Where to go?
Backcountry camping is permitted in areas that are:
Before setting out into the backcountry, you must first register at one of the following backcountry boards:
Covering an area of more than 792,000 acres, almost 85% of which is managed as wilderness, Joshua Tree National Park has good wilderness backpacking opportunities for those who are prepared. The safest time to backpack in the park is during the fall, winter, and spring to avoid the summer heat. Potable water is not available and backpackers should carry all of the water they will need. By observing the guidelines below, your venture into the backcountry should be safe and enjoyable. If you have questions, ask a ranger. It is your responsibility to know and abide by park regulations.
Plan and Prepare
You should carry a map and compass when venturing into the backcountry. You may purchase hiking maps at park visitor centers or order them from the Joshua Tree National Park Association, on the Internet at www.joshuatree.org.
If you will be out overnight, park and register at a backcountry registration board—there are 13 within the park. An unregistered vehicle or a vehicle left overnight somewhere other than at a backcountry board is a cause for concern about the safety of the vehicle’s occupants. It is also subject to citation and towing.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Even the soil beneath your feet is fragile when you are traveling in the backcountry. By learning to recognize biological crusts, you can help preserve pockets of life that contribute nutrients and organic matter to desert soils and help absorb rainfall. Typical mature crusts are bumpy and dark-colored due to the presence of lichens, mosses, and bacteria. By walking around them, you will avoid breaking delicate filaments that may take years to heal. To reduce the damage of your passage through the desert, hike on trails, expanses of rock, or in washes.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
It is your responsibility to clean up after yourself. Pack out all trash, left-over food, and litter.
Waste disposal involves pre-planning and some initiative in wildlands. Pack out excrement or bury it in “cat holes” six to eight inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water sources, campsites, and trails. Don’t leave human waste under rocks or in alcoves where it decomposes slowly and is unsightly and unsanitary. Plan ahead to pack out used toilet paper in a plastic bag.
Water sources in the park are not potable and are reserved for wildlife. Water containers for drinking and cooking need to be packed in and packed out.
It is tempting to feed wild animals; don’t do it! People food is not healthy for them and an animal habituated to begging can become aggressive and dangerous.
Be Considerate of Others
Please maintain a low profile when hiking and camping in groups. Limit the size of your group to 12 people in wilderness areas of the park and 25 people in the backcountry. Taking rest breaks a short distance from the trail and breaking up into smaller camping groups will minimize the impact of your group.
That old desert sun can damage eyes as well as skin. Wear a hat and sunglasses and use sunblocking lotion liberally.
Caching food and water
Multi-day hikers are allowed to cache food and water for up to 14 days. It is important to tag your cache with your name and email or telephone number so that park rangers can contact you if they need to remove your cache.
Leave What You Find
Leaving everything just as we find it helps scientists understand the natural balance of the landscape and allows us to share the experience of discovery with those who follow. Visit cultural sites with care and respect. Let photos, drawings, and memories be your souvenirs. Collecting natural and cultural objects is strictly prohibited. All plants, rocks, wildlife, and historic and prehistoric materials are protected in the park including wildflowers.
Last updated: May 20, 2021