Dispersed camping in Joshua Tree National Park isn’t actually allowed.
However, there are a ton of dispersed campsites just outside the park’s boundaries if you know where to look.
The best of these free campsites are about a half hour from park. Options are available near all three entrances. Most will accommodate tents, vans, and passenger vehicles as well as RVs and trailers (including big rigs).
Let’s jump right into my favorite free dispersed campsites near Joshua Tree.
Related Post: Where to Go Dispersed Camping in California
Please always follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping, especially packing out all of your trash, including human waste.
Best Free Campsites Near Joshua Tree
Hop down to the free campsite you want to know more about:
- Giant Rock
- Painted Canyon
- Box Canyon
- North Joshua Tree BLM
- South Joshua Tree BLM
- Mojave Trails National Monument
- Chiriaco Summit
Or, use our Joshua Tree dispersed camping map to browse nearby free campsites.
A free campfire permit is required to have a campfire in California (although campfires are banned for much of the year, especially at dispersed campsites).
My Favorite Free Campsites Near Joshua Tree
You can’t dispersed camp in Joshua Tree itself. But there are an abundance of free campsites on surrounding BLM land. Here are seven of my favorites.
Giant Rock (North Entrance)
Giant Rock is one of the most unique places for dispersed camping near Joshua Tree.
Although it’s a little farther away from the national park than the other free campsites on my list, it’s still only about 45 minutes to both the west entrance near Joshua Tree Village and the north entrance near Twentynine Palms.
What makes Giant Rock so unique is, well, the fact that it’s a giant boulder smackdab in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Soaring almost seven stories high, it’s the largest freestanding boulder in the United States (and, possibly, in the entire world).
An abundance of dispersed campsites are scattered around the area, including right near the boulder itself. My favorites are just south of the rock on the east side of Landers Lane.
Know that the unpaved access road does get quite washboarded and some campsites are very sandy. I recommend scouting out your campsite on foot before pulling in, especially if you’re in an RV or pulling a trailer.
Unfortunately, Giant Rock is something of a local party spot. Weekend campers are quite loud and rowdy. The area is also popular for target shooting and OHV riding.
Painted Canyon (South Entrance)
Painted Canyon is my personal go-to for free camping near Joshua Tree.
It’s part of the Mecca Hills Wilderness (managed by the Bureau of Land Management) and is just a half hour from the national park’s south entrance.
Several dozen campsites sit just off of Painted Canyon Road. Although the most popular seem to be those near Painted Canyon Trailhead (the end of the road), my favorites are located just before you enter the canyon itself.
Painted Canyon Road crosses through the Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation for its first two or three miles before crossing over onto BLM land. Please make sure you’re actually on BLM land before setting up camp.
Passenger vehicles do best here (neither high-clearance or 4WD is required), but it’s not uncommon to see people boondocking in RVs and trailers. Just make sure to scout out your campsite before pulling in as there’s a lot of deep sand here.
* Avoid Painted Canyon if rain is in the forecast. Not only are the roads impassable after rains, but it’s in a flash flood zone.
Box Canyon (South Entrance)
Box Canyon is another great place for dispersed camping in the Mecca Hills Wilderness.
These free campsites are only about 10 to 15 minutes away from those in Painted Canyon. In fact, Box Canyon Road and Painted Canyon Road intersect.
Box Canyon Road itself is paved. But, you need to be very cautious before turning off of it into a campsite. Many of the roadside pullouts and side roads are very sandy.
Boondocking is fairly popular here. But, I strongly encourage RVs and trailers to stick as close to the road as possible due to the risk of encountering deep, loose sand. And, you absolutely should get out of your vehicle to scout things out on foot first.
The best campsites here are actually located down side roads. A high-clearance vehicle alone will probably get the job done, but 4WD is very helpful. Once again, deep sand lurks everywhere waiting to swallow up careless campers.
Despite all the sand (and the high winds), the area’s beauty makes dispersed camping here well worth the risk. Sunrise and sunset on the canyon walls are especially stunning.
* Avoid Box Canyon if rain is in the forecast. Not only are the roads impassable after rains, but it’s in a flash flood zone.
North Joshua Tree BLM (North Entrance)
This unnamed swath of BLM land covering a dry lake bed is perhaps the closest free camping to Joshua Tree’s north and west entrances.
Start by looking just east of Sunfair on the east side of Cascade Road near these GPS coordinates: 34.167907, -116.229164. The area is often referred to as something along the lines of “North Joshua Tree BLM” or “Joshua Tree North Dispersed Camping” online.
