Set Up Camp
Get away from it all in a few hours or less
Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
More than 100 years ago, naturalist John Burroughs wrote, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
Little has changed. People still seek out the solitude of the natural world, finding solace in the surrounding flora and fauna. Camping is a great way to step off the rat-race treadmill for a couple of days and reconnect with your inner Thoreau. Here are a few suggestions for camping in surrounding parks and recreation areas.
Imagine trekking through the wilderness with everything you need strapped to your back. After maneuvering fragrant switchbacks rich with the bracing scent of pine needles, you enter a meadow ringed with majestic white fir and sugar pine. You select a primitive campsite with no running water, electricity, or other cosmopolitan comforts and drop your figurative and literal load. You are camping within the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area, accessible by foot from the Mountain Station of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This nature getaway is best suited for seasoned hikers and experienced backpackers.
There are six primitive campgrounds within the park. The closest to the Mountain Station (2.1 miles) is picturesque Round Valley with 28 campsites, water, and pit toilets. Tamarack Valley (2.5 miles) offers 12 campsites with limited water supply and pit toilets. Skunk Cabbage (4.5 miles) features a large meadow and water at Willow Creek. Good camping is available at Lower Basin (6.0 miles), with water available seasonably from Tahquitz Creek. Little Round Valley (6.5 miles) has six campsites with limited water supply and pit toilets. Moving deeper into the park, Strawberry Junction (10.3 miles) features three campsites, pit toilets, and no water.
A permit is required for any backpacking or hiking in the wilderness area. Visit www.pstramway.com or call 951-659-2607 for permit and other information. For trail conditions, call 760-327-0222.
If desert camping is more your style, Joshua Tree National Park offers many campgrounds. Drive your gear up to your favorite site and spread out. In the evening as you sit by the fire, listen for the howl of coyotes and watch the light dance among the rocks.
Whether you choose Hidden Valley, popular with climbers due to its proximity to some of the park’s best routes, or the stunning Jumbo Rocks, so named for its labyrinth of large boulders, you can easily find a campground that’s right for you.
Most sites are limited to six people, three tents, and two cars. Campsites feature a picnic table and fire grate. Water and flush toilets are available at Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds only. Showers are not available. Water is available at the Oasis Visitor Center, Indian Cove Ranger Station, West Entrance, and Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds. Sites at Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds may be reserved through May 31 by calling 877-444-6777. First-come, first-served campgrounds include Belle, Cottonwood, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan, and White Tank. Visit www.nps.gov/jotr or www.joshua.tree.national-park.com for more information or call 760-367-5500.
Some folks like to get away knowing civilization and convenience stores are nearby. Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area offers 710 acres with 91 individual and group campsites situated at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Only six miles from Old Town La Quinta, Lake Cahuilla is a great destination for casual car campers looking for a quick escape from city life.
Activities at the recreation area include fishing in the 135-acre lake (watercraft not permitted), hiking and horseback trails, and a swimming pool. Open grass areas with picnic tables and barbecues are ideal for special events, from company gatherings to birthday parties. Showers are available and pets allowed. For more information, call 760-564-4712 or visit www.rivcoparks.org/parks/lake-cahuilla.