Cottonwood Campground is one of the best places in Joshua Tree National Park for stargazing and wildflower viewing. Easy access from Interstate 10, makes it a popular stopover for travelers. Visitors who enjoy warm, dry winters flock to Joshua Tree from October through May, when temperatures reach between 70 to 90-degrees during the day and drop to 40 to 60-degrees at night. Summer is the parks off-season due to the uncomfortably high desert heat. Cottonwood Campground is at an elevation of 3,000 ft. and has little shade from vegetation; however, there are picnic shelters that provide shade at each site.
The landscape around Cottonwood is that of the Colorado Desert, which encompasses the southern edge of the park and a large portion of Southern California. Rather than being surrounded by large rock formations and uniquely-shaped Joshua trees, like campgrounds in the northern section, this facility overlooks flat, open-desert shrubland. It is also further from towns or cities that would contribute light pollution. As a result, it offers wide, dark and uninterrupted views of the night sky that draw astronomers and amateur sky watchers alike.
Cottonwood is at a lower elevation than other campgrounds within the park, so desert wildflowers begin to bloom earlier in the spring than in other locations. Flowering occurs anytime between the beginning of February to the end of March; timing varies depending on the amount of winter precipitation and the arrival of warm temperatures.
Stargazing and wildflower viewing are among the most popular activities at this facility. Several hiking trails leave from the campground and several more trailheads are within a one to two hour drive.
There are 62 sites, each with a fire ring and picnic table. There are no electrical hookups. Drinking water and flush toilets are provided.
The General Patton Memorial Museum, a U.S. military history museum, is just over 12 miles away in the town of Chiriaco.
Interpretive Programs: Evening Programs
Day Use Area: Amphitheater
We stayed June 6, 2019. We were driving cross country and wanted to see this national park along the way. This was the tail-end of their “peak season” since it is the desert most people visit in the cooler months and avoid it in the summer. We rolled in around 5pm, the ranger station was already closed but we drove on to the campground where there was a self pay station. Plenty of open sites that were not reserved at the time. The sign upon entering says there’s no water within the campground but this is incorrect it must be an old sign. Flush toilets with sinks (no soap or anything to dry your hands just bring your own) also no lights in the bathroom so take your flashlight at night! Beautiful campground, with lots of desert wildlife! This is the southern portion of the park so there’s no Joshua Trees here but if you drive through the park northwest then you’ll see the Cholla cactus gardens, Boulder fields, as well as the Joshua Trees!
Unfortunately did not get to spend a lot of time on this campsite as we just used it as an overnight stop on a road trip out to Utah, but we did enjoy the site a lot. Reservations filled up about a month in advance, but several of the sites were not occupied. Water was a little tricky to find at first because it was tucked next to a campsite that had an RV parked out front.
Wildflowers were blooming all around in mid-spring. Nights were cool but not too cold, and heat during the day wasn't too bad yet in the spring. There were several hikes available near the campsite.
Easy access to the 10 freeway made this a great road trip stop but with the added benefit of experiencing a national park.
We just got back from a weekend at Cottonwood Campground. This was an awesome campground. It’s super clean, paved, has potable water and running toilets. We had a scouting troop with us ages 5-12 and the girls had a blast. We hiked 3 miles locally and the terrain was amazing. Looked like Pixar’s Cars Land. Then we took a drive over to Skull Rock for some rock scrambling, and even made it all the way over to the visitor center at the north entrance before heading back for dinner. Afterwards we topped it off with a Ranger chat at the campground amphitheater where a local astronomer showed up and gave an amazing talk about the stars complete with astronomer pointer and telescope where we got to see Saturn! The girls LOVED it! We plan on coming back and hitting a northern campground - but definitely recommend Cottonwood. It won’t disappoint - the star viewing was awesome!!
Went here over Christmas school break stayed here two nights, there are 3 group sites here. Nice spaces with flash toilets and running water. There are several parking spots or each group site. While we were there we had several people park in the empty spots and sleep in their cars cause they didn’t have reservations, also during the day random people just show up and use the empty picnic tables at your site.
Nearly the southernmost location of Joshua Tree Natl Park. ~1 hr drive to the main area of the park (north side). A few hikes near Cottonwood Campground.
Cottonwood is the furthest south campground in the park, and was the only camp that had space. It's extremely clean and spacious. There are hiking trails just off the campground. The restrooms don't have showers or lights.
A great spot to camp! We were only there briefly, but it had everything we needed. Very well kept, a good fire pit, a picnic table and plenty of space for tents and parking
This campground was away from the primary campground like Jumbo Rock and therefore less crowded. Campsites included fire ring and picnic table. Flush toilets on premises and away from primary sites. Tent sites were very close together and as we found or a very popular site for star gazing and meteror showers. Required aunt of a drive to get into the primary park area and firewood not available in campgrounds (Walmart is the closest location it was available). Camp hosts were very nice however did not enforce quiet hours. We camp with our daughter (5 at the time) and unfortunately we were surrounded by many college students drinking heavily (not Joshua Trees fault). We ended up leaving a day early because of this. Aside from the other campers we had a good desert camping experience. I think next time we would try a different site to attempt to be more secluded and avoid this issue in the future.
Went on overnight trip with the Astronomy Department of my College. Two sites comfortably fit 20+ people and the large sunshaded eating areas were great for food prep and socializing.