The best places to stay near Joshua Tree National Park

Years ago, I saw a photograph of two rust-colored structures rising from the desert dust. The image, probably printed in an issue of “Travel + Leisure” or “Architectural Digest,” captured my imagination.

I was enraptured with the property, which I later discovered is called Folly Joshua Tree. Its twin-gabled cabins clad in reclaimed weathered steel resembled a dystopian outpost on the periphery of Joshua Tree National Park and its leviathan boulders and namesake yuccas.

While I fantasized about a night under the stars in one of the cabin’s open-air bedrooms, I wondered whether the off-grid property, with its high-touch finishes but lack of services (this is a vacation rental property, after all — no matter how nice the kitchen is, you still have to cook your own meals), was worth the cost.

I finally had the opportunity to stay at the Folly house for work last spring, and it cost more than $1,600 per night. (I’ll admit, I have expensive taste.)

Since I was already visiting Joshua Tree for this Folly house stay, I figured I would check out another accommodation option as well. I started exploring other properties in the area and soon discovered that the accommodation scene around Joshua Tree National Park is one of extreme highs and lows. You have to travel roughly an hour from the park to Palm Springs to access a standard spate of hotels, including popular points properties like the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs and The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage.


Instead of driving all that way for a hotel, I booked a one-night stay at AutoCamp’s Joshua Tree outpost, where guests can stay in either a modified Airstream or an accessible suite (read: teeny, tiny, home).

The result was a fabulous desert escape that revealed the highs and lows of Joshua Tree accommodations — and underscored how useful a Dollar General can be when trying to cook dinner on the fly.

An Airstream in the desert

Before my one-night stay at the Folly House, I spent an evening in an Airstream at the new AutoCamp that had opened a few months prior. My one-night stay here cost just less than $350, though rates are now often available for less than $200 per night.


This collection of tiny homes and immaculately decorated Airstream trailers was, in many ways, the polar opposite of Folly House. Rather than private and exclusive, AutoCamps center around communal experiences.

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The Joshua Tree property featured a swimming pool that, sadly, wasn’t yet open. It also offered a midcentury “clubhouse” gathering area near the check-in entrance, with classic board games like checkers and Scrabble. Vintage-style Priority bikes were available, and more than a dozen chairs framed a giant fire pit and a cornhole court.

Even though it’s easy to stay on your little slice of land, inside your Airstream or at your private covered outdoor picnic area, you won’t go long without seeing other travelers. During my stay there were plenty of families around; the kids were often dragged along by their parents in the heavy-duty red gorilla carts meant to transport items from the parking area to the accommodation.

The 31-foot Airstream was a masterpiece of space-saving design hacks. There was a living area with a small coffee table and a futon, a kitchenette with all the fixings for French press coffee in the morning, a full bathroom stocked with Ursa Major toiletries and a queen-size bed.

After my first full day of hiking in the national park, I wanted nothing more than to cook dinner on my personal fire pit grill. However, it was very windy that night, and every fire I started blew out within minutes. So I did what anyone would do with only a fire pit and a microwave to work with: I got into my rental car, drove down the street to the Dollar General and purchased tortillas, a can of refried beans and a jar of salsa.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have the lifestyle appetite of a high-roller with the culinary prowess of a 12-year-old boy.

One of the perks of the AutoCamp — even though it was out of fire starter — is that the main building also features a general store and a kitchen serving everything from two-person grill kits to grab-and-go salads, breakfast quesadillas and hearty mains. The next morning, unwilling to fuss with another match or strip of newspaper, I ordered a breakfast sandwich and fixed myself a hot carafe of Canyon Coffee from Los Angeles before heading back to the national park.

A luxurious stargazing cabin

It’s no wonder Folly Joshua Tree captured and held my imagination for so long: It is an architectural masterpiece from Malek Alqadi, who set out to create a sustainable property that echoes the stark surrounding landscape.


After turning down a dirt road, the unmissable silhouette of the property came into focus. I parked my gas-guzzling rental car in front of the electric vehicle charging station and set about exploring the property. I only had one night here, and I felt compelled to sit on every surface and experience every amenity.

Folly Joshua Tree comprises two separate cabins: The larger, main structure houses the living and dining areas as well as the kitchen, washroom and shower. A ladder leads upstairs to a lofted sleeping area with a queen-size bed. Guests must walk outside and cross the patio to reach the smaller cabin. It offers a downstairs, main bedroom and open-air bedroom on the roof designed for stargazing during the area’s consistently clear, dry desert nights.

Like Goldilocks, I drifted from room to room, deciding which of the three bedrooms I’d choose for the evening. First, I scaled the ladder on the exterior of the smaller second cabin to reach the open-air bedroom that gives the property its name on Airbnb (Architect’s Off-Grid Stargazing Cabin). With a cozy queen bed and a high-tech telescope, I intended to spend the evening dozing beneath the stars. However, the breeze was picking up when I arrived, and I worried the extra blankets might not be enough to keep me from feeling chilly.

