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Joshua Tree KOA—A Year Round Camper’s Playground

Published on July 11th, 2018 by Donna Gum
This post was updated on August 29th, 2018

Lots of people, when going to the desert, might think it’s just a bare, hot place and that there’s nothing there except dirt, rocks, and cactus plants. But when I looked into Joshua Tree, I was surprised at the many activities we could do there on our next vacation.

The truth is, the desert at Joshua Tree KOA is anything but boring. It’s a great place for taking pictures, hiking, rock climbing, and looking at the stars. And those with more interest in town life will be tempted by the designer shopping and restaurants in nearby Palm Springs.  Let’s take a look at everything that Joshua Tree has to offer.

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Camper and RV Accessibility

The campground offers 65’ back-ins with 50 amp outlets on gravel sites, so there’ll be no problems finding a good spot for the RV. Some of the sites have trees to provide some shade. WiFi is also available at the campground. Although wood fires are not allowed, propane rings are available for marshmallow roasts.

If we drive our class C to the nearby Joshua Tree National Park, it may be tighter for maneuvering. There is less space there. Because of the desert heat, I’m not expecting much grass, but the cactus and Joshua trees will be interesting and different.

Good Deals on Weekend and Weekly Stays

I plan to keep an eye out for good deals offering discounts or a free night, such as the weekend of May 10-11 2019 where a stay on Friday night gets you Saturday night for only $20. The money raised goes to sending kids with cancer to medically-supervised camps. I’m hoping Joshua Tree KOA is participating in these great deals.

Joshua Tree KOA Amenities

The Joshua Tree KOA offers several amenities. My son and husband will play on the basketball and Pickleball courts. I’ll enjoy the natural hot springs spas. The pool will feel great on the hot afternoons.

If temperatures get too warm, we can always spend time in the kitchen or rec room, or play a game of cards. I’m pretty sharp with a cue stick and challenge anyone in my family to try and beat me at the game in the billiards room. Then my husband will then feel compelled to beat me in a game of miniature golf.

Of course, being the bookworm that I am, I know I’ll hit the library and spend time looking around in the gift shop. I know my son will be sure to entertain himself in the fitness room.

Dog Friendly

The campground is dog friendly, so we won’t have to board our dog for the trip. Although our dog can run free in the dog park, we will need to keep him on a six-foot leash in all other areas, and he can’t be left alone in the camper even with the air conditioner running. One of us will keep our dog happy with our company at all times.


Although they have bike rentals, I know we’ll be taking our own bikes. There are plenty of places to ride the bikes. However, I know that some hiking trails don’t allow bikes.

Open Year Round

Due to its location in the desert, the Joshua Tree KOA is open year round with lots of activities in the fall and winter. Some of these activities include guided hikes into the nearby Joshua Tree National Park, poker games, and aerobics classes.


Although you might have to walk a little distance away from the campsite to get away from the glare of the lights, taking your telescope and looking at the stars opens a new world up above. Love of the nighttime sky brings lots of people with telescopes out to Joshua Tree for that reason. The area is far from city lights, and the stars pop out of the dark sky like jewels.

You Don’t Need to be an Expert With a Telescope

I’m only a beginner, but I’m hoping to see Jupiter and its four moons. Maybe some of the more experienced stargazers will give me some tips for spotting stars I haven’t looked at before.

Wildlife Photos

The wildlife of the area is always interesting if they can be spotted in their natural habitat. Everyone enjoys seeing the bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, coyotes, and black-tailed jackrabbits. My husband is always on the look-out for the local wildlife. He’d consider it a prize if he caught a picture of a desert tortoise which spends most of its life underground or a photo of a bighorn sheep. Especially exciting are opportunities for spotting the wild coyote.

We photography bugs love trying to catch one of the animals in a picture, but you need a sharp eye to see them.

Cactus Flowers

When I go to Joshua Tree, I’m hoping to snap some pictures of a 150-year old Joshua tree. I’m also going to keep my eye out for a twenty-foot Ocotillo with red blossoms or a Century plant which blossoms only once after decades of growth and then is gone. I want to catch a shot of that brief time of blossoming. I’ve read that some blossoms close up during the heat of the day, so I will be sure to take photos in the cooler hours.

Rock Climbing

Our son, who wants to climb rocks, is looking forward to the trip. He’s walking around the house, daydreaming about the Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School. He spouts off the names of climbing challenges like a pro: Trashcan Rock, Streetcar Named Desire, and the Old Woman.

Of course, I worry about him trying rock climbing. He’s only 20 years old, and he thinks he could climb Everest. He does seem to be well prepared with his equipment such as his rope, carabiners, helmet, and water bottles.

Beautiful Views on the Rocks

I asked him once why he wanted to go rock climbing, and he told me the challenges seemed irresistible and that being up on the rocks would let him see beautiful views from an angle that he could never see from the ground. I had to admit that his description made me want to make sure that I got some photos of the rocks he described in the different colors, shapes, and formations. Although I will be keeping my feet firmly on the ground, the names of the rock formations are certainly interesting.

Bird Watching

I’m also going to be carrying my camera with me at all times in hopes I’ll catch some of the birds of the desert such as the Red-tailed Falcon or the Greater Roadrunner. I really want to get a picture of the Golden Eagle which is rare. I’ll be taking my bird book which is nearly worn out from reading so much about the birds in the desert area.

Lovely Sunsets and Skies

Another chance for me to get some great pictures are the beautiful sunsets. During the day, the skies are a clear blue, but twilight brings sunsets an artist would love to paint. I’m going to take some pictures not only of the sunsets and the skies themselves, but I’m also going to take pictures of the rock formations.

