Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Joshua Tree National Park is a magical desert oasis. A place for all kinds of people, from hippies high on good vibes to families doing a grand tour of all the national parks of the southwest. It's no wonder I wanted to see it again after almost 14 years since the last time I visited, and it did not disappoint.
While most people visit Joshua Tree in the summer where the wildlife is plentiful and many plants are in bloom, I still had an amazing adventure in the fall season. Today, I'd like to give you some key points on camping and hiking in Joshua Tree National Park in fall, from what weather you can expect to what you'll see on the trail so you can have the best time at the park's offseason.
Camping in Joshua Tree
I knew I wanted to camp inside Joshua Tree, but getting reservations at national parks is near impossible unless you know where you want to go 6 months in advance. Luckily, we (meaning my partner and dog) were able to snag one perfect weekday camping spot at Jumbo Rocks Campground. This campground was a fantastic stay, at least for someone who is used to primitive camping. They have multiple pit toilets, but no showers or potable water so please bring extra water for you and everyone in your party! You are also allowed to have dogs and campfires at this campground, so that was a nice bonus.
The stars at night were absolutely incredible, with a clear view of the milky way and every constellation imaginable. So make sure to bring a blanket so you can lay out and do some stargazing. Sometimes it's best to leave the campground a bit so their is less light pollution from the campers.
The weather during the day was perfect, a cool 65-70F into the afternoon with some scattered cloud cover. Unfortunately, with the sun starting to go down at 4 o'clock in the fall, it starts to get dark and cold really quickly. When I say cold, I mean like 30 degrees through the night, and for California that is cold, especially camping in a tent. While the campfire definitely helped, once it went out I was shivering out of control well into the daylight. Unfortunately, so was my dog, he was wrapped up in a blanket the entire evening well into the late morning.
The weather can carry based on what part of fall you go in, and if the Santa Anna winds are blowing through, but just make sure to check the weather report before you go so you can prepare accordingly. Just because this is a desert doesn't mean it can't get to freezing temperatures at times but also be in the 80s during the day.
With the cold nights in Joshua Tree, the wildlife viewing is not as spectacular as it would be in the summer, but that doesn't mean there isn't anything to see. In the mornings you hear the songbirds begin to sing as they start to fly into camp and the quail begin to scuttle around. Throughout the day you can see different geckos and lizards, but I didn't personally see much else besides the beautiful cacti.
My favorite part of the wildlife of the park is actually the plants. Excluding the pivotal Joshua Tree, the plants in this area are exactly what you would expect from this high desert ecosystem. With a multitude of cacti, desert shrubs and yucca plants, I was in plant nerd heaven! While nothing is in bloom in the fall, it is still a beautifully diverse area.
All together Joshua Tree National park is definitely worth the visit in the fall because there are fewer people crowding the trails, cooler day temperatures, and still holds so much diversity no matter when you go you really can't lose. It's especially great if you're staying in the park overnight to camp with a fire and stargaze. I do however suggest an RV or van over the tent option if you're not prepared for the cold, and also bringing tons of water and firewood because of the lack of resources at the campgrounds.
Hopefully, this all sounds inviting enough to come to see the southwest during the less busy season of the year to see the different sides of this famous national park.
Until next time,