So I descended and opened the sliding glass door to the indoor bedroom beneath. With overlapping woven rugs, a sun hat and a walking stick, the space was all chic, minimalist desert vibes. This, I thought, was where I’d sleep after nightfall.

That was until I realized the only bathroom was across the patio in the larger main cabin.

Here, guests have access to a bathroom equipped with a USPA bidet and washbasin, a separate shower room with a full-length window overlooking the desert and a decorative boulder feature. There’s also a kitchen, dining and living area that has a flat-screen TV equipped with Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Despite its eco-friendly ethos and stripped-down aesthetic, Folly Joshua Tree is actually packed with high-tech features. There’s even a main panel that controls everything from the climate to the soundtrack while also measuring energy consumption.


I set the mood with the dedicated Spotify playlist featuring a number of synthy, atmospheric tracks (a Zuma Dionys remix of “Hebele Hubulu” and “Duat” by Trippin Jaguar). The music enhanced the sensation that the dirt path I’d driven down hadn’t just taken me off the grid, but maybe off the planet.

I checked out the cozy, lofted sleeping area above the living room, outfitted with a queen-size bed and reading lights. It’s not designed to be the master bedroom or the star of the show, but I decided it made the most sense given the wind, which was picking up with increasing intensity.

As the afternoon stretched on, the wind became a serious concern. In fact, a wind advisory was released that clocked wind speeds between 20 and 30 miles per hour, with gusts up to 55 miles per hour.

For the rest of the day, I tried using Folly Joshua Tree’s outdoor amenities, including the cedar soaking tub and well-stocked fire pit. There’s also a gas fire feature and a full barbecue area. Though they’re perfect for enjoying warm desert nights, the wind made it simply too cold to stay out for long.

I cobbled together a quick makeshift Mexican dinner using leftovers from Dollar General and fresh produce from the Stater Bros. market in nearby Twentynine Palms. A premixed margarita from the on-site liquor section completed the feast. Afterward, I climbed up to the loft to curl up with a book while the wind rattled the cabin with increasing ferocity.

At some point, I drifted off — and woke to find myself face to face with a giant spider that, in no uncertain terms, made it clear I was in its bed. I apologized profusely and retreated, never once turning my back.


When I woke the following morning in the main bedroom in the second cabin, the wind had tossed the cushions around the patio and thrown back the cover to the soaking tub, making it look like I’d thrown an absolute banger of a party the night before. The sun had risen on a dramatically warmer, calmer day. If only I’d had one more day to take advantage of the property, which was as striking and relaxing as I’d dreamed.

Aside from the spider.

And the wind.

And the distinct impression that even though I’d been seeking solitude, I would have enjoyed my stay more if I’d thought to invite along a friend. Or five.

Between the sofa and trio of beds, Folly Joshua Tree sleeps six. Bringing more people would have elevated this stay from excellent to exceptional. Not to mention, it would have made the cost far more reasonable if I’d split the total with even one or two more people. Still, Folly Joshua Tree was everything I’d dreamed it would be — only I wished, for once, that I’d decided to share it with others.

The middle ground

At first blush, AutoCamp Joshua Tree and Folly Joshua Tree only had one clear thing in common: incredible proximity to Joshua Tree National Park. By car, the AutoCamp was less than a five-minute drive from the park’s visitor center, and Folly Joshua Tree was just a few minutes farther down the road.

Despite the vast difference in price and overall experience, I also found both properties far more similar than I could have expected.

I love traveling alone, and I do so often. However, these properties would have both been better with a plus one. At the AutoCamp, I could easily imagine booking two or more Airstreams with a small group and staking out a whole corner of the property to spend late nights around the fire.

Even though I drove into the desert to find quiet and solitude, both stays clearly lacked company. I thought I would enjoy relaxing alone with a book, baking in the summer heat and picking out constellations in the night sky. But, during my stay I found myself wishing more than anything that my friends could enjoy it with me.


Of course, these aren’t the only two properties you can book near Joshua Tree National Park. Other options include eclectic guest houses and renovated roadside inns. Travelers who expand their search to Palm Springs will find accommodations of every type at every point on the price spectrum. However, both the AutoCamp and the Folly property were truly special.

The Folly house is, temporarily, only available through Airbnb for 32-day stays or longer; although, standard bookings are still possible through Plum Guide. Currently, rates range from $800 a night on Airbnb to $1,100 via Plum Guide — a significant drop from the $1,600 I paid last year. At the AutoCamp, rates this summer are frequently available for less than $200 per night.

A second Folly iteration, Folly Mojave, will debut later this year at the intersection of Mojave National preserve and Joshua Tree National Park. In addition to an outdoor stargazing bedroom and eco-friendly products, amenities at the four cabins will include a heated pool, cold plunge pool, sauna, and access to outdoor trails directly from the property.

During the pandemic, high demand for private accommodations in remote, outdoorsy destinations drove prices up, and perhaps we are now seeing a long overdue correction. Either way, the lower rates make it seem far more likely I’ll be able to return in the future — this time, of course, with a friend or two in tow.

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