Free Camping by Joshua Tree National Park
Probably one of the most popular BLM areas for boondockers in Southern California, Joshua Tree BLM South lies right on the southern border of Joshua Tree National Park. It’s land managed by the BLM, is free to camp on, and offers a free access into Joshua Tree NP. There’s plenty of room for about hundred RVs, and its spread out for miles. You get plenty of elbow room, close access to Joshua Tree NP, and reasonable proximity to town.
Joshua Tree BLM South, Chiriaco, California
Chiriaco Summit is the name of a gasoline station stop along I-10, about 5 miles east of Cottonwood Springs Rd, right where it crosses Interstate 10. It happens to be the closest place name associated with Joshua Tree BLM South.
This area of BLM land had long been used by Joshua Tree National Park as an overflow camping site. The campgrounds inside Joshua Tree NP get booked up very quickly, and as a result, many campers hoping for a starry-night weekend amidst boulders and joshua trees, get sent to this place.
But it turns out, it’s a very popular boondocking site. Thousands of boondockers, every winter, come here and stay for a few nights to a few weeks.
The best time to camp here is from mid-February to early March. This is when wildflowers are at their peak. In some places, you’ll see carpets of purple lupine, golden poppies, and yellow daisies. And you can camp right in the middle of it all.
The usual 14-day limit applies, however it’s rare to see BLM officials here. We’ve camped up to four weeks at a time here, and noted others that have camped even longer.
While the gas station at Chiriaco Summit is just a few miles to the east, the only place for groceries and supplies is a 30-miute drive west into Indio. Don’t worry about leaving your RV unattended for hours because we’ve never encountered a problem when camping here. This area is full of boondockers and they all seem to be respectful.
Note that the Metropolitan Water District runs an underground pipeline buried below a berm that also marks the border between Joshua Tree National Park and the BLM areas. You are not allowed to camp along this berm. There are several places where this berm has a driveway with an access into the pipeline. These driveways are intended for MWD workers. As long as you camp south of the pipeline road, you won’t run into any trouble with the MWD.
Joshua Tree BLM South, Pros and Cons
Pros: Super-easy access, right off the Interstate, lots of places to camp, excellent Verizon 4G signal, completely free, no mosquitoes, no rats or mice, reasonable quiet, no campfire restrictions.
Cons: Some roads can be sandy and soft, flash flooding usually occurs at least once a year, some trash can be found strewn about, can get crowded during the wildflower bloom. Winds blow through here frequently and can experience gusts up to 60 MPH.
Effectively no amenities. Chiriaco Summit offers a gas station with propane tank fill and convenience store. Cottonwood Springs Campground, inside Joshua Tree NP, offers a dump station with potable water fill, as well as trash dumpsters.
Cellphone Signal Strength
Verizon 4G comes in excellent here. There is a cell phone tower located nearby that also carries AT&T.
RV Dump Station
Cottonwood Springs Campground, inside Joshua Tree NP, about 7 miles from the southern park boundary, offers a dump station with potable water fill. It asks for $5.00 on the honor system.
Insects, Pests, & Wildlife
Almost no pests here. We found no mosquitoes, but moths and houseflies will gather. We found no rats or mice scurrying about, no coyotes wandering, no raccoons.
Joshua Tree BLM South remains pretty peaceful, even during peak wildflower bloom. Occasionally, you may hear a dirt bike rider or side-by-side roar by, but it’s few and far between. It’s rare to hear someone shooting guns.
Safe or Sketchy?
Boondocking here seems pretty safe. Even despite many campers being here, they all seem to be dedicated boondockers who respect one another. We often left our trailer unattended to drive into town for supplies, and never had a problem.
There’s no reservations, there’s not even first-come, first-serve. It’s all dispersed camping, you’re on your own.
Any Permits Needed?
No permits are required here. If you drive into Joshua Tree NP, the southern border does not have a pay station. However, if you drive all the way north out the other entrance, you will be asked to pay a park fee. If you never go all the way north, you will never be asked to pay a park fee.
How Crowded Is It?
It’s mostly crowded during mid-February to early March when the wildflower bloom is at its peak. But, you will see several RVs boondocked here all throughout Fall, Winter, and Spring. You won’t find any secluded camping here, it’s a popular boondocking area.
Bureau of Land Management
Palm Springs Field Office
Palm Springs Field Office:
Tel: (760) 833-7100
Overflow Camping, Joshua Tree National Park, published by National Park Service, 2015
Joshua Tree National Park Map, published by National Park Service, 2018
Is Nudity allowed ?February 9, 2021 at 11:45 am
Roy, the BLM does not have any rules against public nudity, although it does have a rule against “creating a hazard or nuisance”. So as long as you’re keeping your nudity confined to your camp, and well away from others, the BLM doesn’t care. However, the BLM does allow state and local laws to apply. Every state has laws against public nudity, hence it’s technically illegal on BLM lands. With respect to Joshua Tree BLM South, I’d recommend setting up camp further away from others, and go willy-nilly all you want. For more discussion about nude camping on federal lands, see… https://www.boondockersbible.com/knowledgebase/is-nude-camping-legal-on-federal-lands/February 9, 2021 at 1:57 pm
Peaceful camping and shooting guns do not really go together. Could not relax with shots being fired the whole time.February 20, 2021 at 3:59 pm
Actually… the state of CA does NOT have a law against simple nudity. Riverside County doesn’t either. What is illegal is lewd behavior. BLM has recently codified its rule on how they handle nudity. This was caused by lewd behavior and “in your face” behavior. They CAN cite you for disturbing the peace or disordely conduct and if you get argumentative, there is always refusal to obey the lawful order of a police officer. Most likely would be enforced by the Riverside County sheriff but nobody is going to be patrolling the backcountry for it. There is cell service in most areas.
But basically, no complaint, no issue. To be fully allowed, nudity needs to be out of sight of developed campgrounds, (picnic table or permanent fire ring) visitor facilities and recognized vehicle off-road trails. Here’s an interesting blub:
https://www.eenews.net/stories/1059950139March 17, 2021 at 3:34 pm