Places for Winter Camping in Southern California

Places for Winter Camping in Southern CaliforniaThe deserts of southern California can be welcome camping destinations when the snows of winter have descended over other portions of the western United States. While campers even in arid basins of the Mojave or Sonoran deserts must be prepared for occasional cold snaps and snows, the season is often one of the most pleasant for outdoors activity, considering the intimidating, parching heat of summer. Some of the best options are on public lands managed by both federal and state agencies.

Death Valley National Park

This national park, which at 3.4 million acres is the biggest in the lower 48 states, is one of the continent's most extreme places: a mountain-ringed Mojave Desert basin with 550 square miles below sea level, boasting one of the highest temperatures recorded on Earth: 134 degrees. Summers can be dangerously sweltering and dry, so many come to camp in winter, when highs are usually in the 60s and 70s and lows often in the 40s. There are opportunities for camping at both established campgrounds--as at Panamint Springs, Wildrose and Mahogany Flat--and in dispersed fashion in the enormous backcountry.

Mojave National Preserve

The 1.6 million acres of Mojave National Preserve--third biggest area managed by the Park Service in the lower 48, after Death Valley and Yellowstone national parks--encompass portions of the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran deserts. Given such a broad area, its ecological and geological diversity are substantial. Developed campgrounds, roadside camping and wilderness backpacking are all possible within allowed areas of the preserve.

Joshua Tree National Park

This nearly 800,000-acre park is named for the evocative Joshua trees that form stunted forests within its portion of the Mojave Desert; these biggest of American yuccas are also seen in other parts of the region, including Death Valley. The park also features Sonoran Desert and montane habitats, and contains one of the rarer ecosystems on the continent: the fan-palm oasis. Backcountry camping gets you out into the deep wilderness; there are also nine established campgrounds. Winter temperatures are usually mild but bring warm clothes for chilly nights.

Other Options

The Bureau of Land Management administers vast amounts of acreage in southern California. Winter camping possibilities include the Imperial Sand Dunes, the Mule Mountain Long-term Visitor Area and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The camping options on BLM lands are often primitive campgrounds or backpacking. California state parks are also potential destinations: Mount San Jacinto State Park, for example, which is open all year and features developed, rustic and hike-in campsites for those looking to do snow recreation.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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