Free camping inside Joshua Tree National Park actually does exist. But it’s not a practical opportunity for RVers. Much of Joshua Tree National Park is open for free camping, but it comes with some rules and limitations.
Free Camping at Joshua Tree National Park
“Back country camping” is the National Park’s term for boondocking or dispersed camping. Most national parks permit back country camping, but not all. It’s intended for visitors who want to spend several days hiking deep into the back areas of the park. You are permitted to back country camp anywhere inside Joshua Tree National Park so long as…
- Your camp is located at least one mile away from a road,
- Your camp is located at least 500 feet away from a hiking trail,
- Your camp is located outside of a day-use area (picnic area, view point, visitor center, etc.)
You are not allowed to drive your vehicle off-road inside Joshua Tree, which means you will have to park your RV or vehicle at an established parking lot, or away from the flow of traffic, and then hike your camping equipment to a campsite within the above limitations.
For more information, see Page 7 of, “Joshua Tree National Park Guide, 2014” (download PDF here).
Back County Camping Requires Registration
Joshua Tree National Park requires you to register as a back country camper before you set out. You register at any park visitor center. The purpose of this is so that authorities are aware that you’re out there, and that if you’re reported missing they have some information on you. It’s also so that if your vehicle is left parked somewhere, they will know that you’re a back country camper, so that they don’t have it towed away.
If you don’t register as a back country camper, and you choose to park your car, van, or RV along a road somewhere deep inside the park, a park official may come knocking on your door. Joshua Tree is patrolled by rangers. If you happen get away with a night of free camping, consider yourself lucky.
Free Camping Outside of Joshua Tree National Park
There’s still plenty of free camping just outside of Joshua Tree National Park (where you can actually camp in your RV)…
BLM South Campground – This is BLM land located at the southern entrance to the Park, along Cottonwood Springs Rd. You can camp on either side of the road. There are a number of dirt roads that stretch for miles through this area. During the snow bird season, this area swells up in numbers. (GPS: 33.674660, -115.807407). Read more about this at, “Joshua Tree BLM South“.
Chiriaco Summit Free Campground – This is a primitive camping area located at Chiriaco Summit, along I-10, about 6 miles from the Park’s southern entrance. Chiriaco Summit is a fuel station with convenience store, restaurant, and the George S. Patton WWII Museum. The camping area is located behind the museum. There are about 20 back-in sites, most of them large enough to accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. It has a single back-in space for RVs greater than 40 feet. There is a camp host on site. Read more about this at, “Chiriaco Summit Dry Camp Area“.
BLM North Campground – This is BLM land located north of the park, about 10 miles from the Park entrance. It sits on a wide, flat dirt area used mostly by off-roaders. It’s a very dusty, barren piece of land. (GPS: 34.173769, -116.223772)