Your Van Life guide for a campervan road trip through one of California’s most favored national parks
Joshua Tree is only two hours from VanCraft’s San Diego rental office. ‘J-Tree’ is the perfect getaway for those looking to disconnect and experience all the beauty its National Park has to offer. It’s not only famous for super scenic landscapes, but it’s also a great spot for hiking, rock climbing, and more.
While some campsites can be reserved in advance, There are many first-come, first-serve camp sites, making it an ideal spot for last-minute adventure van trips. There are also plenty of opportunities for free off-grid camping just outside the National Park boundary. As a choose your own adventure company, feel free to use our itinerary to your liking for a last-minute, long weekend in Joshua Tree.
DAY 1: Before settling into your Sprinter camper van rental, swing by Joshua Tree Health Foods, in town, to stock up on all your grocery essentials, as well as check out everything this sweet little area has to offer. Since it’s hardly been remodeled since the sixties, the town offers a fun opportunity for going back in time.
Once you arrive at the National Park, you’ll find a seemingly endless amount of options for hiking, sight-seeing, and even rock climbing. As we said before, most campgrounds inside the park are first-come first-serve, however there are still a few campsites typically open for reserving in advance. This link should help you with everything you need to snag your perfect spot.
Personally, we love the Hidden Valley Campground for being so centrally located within the park. Indian Wells is another great option for last minute reservations, and is also known for being less crowded. In terms of free campsites, there’s always the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) dry lake bed just outside of town. VanCraft adventure vans are fully off-grid and self contained, allowing you to avoid costly campsite reservations and camp for free. (most National Park campgrounds are often sold out anyways) If you’re new to camping and/or in need of a little extra guidance, we’re big fans of iOverlander for finding free campsites, as well as Maps.me for offline maps and turn-by-turn navigation.
Be prepared to lose cell service within the park (like we said, this is your chance to disconnect). Only one of the many reasons why following the 7 Leave No Trace principles is an essential part of camping, especially when in and around Joshua Tree National Park. If you’re not yet familiar, the 7 principles are as follows:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave it better than you found it
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Your first night in Joshua Tree is yours for the choosing! Soak up the sunset from the comfort of your custom campervan conversion or pop back into town for a bite and/or drink.
DAY 2: Before embarking on what is sure to be a full day, utilize the fully stocked kitchen in your VanCraft adventure van rental to make yourself a rad little breakfast spread. There’s always the town for grabbing a quick “cup of joe”, but we typically prefer good ol’ fashioned coffee made on site.
Once fueled up and ready to go, the Chasm of Doom is a great spot for fellow adrenaline junkies. From the Chasm of Doom website, “When you enter Joshua Tree’s Chasm of Doom, your fate is sealed. Your life becomes an experience of mystery, steep climbs, steeper drops, chimneying, and death-defying squeezes…”. Need we say more?
Take note that a guide will be necessary if this is your first time attempting the chasm. You can book as late as 9 p.m. the night before with Rock Climb Every Day, which is conveniently open seven days a week. The route is dark, steep, and involves tight squeezes, so it’s not recommended if you are claustrophobic. Headlamps, grippy shoes, and helmets are also suggested. If the above description still gets you hyped, save at least an hour for this sort of adventure.
Round out your day with a cold beverage and a picture-perfect sunset over at Valley Floor before popping back into town for dinner. No day’s complete in Joshua Tree without some legendary sunrise or sunset views. That’s a fact.
DAY 3: After another night of sleeping under the stars in your adventure van, your third day in Joshua Tree can be all about hitting the park’s highlights:
- Cholla Cactus Garden (this flat loop leads hikers through nearly 10 acres of landscape)
- Arch Rock (this .3 mile loop is a breezy option for those interested in visiting a natural arch within the granite formations surrounding White Tank Campground)
- Ryan Mountain Lookout (this sun-exposed 3-mile round trip trail climbs 1,050 feet with numerous stone steps, while also featuring impressive panoramic views at the top)
- Hidden Valley Hike (this one-mile loop circles a small valley that is surrounded by tall boulders while also showing off Joshua Tree’s sprawling and rocky landscapes)
- Keys Lookout (this one provides more panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, and is just a 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard down Keys View Road)
- Eagle Cliff Mine Hike (this one should take at least a few hours, rated as a moderate hike while featuring beautiful wild flowers throughout)
After your second full day of touring around, drive up the Pines to Palm highway for another great sunset op.
Should you find yourself with extra time on your hands, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (known for having the world’s largest rotating tram car) offers picturesque vistas of the valley below, as well as two restaurants, several observation decks, a natural history museum, gift shop and over 50 miles of hiking trails once you reach Mountain Station at the top. Mount San Jacinto is another great spot for hiking, or in winter, snow sledding around. All the options.
In short, Joshua Tree National Park is truly a sight to be seen, from its spiky trees to jumbled boulders and everything in between. The surrounding desert town has its own charm that you can only fully appreciate in person to boot. While October thru May are the best months for visiting, there’s really no wrong time to go. VanCraft prides itself in offering the best van for van life. Tag #vancraft in any photos of your next trip. We love seeing what our customers are getting into with our tried-and-true Sprinter camper van rentals. You can receive an instant adventure van rental quote for our short wheelbase here and our long wheelbase here.