The area is sprawling, wide-open, and flat with decently maintained access roads (although they are unpaved), making it one of the best spots for boondocking near Joshua Tree. RVs and trailers of all sizes, including big rigs, are fine here.
North Joshua Tree BLM is popular and does get busy. There are usually quite a few people clearly overstaying the 14-day stay limit (perhaps by several months). However, you can usually get away from others the farther east you travel across the lake bed.
The views here are very pretty but it’s not the most scenic dispersed camping area ever. It’s a better homebase for exploring Joshua Tree National Park rather than somewhere to hang out at camp for days at a time.
South Joshua Tree BLM (South Entrance)
For free camping just minutes from Joshua Tree’s south entrance, look no further than South Joshua Tree BLM.
Like North Joshua Tree BLM, this stretch of BLM land has no official name. In addition to South Joshua Tree BLM, it’s regularly referred to as “Joshua Tree South Dispersed Camping” online.
Reach these dispersed campsites by turning north off Interstate 10 onto Cottonwood Springs Road towards Joshua Tree’s south entrance. You’ll see campsites on either side of this road almost immediately.
However, these campsites are very close to the highway. Most campers continue north for about a mile before turning off into a pullout or onto one of the many unnamed dirt roads.
My favorite campsites here are just south of the Joshua Tree National Park South Entrance Sign on the west side of Cottonwood Springs Road. I recommend heading west for about a mile on this unpaved road to find a slightly more private campsite.
Like North Joshua Tree BLM, these BLM lands near the park’s south entrance are perfect for RV boondocking. Both RVs and trailers of all sizes will find spacious, level campsites here. The roads are bumpy but passable by all vehicles.
Mojave Trails National Monument (North Entrance)
Mojave Trails National Monument is another great place to look for free dispersed camping north of Joshua Tree.
The best (for exploring the national park) of these campsites are located just off of Amboy Road which runs from Twentynine Palms up to Amboy where it connects with Route 66.
Depending on where you set up camp, you’re still only about 30 to 45 minutes from Joshua Tree’s north entrance. Yet, despite the close proximity, this area is much less busy (and has much more room to spread out) than most of the other free campsites on this list.
The majority of Mojave Trails is well suited for boondocking in RVs and trailers, including big rigs.
Here is a map of Mojave Trails National Monument from the BLM which clearly shows its boundaries, including those along Amboy Road.
Chiriaco Summit (South Entrance)
Chiriaco Summit is a little different from the other free campsites near Joshua Tree.
While it’s still completely free, it’s not located on public land. It’s actually privately run by a local family.
Tucked away behind the General Patton Memorial Museum, the campground is sprawling and wide open. The level, spacious campsites make it perfect for RVs and trailers of all sizes.
Because this is a private camping area with nearby camp hosts, it feels safe to leave your trailer, tent, or other gear unattended while you explore the national park during the day.
Although it’s not exactly private and you’ll certainly hear highway noise from I-10, the friendly hosts and awesome location just 10 minutes from Joshua Tree’s south entrance make staying here worthwhile.
Do note that this is dry camping only. There are no amenities, although a gas station, convenience store, and café are within walking distance.
Is Dispersed Camping Allowed in Joshua Tree National Park?
Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t allow dispersed camping.
If you want to actually camp inside the national park, you must camp in one of 500 marked campsites spread across 8 campgrounds.
The majority of Joshua Tree’s campsites are available by advanced reservation, although some of the more primitive ones are first-come, first-served.
The first-come, first-served campsites (at Hidden Valley, White Tank, and Belle Campgrounds) cost just $15 per night, but fill up extremely quickly every weekend from September through May as well as most weeknights during the busy spring season.
If you plan to camp in Joshua Tree without reservations and all of the first-come, first-served campsites are full, dispersed camping on BLM land nearby is a great backup option.
This interactive California BLM map from the Bureau of Land Management itself will help you make sure you’re actually on BLM land before setting up camp.
Here is more information on Joshua Tree’s campgrounds, including the reservation and first-come, first-served campgrounds.
Learn more about dispersed camping in national parks.
Related Post: Dispersed Camping on BLM Land 101
Let Us Know If You Have Any Questions!
Dispersed camping near Joshua Tree is totally possible with a little know-how.
Although we know you’ll love our recommendations, we encourage you to do a little exploring of your own since the seven free campsites above are only the tip of the iceberg for dispersed camping in this part of California.
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