Indian Cove Campground. Joshua Tree National Park

Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best places for a fall camping trip in Southern California. The weather is mild and breezy, the night sky is cloudless and perfect for stargazing, the crowds are relatively thin and the chance of rain is basically zero. Joshua Tree is a short 2 hour drive from the beach in Orange County.  If you absolutely hate camping, you always have the option of staying in nearby Palm Springs about 50 minutes outside the park. If you’re headed to Joshua Tree from San Diego, you might even consider a stop in Temecula to visit a winery.

I've stayed inside the main part of the park on past trips, but this time we opted to stay in the Indian Cove Campground located in the northern part of Joshua Tree,  just outside of the town of TwentyNine Palms. The Indian Cove Campground is less cramped than many of the campground located in the main part of the park. Most of the campsites in Indian Cove are situated in between giant rock formations that offer a fair amount of seclusion from neighboring campsites.  The tent sites are extremely reasonable for only $15 a night. You can even avoid paying the 15$ entrance fee into the main part of Joshua Tree by hiking the trails located within the Indian Cove Camping area.

The best trail in the Indian Cove section of Joshua Tree has to be the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail. The word “trail” is a bit misleading, as Rattlesnake Canyon is really a maze of giant boulders you’ll have to hop, squeeze through and climb until you've had your fill. There are countless small caves and crevices to explore among the boulders. We even found a few small arches. This is also a popular spot for rock-climbing.  We saw several groups of people climbing in this area of the park.  We spent 3 hours in the canyon navigating through the boulders up the mountainside. We took a break at the top of a large pinnacle of rocks. We came back down limping like wounded birds and covered in scrapes and got ourselves into a little trouble while exploring a pool in a slot canyon when I accidentally disturbed a wasps nest. They chased me up the side of an eight foot granite wall, but I avoided getting stung. I didn't notice how tired I was until we reached the car. This not a hike for beginners or small children. If you plan on hiking to the top of the boulders, do not be mislead by other sites claiming this is a moderate hike. Rattlesnake Canyon will kick your butt. With that said, this was one of my all-time favorite desert hikes.

A few words of warning: The sun can be intense in Joshua Tree and you can end up severely sunburned, even when the temperatures are cool.  Sun tan lotion and plenty of water are the two most important things you can have in Rattlesnake Canyon. I also recommend bringing a pair of leather gloves because the granite in Rattlesnake Canyon is rough and will tear your hands up.

Rattlesnake Canyon was closed for 5 months this year due to graffiti in the canyon. If you see someone vandalizing the park in any way, please report them immediately by calling park headquarters at

Indian Cove Campground can be booked in advance by visiting

Rattlesnake Canyon in Joshua Tree National Park
Directions to Rattlesnake Canyon Trail-head:  From TwentyNine Palms Highway 62, turn right onto Indian Cove Road and drive approximately 3 miles. You will pass both the ranger station and the group camping area. Make your first left onto Indian Cove East and continue one mile through the campground until you reach the parking area for Rattlesnake Canyon. 

Indian Cove Road

Rattlesnake Canyon Trailhead

Joshua Tree National Park Rattlesnake Trail

Joshua Tree National Park


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