California Desert Camping

A First-timer's Guide

barrel cactus The desert is not for everyone - that's for sure! At least that's what many people think until they have had a chance to visit the desert and get to know better what it had to offer. The desert is extreme and timing your visit is critical. Summer can be uncomfortable and down right dangerous if you are not properly prepared. Winter can be very cold and inhospitable as well. A rainstorm on a dry desert can cause flash flooding and wind can create black out conditions with blowing dirt and sand. Spring is the best time to enjoy California deserts and the understated beauty that takes some "getting used to". After a wet winter (basically any rain at all) the desert comes to life with wild flowers carpeting the desert floor. We have had a lot of rain this winter (2007-2008) so we predict an amazing bloom this spring. So Cal is (or was) a desert so you don't have to travel very far past the outskirts of civilization to find the California desert.

desert yucca Basic Rules for visiting the desert include being prepared for extreme weather, have plenty of water (and food) and be able to handle a car breakdown as you are often 'out there' alone and your survival depends on - YOU. A very hot day turns cold fast when the sun goes down. You also need to be very careful of rattlesnakes. Watch where you walk and reach and remember they are masters of camouflage and absolutely blend in with their surroundings. The roadways through our deserts are often not maintained very well and travel is slow. Have a plan as to where you are going to spend the night. We drove to Death Valley one weekend without reservations and faced a VERY long drive to find lodging.

Here are some California deserts you may wish to visit and many of them offer overnight camping:

National Parks -
Joshua Tree National Park (San Bernardino)
Mojave National Preserve (San Bernardino)

State Parks -
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (San Diego)
Calico Ghost Town State Park (San Bernardino)
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (San Diego)
Mitchell Caverns State Park (San Bernardino)
Palomar Mountain State Park (San Diego)
Red Rock State Park (San Bernardino)

County and Regional Parks -
Agua Caliente Regional Park (San Diego)
Goose Flats Park (Riverside)
Mayflower Park (Riverside)
McIntyre Park (Riverside)
Mission Trails Park (San Diego)
Miller Park (Riverside)
Palo Verde Park (Riverside)
Vallecito Regional Park (San Diego)

Other California deserts worth visiting include (Death Valley, Devil's Postpile and Bodie State Historic Park)

yucca bloom rock formations joshua tree boulders california desert desert hiking indian cove campground joshua tree national park repelling joshua tree rock climbing joshua tree
JJ's favorite camping trip is Joshua Tree National Park. We go every spring and spend two nights (freezing) and three days (baking) in the camp ground with several families and lots of KIDS! The kids spend every minute climbing the rocks, boulder hopping and exploring and have an absolute blast! Every year I suggest we grab a motel in town (with the pool and air conditioning and heating) and go over to the park during the day - and am overruled - so we camp! It is fun but we always see rattle snakes and I am always worried someone will get snakebite or have a climbing accident. The really great thing about camping at Joshua Tree is that you can go into town and pick up whatever you forget and of course, there is ALWAYS something. Don't forget helmets for the kids -bicycle or skateboarding helmets are perfect! We take the I-10 to the 62 and use the Indian Cove entrance because the rock formations are fabulous. Call 1-800-camp to reserve your spot. (about $10 per night plus the $10 admission for the car (good for 7 days in and out). It is about time to plan our next visit!

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