nature session for the kids. The hike starts out climbing a rocky ridge, but as you drop down and thread around a few large outcroppings you’ll see an oasis of palm trees surrounding a natural spring. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the shade provided, just make sure to pay attention to the signs and stay off the restricted areas to protect this delicate habitat! Only downside is you’ll have to jump in the car and drive out to Highway 62 to access the trailhead, but it’s just a ten minute drive, tops!

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1. Jumbo Rocks Campground

Hands down, Jumbo Rocks lands in our top spot.  Honestly, there’s no contest. Located in the middle of the National Park, it’s also the highest elevation campsite, giving it cooler temperatures than much of the surrounding park (if your trip borders the summer months this makes a big difference). Additionally, the campground is also the park’s biggest. As you near the grounds you’ll begin to see the sea of giant boulders surrounded by a landscape dotted with Joshua Trees and you’ll probably be thinking to yourself “How the heck did all this get to be?”

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If you’re thinking ahead and booking for the fall/spring we recommend checking the availability at this campground first. We can confidently recommend sites #4, 11, 16, and 92 (#92, pictured above, is a great site filled with boulders which our kiddos loved pretending was Elsa’s Castle, however if you choose to place your tent in between the rocks, like we did, be warned there is a little bit of a slant).

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Loves:

  • It’s big. With 124 available sites which come in a variety of sizes (if you plan ahead) accommodating anything from a small backpacking tent to a 32′ RV. Tent sites are $20/night.
  • Reservations are needed during peak season from early-September to late-May.
  • Centrally located making it easy to get out and explore various areas of the park (both the northern and southern portions) without the big driving time commitment *Note: the northern part of the park has a higher concentration of attractions including infinitely more Joshua Trees!
  • Each site has a fire pit, grill, and picnic table.
  • No cell signal which equates to family time without distractions.

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Dislikes:

  • Essentially plan to be out of touch. This area of the park has zero cell signal, so if you can’t be cut off from the world due to work, etc. this is certainly not a great option.
  • Bit of a time commitment to drive to the campground (located inside the park), so to avoid setting up camp in the dark, we recommend budgeting some additional time for this (obviously this isn’t always possible, so if you choose this option don’t forget essentials like our Black Diamond Spot Headlamps  and our favorite magnetic Remoji Lanterns!)
  • Fairly long drive out to a store if you forget any of your camping essentials (you’re looking at a solid 45 in the car).
  • Vault toilet (flush toilets aren’t necessary for camping, but they usually equate to a cleaner experience – note we didn’t say *always* there!)

Hiking Options

Avid hiker? We highly recommend getting the pro version of the AllTrails app, so that you can stay connected while hiking.

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Skull Rock Trail (1.7 miles roundtrip)

To be honest this is more of a “nature walk” than a hike, but it’s a great way to see a little bit of the surrounding desert and walk to the always popular Skull Rock without needing to park by the side of the road with the masses. This trail head leaves from Jumbo Rocks campground, so it’s a no brainer if you are staying there (Skull Rock itself is just off the main road through the park, it is almost always full of tourists). Taking the Skull Rock Trail gives you access to the backside of the formation. We recommend budgeting about 30 – 45 minutes for the hike, but still remember to bring plenty of water!

Split Rock and Face Rock (1.9 miles +some extra if you add on Face Rock) 

If you are looking for a little longer hike than the Skull Rock loop and want to get away from any potential crowds, Split Rock/Face Rock trail is another good option. Split Rock loop itself is about 1.9 miles, but you can add on a little more by heading to Face Rock (see photo above to the left). If you go early enough the rocks are big enough to provide a decent amount of shade. Budget about an hour to make sure you have time to explore both sites.

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Ryan Mountain (3 miles roundtrip)

So, the biggest drawback for Ryan Mountain is that you can’t start directly from your campsite in Jumbo Rocks, but since you are already in the middle of the park the trailhead is relatively close by via car. Ryan Mountain is most certainly not anywhere near the toughest climb we have ever tackled (by far), but it is a mountain meaning there is a good bit of elevation gain on the front end as you move directly up to the summit. Standing as the second tallest peak in the national park be prepared to gain ~1,200 ft. of elevation on this short, but sweet hike.

Again, like most hikes in the national park this one is very exposed, so make sure to have that sun protective gear donned. When we climbed it as a family the trail was still fairly icy as well. We would encourage you to use hiking poles, as well as these little micro spike beauties if trying to tackle it during these conditions.

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Back-up Plan

Honestly we would not recommend driving out to Joshua Tree National Park during the high season (fall – spring) and banking on a first come-first serve site. Yes, you might get lucky, but with wee ones in tow to us playing the lottery isn’t worth the excess stress that comes along with road tripping! Having a plan and something already reserved is a huge comfort. However, if you find yourself at the park with all sites full don’t turn around and head home, trust us, JT National Park is too darn cool! Instead, check out some of the hotels listed below. *Note that we haven’t stayed in any of them, so this doesn’t count as an endorsement!

With Hearts & S’mores,

Britt Dom

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2 thoughts

  1. I know these places!! 🙂 I definitely could have used that AllTrails app that day I went to Black Rock by myself after the downpour and couldn’t tell the difference between rainwater runoff trail and real trail. Added a little extra to my hike! Also – skull rock looks like a skull way more without all the snow on it! Great memories of Joshua Tree! I love that place!

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