The desert is a strange place; stark and complicated, hot and cold, beautiful and barren. Desert campgrounds give you access to these special places where everyone from artists to outdoor athletes seek inspiration and adventure.
As winter approaches, desert campgrounds can seem like an escape from the cold and snow. And while that can be the case, these regions see a big fluctuation in temperatures. A toasty afternoon can lead to a below-freezing night. If you’re going to camp in the desert, bring plenty of water, layers, and educate yourself on the area.
It’s Time to Check Out These Stunning Desert Campgrounds
Open yourself up to the staggering beauty of the desert landscape, where big skies and bright stars are both peaceful and overwhelming.
1. Jumbo Rocks Campground, California
Piles of giant boulders make unique formations against the big desert sky at Jumbo Rocks Campground in California. This is a great home base for exploring Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet. The rocks piles looming around Jumbo Rocks Campground make for convenient walls and nooks to protect you from the desert wind when it starts to kick up sand.
“We’ve now stayed here 3 times, and each time was amazing!” writes The Dyrt camper David C. “The best sunsets and sunrises. It’s a huge campground! Even when it’s full you still have plenty of space! The rocks are huge – fun and easy to climb on!”
2. White Sands National Monument Primitive Campsites, New Mexico
The undulating white sand dunes of White Sands National Monument stretch out for hundreds of miles. The silky landscape is always changing, as the winds paints ripples across the surface. And you can sleep in the middle of it all at White Sands primitive campsites.
It’s important to note that the park isn’t far from a missile testing range, so closures happen periodically. Otherwise, the campground is first-come-first-served.
“With zero hookups, no fires, no water access, there isn’t not a lot of extras that come with these campsites,” writes The Dyrt camper Andrew S. “Regardless, camping in the White Sands National Monument, is one of the more memorable backcountry sites I’ve been to. The hike from the parking lot is barely 2 miles, but when you get to the site there is just seas of white surrounding you. And if at all possible try to camp here during a full moon. The light reflecting off the sands is a different experience.
3. Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches NP, Utah
Located in the middle of Arches National Park, Devil’s Garden Campground gives you access to the surrounding arches of rock that seemingly defy gravity. Arches is home to the largest number of rock arches in the world, so you won’t be short on strange landscape to photograph and explore. At an elevation of 5,200 feet, Devil’s Garden Campground sees hot summers and cold winters.
“First of all, gorgeous place to camp,” writes The Dyrt camper Kuo G. who visited over Thanksgiving weekend. “Campsites aren’t huge, but very comfortable. Completely surrounded by rocks bush, some bush trees, and at that time lots of snow.”
4. Wildrose Campground, Death Valley NP, California
Death Valley National Park is not a place that was designed for those looking for comfort. This region is a place of extremes; Death Valley lays claim to the hottest recorded temperature on Earth, and the lowest elevation in North America. The summertime is downright suffocating, but Fall and Winter bring bearable temperatures to this start and strange desert landscape.
Wildrose Campground is secluded and free. It’s the perfect spot to pitch your tent if you’re interested in hiking up Telescope or Wildrose Peaks, the two tallest peaks in the park. From Wildrose’s desert campgrounds, you’ll experience the incredible diversity, from sandy desert floor to snow-dusted mountains.
“Nestled in the mountains just west of Death Valley this campground is a cool (both temperature and vibe) place to stay,” writes The Dyrt camper Amanda D. “I camped here in late March just before temperatures got outrageous. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Stovepipe Wells (which has gas, food and other services), but the elevation and thus cooler temperatures are well worth the extra time and gas.”
5. Cave Springs Campground, Coconino NF, Arizona
Cave Springs Campground lies just outside of Sedona, Arizona. You’ll be a short drive from the jagged and often treeless red rock landscape, but protected from the heat by a shady forest. The stream is crystal clear and full of trout. It’s the perfect place to cool off after a day hiking around Sedona’s energy vortexes, which are said to be powerfully healing places. Even if you’re a skeptic when it comes to new age spirituality, there’s no denying the powerful beauty of Arizona’s desert landscape.
“Sedona itself is known for the beautiful red rock formations, which make great day trips and local hikes, but the Cave Springs campground itself seems like a totally different environment,” writes The Dyrt camper Morgan Z. It is a wooded area, with a crystal-clear creek nearby that is surrounded by wild blackberry bushes. We had an amazing time swimming in the creek, exploring it’s rocky shores, and indulging in fresh blackberries.”
6. Catalina State Park Campground, Arizona
Catalina State Park offers well-maintained desert campgrounds with amenities, including showers, fire rings, and picnic tables. It’s a great spot from which to explore Saguaro National Park, home to the country’s largest cacti. The iconic shape of this long armed cacti reaching towards the sky are what so many people picture when they think of the desert. But they’re only found in this small portion of the U.S., protected within the park.
“This place was very nice and we had it all to ourselves,” writes The Dyrt camper Molly G. “We were even treated to a lightning storm- which was amazing with the thunder bouncing off the mountains.”
7. Mather Campground, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona
Located on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Mather Campground provides easy access to the most famous and photographed desert landscape in the country. Enjoy sunsets over the canyon before making your way back to your tent at night. It doesn’t matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon — the experience of watching the sun melt over the colorful bands of rock is worth the hype.
“Back at camp they have many amenities, including a full service laundry mat with plug-ins for charging,” writes The Dyrt camper Tj B. “Big bathrooms with showers as well as give and take supply drop. This is one of America’s must see destinations and now I know why.”
8. Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona
Visiting Havasu Falls outside of Grand Canyon National Park is a unique experience that requires some leg work, in the form of both hiking and reservations. This extremely popular destinations requires a permit and a 10-mile hike, or a helicopter ride to reach. But again and again, campers tell us it is absolutely worth it.
“The gem tone waters against the vibrant red rock, you can’t find it anywhere else,” writes Larayna Y. “It’s jawdropping. The campground is situated along the creek, spread out for a good distance. For having a lot of campsites, the place is quiet and privacy is pretty decent. The permit process is tough. Very tough. But hang in there!”
9. Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
The sandstone formations found in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park will make you feel like you’ve landed on Mars. The red sandstone piles are an otherworldly playground for climbing and hiking. Enjoy the visual tricks of all these strange shapes, as well as the fascinating geology of the region. At Goblin Valley State Park, you can camp smack in the middle of towers, boulders, and carved out rock.
“The little Goblins are fun for all ages,” writes The Dyrt camper Taylor J. “The kids enjoy playing tag and other games while the adults can explore some of the magnificent cave in the back left side of the valley. It truly is amazing, I can’t believe how nature created such a place as this one.”