Being of different colors, they all take on different appearances with the sun’s last rays of the day. The desert begins to change in the red and purple colors of the desert twilight, so I’m looking forward to getting some nice shots of these. I’m excited about the pictures I’ll be able to add to my album after this trip.


There are several hikes you can go on, ranging from easy to challenging. Some hiking can be done on your own, and some can be led by a guide. I plan to use these hikes to get some of the pictures I’ve been planning on. The hikes will also lead me to opportunities to take pictures of rock formations and oases. I’ve never actually seen an oasis, so I think it will be fun.

I read up on the hiking and found that it’s best to go when temperatures are cooler because it can grow hot very quickly in the desert. I think I’ll go hiking in the early morning before the sun has a chance to get too warm. Three of the best trails for beginners include the Warren Peak Trail, which is hikers only, no dogs, or bikes allowed. This hike should take approximately 3 hours.

When hiking any trail, always be sure to let someone know where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. Take plenty of water with you.

On the same webpage, I saw that the Hidden Valley Trail is another good hike for beginners at about one mile. Due to the terrain, expect at least 30 minutes for this trail, longer if you interested in rock formations.

Ryan Mountain Trail may take about two hours to walk. All three trails are hikers only, with no dogs or bikes allowed.

Preparation for Hiking

In looking up activities for our next vacation, I found that I can prepare for hiking trails in the Joshua Tree National Park by tracking my walks and using that information to ‘hike’ online trails of the park. In this way, I would know if I was ready for the challenge of the trails in the park. I decided I would begin my practice the next morning and see how far I can get.

Nearby Joshua Tree National Park

The Joshua Tree National Park is located less than an hour away from the Joshua Tree KOA. One activity offered by the rangers is a 90-minute tour of the old Keys Ranch, which is the story of a family surviving and living in the desert. The home, a schoolhouse, store, and workshop all remain for guided tours.

Oasis of Twenty-Nine Palms

One of the attractions of the Joshua Tree National Park that I’m looking forward to seeing is the Mara oasis or oasis of twenty-nine palms as it is often called. This name is based on a legend of how the palms came to be planted. I’ll be sure to visit the oasis with my camera to take photos of the plant and animal life. Down through the past centuries, Native Americans, miners, and cowboys all have used the water available at the oasis.

Visitor Center and Book Store

I’ll be sure to visit the bookstore as I seem to find out more about this desert area that interests me. My husband also will be looking over any books on the wildlife of the park.

Every Kid in a Park

I also found out that all fourth graders get a free pass in National Parks. The same page of the National Park website also explained how the kids could become a junior ranger and earn a badge by completing a booklet of activities available at the park. Although our kids are past the fourth grade, I made sure to tell a friend of mine who teaches at the elementary school of the great field trip idea for the kids at her school.

Palm Springs

I decided due to temperatures often reaching a hundred degrees at Joshua Tree during the day, that we would do our hiking and activities in the morning and head into Palm Springs for shopping and eating out in the hot afternoons. The drive to Palm Springs is less than fifteen minutes from the Joshua Tree KOA.


Palm Springs is known as the Rodeo Drive of the West, but there are also 150 outlet shops to look around in that don’t have to break the budget with thrift and consignment shops also available.

Eating Out

After shopping, we’ll have to choose among the 350 restaurants in the area, ranging from pizza shops to international cuisine restaurants. Despite being located in the desert, even seafood dishes are available.

Evening Activities

Some restaurants offer evening shows, or we may see one of the theatre plays in the town. There are several theatres and shows in Palm Springs to choose from.


After watching the poker games at the campground and hopefully learning a tip or two, we may even try our luck at winning at the casino in the area.

Spa Luxury

With lots of spas in Palm Springs, I may be tempted to try one for a day. I’m finding lots more activities in the Joshua Tree area than I ever expected.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Nearby in Desert Springs is a wonderful museum modeled after the Hopi’s pueblos. Aside from being a museum that we plan to tour, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum also hosts events such as Earth Day, Days of the Dead, and Artisans at the Pueblo which displays cultural art. There are also cultural weekends where folks can participate in pottery making, Hopi Kachina carving, and other local arts. Souvenirs may also be purchased from these talented artists.

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

Located in the nearby Coachella Valley, the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve charges no fees although donations are welcome. Guided hikes are available. Although dogs are not allowed at this preserve, the Whitewater and Mission Creek Preserves are dog friendly. Horses are allowed at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, but cannot go into the oasis.

At the Whitewater Preserve is a part of the Pacific Crest Trail on the Canyon View Loop Trail. There we will be crossing the Whitewater River by way of a wooden footbridge. Lovely cream-colored sandstone formations rise high up on either side, and panoramic views can be seen at the higher points of the trail.

Helpful Info

Hiking and Pet Care

The park recommends hiking only if temperatures are less than 80 degrees. It doesn’t take long for the heat to climb to 100 at that point in the desert. Always carry a water bottle with you. Guided hikes are offered during the winter months when the temperatures are often at a nice 70 degrees.

If you walk your dog, remember to carry a small dish to pour water into for your pet every now and then.

Campfire Laws

Remember, wood fires of any kind are against the law in the Palm Springs area.

A Perfect Winter Destination

After I saw that the campground is open year round, I think we’ll consider a week also in the winter at the Joshua Tree KOA. Even the pool remains open year round because it is fed by hot springs and maintains a constant warm temperature.

They have many activities in January and February. We’ll certainly visit this summer, and we may just try a week during the popular January or February months. After all, who isn’t ready for warmer temperatures by the time February rolls around?

It will be our first time camping in the desert, and I’m going to make sure I’m ready for it with my telescope, camera, and hiking shoes. This trip looks like it’s going to be an awesome one.

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