Camping Alternatives to Joshua Tree National Park

May 12, 2023 | Campgrounds

Camping Alternatives to Joshua Tree National Park

From interesting trees to interesting towns, here are other locations that offer a similar awe-inspiring landscape and ambiance.

By Kerri Cox

Hole in the Wall Campground. I Photo: Scott

Whether Joshua Tree National Park is on your bucket list or already crossed off, there are many camping alternatives you might enjoy that have similar characteristics. From interesting trees to interesting towns, other locations offer awe-inspiring landscapes and ambiance.

Related Planning a Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Located just outside of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park receives more than 3 million visitors each year, making it one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the U.S. You might find long lines at the entrance gates or have trouble snagging campsite reservations, especially during the wildflower bloom. In addition to crowds, you also might face extreme heat in Joshua Tree, thanks to its location along the boundary of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. Wildfires aren’t out of the question, either.

Related How to Secure a Last-Minute National Park Campground Reservation

Despite these concerns, many visitors are wowed by Joshua Tree, an expansive desert landscape dotted by its namesake tree. While the Joshua tree might look like a Dr. Seuss invention, it’s actually a member of the Yucca family. These fascinating spiked plants only grow in a handful of U.S. locations, and Joshua Tree National Park preserves a perfect patch.

Whether you have concerns about crowds or heat or have already visited Joshua Tree and are eager to explore similar wonders, here are some camping alternatives to Joshua Tree National Park.

An Airstream trailer stands parked alone amongst a rugged landscape
Kelbaker Boulders I Photo: Justine & Scott’s Adventures

Camping Alternative to Joshua Tree With More Joshua Trees

While Joshua Tree National Park is widely known as the home of the eponymous trees, the distinct plant species can be appreciated outside of the national park, most notably in the Mojave National Preserve

The Mojave National Preserve practically borders Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. Visitors to Las Vegas, Nevada, can easily take a day trip to the preserve, which is less than 70 miles outside of the city. 

The desert landscape of Mojave National Preserve is similar to Joshua Tree National Park, with the iconic spiky tree speckling the open white sands. In addition to traditional activities, like hiking and biking, Mojave National Preserve is also a popular spot for off-road driving, with several backcountry trails. 

Joshua trees can also be spotted in Los Angeles County’s Antelope Valley and along U.S. Route 93 in an area known as the Joshua Tree Parkway of Arizona.

Recommended camping options in and near Mojave National Preserve include:

A silver Airstream trailer stands parked at a campground filled with cacti
Gilbert Ray Campground I Photo: 4airstreamers

Camping Alternative to Joshua Tree With Interesting Trees and Plants

Of course, Joshua trees are particularly iconic due to their unique shape. However, there’s one plant species that may be more recognizable: the saguaro cactus. While the saguaro is the largest cactus in the U.S., it’s more known for its shape than its size, making it a ubiquitous symbol of the West.

The Sonoran Desert is the only place in the U.S. to find the saguaro, and Saguaro National Park is one of the best places to see this beast of a plant, which can reach heights of 40 feet or more. Straddling the city of Tucson, Arizona, Saguaro National Park offers outdoor recreation in a unique landscape.

A number of hiking trails take you out amid the cacti, where you’ll also find ancient petroglyphs, scenic desert springs, and mountain views. Take a guided ranger tour to learn more about the unique flora and fauna.

After a busy day in the quiet landscapes of the national park, head into Tucson to take in the arts, attractions, and cuisines of this dynamic, multicultural city.

Other areas with interesting trees to explore include Sequoia National Park, Redwood National and State Parks, Caddo Lake State Park, and Great Basin National Park.

Recommended camping options in and near Saguaro National Park include:

A small travel trailer RV backs up to uniquely shaped trees in the desert
Cebolla Mesa Campground I Photo: Drivin’ & Vibin’

Camping Alternatives to Joshua Tree With Cool Town Vibes

One reason Joshua Tree National Park attracts so many visitors each year is its accessible location near Palm Springs, California, a desert town with a cool vibe. Like Palm Springs, the towns of Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, are locations that attract awe due to their culture, history, and natural beauty—each with a personality all its own. New Mexico’s capital city, Santa Fe, is filled with adobe architecture. The town’s much smaller neighbor to the north, Taos, is known as an artsy enclave.

Go whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande, take a hike in the mountains, or take a scenic drive along the Turquoise Trail. However, unlike a national park, the greater Taos and Santa Fe region also has a lot to see indoors—visit the historic Taos Pueblo, tour the Saint Francis Cathedral, or shop at the open-air market at the Palace of Governors. For quirky fun, check out Meow Wolf, a modern immersive art experience. 

Though it’s not particularly close to Taos or Santa Fe, City of Rocks State Park deserves a shoutout. If you love camping amid the giant rock formations at Joshua Tree National Park, you might be similarly amazed by City of Rocks, located in southwestern New Mexico. Massive boulders seem precariously stacked above the campsites, creating epic photo ops and outdoor adventures.

Recommended camping options in and near Taos and Santa Fe include:

People fish at the edge a scenic blue lake
Sesquicentennial State Park I Photo: Holt

Camping Alternatives to Joshua Tree on the East Coast

For those on the East Coast, consider a trip to Congaree National Park—like Joshua Tree, it’s notable for its fascinating trees and immersive habitat. 

South Carolina’s Congaree National Park sees fewer than 200,000 visitors most years, making it one of the least-visited U.S. national parks. Those who trek into the park will find the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the U.S. 

In the wetlands and waterways, cypress trees stand grandly, with massive trunks bulging at the bottom. Like the Joshua tree, these trees seem like relics from bygone centuries. Take a boardwalk tour or paddle Cedar Creek to get up-close views.

While Joshua Tree has its annual wildflower bloom (and the occasional super bloom), Congaree National Park hosts synchronous fireflies a few weeks each spring. This magical experience occurs when massive groups of migrating fireflies gather and flash in unison. The event is so popular the park hosts a lottery for tickets.

Recommended camping options in and near Congaree National Park include:

These locations can give you a taste of Joshua Tree National Park near—and far beyond—the park’s borders.