The Best Desert Camping Spots In The Golden State

The Best Desert Camping Spots In The Golden State

By California.com
August 31, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe. 

Rugged terrain, sundry desert landscapes, cotton-candy sunsets, and starry skies (hello, romantic stargazing nights for two) are the perfect backdrop for camping in the Golden State. Pitch your tent anywhere in the SoCal desert for an unforgettable experience in nature.

Whether it's a weekend trip with the family or a solitary journey backpacking through the wilderness, California’s deserts have it all. So, for your next outdoor rendezvous, stop by one of these top-tier desert camping spots.

California’s Best Desert Campgrounds

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Campgrounds

Set up camp for the weekend at the majestic Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where you can disconnect from reality and connect with nature.

With no shortage of campsites in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park—one of the best places to see in the deserts of California—this hot spot is a camper's paradise. Anza-Borrego camping is an experience of its own and is home to 175 sites. There are a total of four developed campgrounds and eight primitive campgrounds. Primitive campgrounds are free of charge, while developed campgrounds charge fixed rates per night.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground

Location: 200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs

Amenities: Water, restroom, showers, picnic tables, and fire rings

Activities: Biking, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing

Dogs allowed: No

Fees: $25–$80 per night

Reservation required: Highly recommended from October 1–April 30

The Borrego Palm Canyon Campground has 122 campsites with five group sites. Although there is plenty of spots, the campground books up pretty quickly. The grounds accommodate smaller groups of campers, with a maximum of eight people per site. Since the campground is perched at an elevation of 775 feet, you will have to hike your way up to your sweet slumber spot (pack extra water because the trail is very sunny). Start your trek at the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail or Panoramic Overlook Trail for exquisite scenic views. Upon reaching the campground, seek shade under one of the ramadas found on site.

Tamarisk Grove Campground

Location: 5960 Yaqui Pass Road, Julian

Amenities: Water, restroom, showers, picnic tables, fire rings

Activities: Biking, bird watching, cultural sites, hiking

Dogs allowed: Yes

Fees: $25 per night

Reservation required: Reservations are accepted from October 1–April 30

Tamarisk Grove Campground, found at an elevation of 1,400 feet, is home to 11 cabins (glamp away in the Golden State) and 16 campsites. The plentiful towering trees create optimal shade—an ideal solution for the desert heat. Set up camp before adventuring off to hike the Cactus Loop Trail or Yaqui Well Trail.

Palm Springs Campgrounds

When in Palm Springs, explore the desert's rugged terrain before spending a relaxing evening under the stellar night sky.

Nothing beats a Palm Springs getaway, so pack your bags—it's time to explore this desert oasis and stargaze under the stellar night sky. Admire the mountain views and stunning landscape as you walk through Palm Springs, before relaxing as the cool evening breeze brushes against your face. When you are in need of an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, Palm Springs has many options for your desert camping adventure.

Palm Springs Oasis RV Resort

Location: 36100 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City

Amenities: Water, restroom, and showers

Activities: Water aerobics, dance hall with stage, line dancing, creative arts, and crafts classes

Dogs allowed: Yes

Fees: Call (877) 570-2267

Reservation required: Yes

For a wonderful night of desert camping, park your RV at the Palm Springs Oasis RV Resort—which has 140 sites with full hookups—and take in nature’s beauty. Found at the base of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains, this Palm Springs RV Resort offers majestic views from every side and is conveniently located near entertainment centers for all ages. Ride the famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway or catch a play at the theater. For retail therapy, stop by the nearby shops and boutiques. After a long day of shopping, theater shows, and golfing, stop by AJ’s On The Green for a scrumptious lunch or dinner before returning to camp.

Lake Cahuilla Camping

Location: 58075 Jefferson Street, La Quinta

Amenities: Water, restroom, showers, barbecue grills, campsite tables, electrical hookups, and fire pits

Activities: Fishing, horseback riding, hiking, barbecue areas, camping, biking, and bird watching

Dogs allowed: Yes

Fees: $20–$35 per night

Reservation required: Yes

Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area is found in the Greater Palm Springs region, offering 710 acres of greenery and blissful mountain views. The campground provides 91 campsites suitable for tents, trailers, and RVs. Situated at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, Lake Cahuilla is an optimal destination to fish and host an outdoor family barbecue. For those of you who can't tear yourselves apart from the virtual world, the campground offers Wi-Fi stations to satisfy your needs.

Joshua Tree National Park Camping

At Joshua Tree National Park, spend the night at Jumbo Rocks Campground so you can boulder on these massive rocks the next morning.

For one of the best California desert road trips, head to Joshua Tree National Park and admire the obscure Joshua trees, aromatic wildflowers, stellar skies, and extraordinary rock formations. With over 10 miles of hiking trails and 8,000 climbing routes to choose from, you won't be bored for a second. Set up camp in one of nine campgrounds. Keep in mind that during the summer, several campgrounds are closed due to the sweltering heat.

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Location: Twentynine Palms

Amenities: Restroom, picnic tables, and fire rings

Activities: Hiking, camping, wildlife, viewing, and climbing

Dogs allowed: Yes

Fees: $10 per night

Reservation required: Reservations are accepted September–May. Otherwise, it's on a first-come, first-served basis.

At an elevation of 4,400 feet, Jumbo Rocks Campground is Joshua Tree's biggest campground. It features 124 campsites, is equipped with picnic tables, and accommodates RVs and trailers. This kid-friendly campground is surrounded by striking rock formations, too. Make sure to bring plenty of water because water isn't available at this campground (and trust us, you'll need a lot).

Palm Springs / Joshua Tree KOA

Location: 70405 Dillon Road, Desert Hot Springs

Amenities: Free parking, public Wi-Fi, showers, restrooms, and electrical plugs, 

Activities: Pool, tennis court, pool tables, putt-putt golf courses, pickleball, basketball, and hiking

Dogs allowed: Yes

Fees: $45 (average price)

Reservation required: Yes

Situated just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, not very far from the town of Palm Springs, Palm Springs / Joshua Tree KOA boasts a landscaped resort-style setting with plenty of amenities. Guests also have their pick; whether you want to come in an RV, pitch a tent, or stay in a cabin, Joshua Tree KOA has it all. Lounge by the campground's pool (open year-round) or pick a trail and start your hike—the Palm Springs Indian Canyon Trail is a great place to kick-off your adventures. The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is situated nearby, along with putt-putt golf courses, pickleball courts, and basketball courts.

Infatuated with the desert and in need of something more extreme? Go on an adventure and traverse the trails of Death Valley National Park.

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