The concept is simple yet profound: Campsites filled with Airstream trailers that have been retrofitted with real bathrooms — fully functional toilets and walk-in showers with good water pressure connected to actual plumbing — along with hotel-like amenities. It’s definitely camping, but not quite roughing it.
AutoCamp’s third location, which opened last year, was this roadside trailer park five miles from the west entrance of California’s Joshua Tree National Park, 40 miles northeast of Palm Springs.
Occupying several acres of barren desert terrain, the retreat comprises about 50 Airstream trailers parked in a large circular pattern. Their shiny aluminum shells glisten in the Mohave sun like a modern Stonehenge.
The camp is gated but not secluded. Rural homes punctuate the landscape all around the property while billboards stick up like sore thumbs on the horizon. The local Dollar General store is glaringly visible at the end of the street. Thankfully all those eyesores get dwarfed by the beautiful mountains rising up in the distance and the wide-open, ever-changing skies at sunset.
The Airstreams are very comfortable. Despite the blazing desert heat, residential-style air-conditioning keep the interiors icy cool. Stocked with designer soaps, hair dryers and plush bathrobes, the spacious bathrooms are probably nicer than any of the nearby motels. The bedrooms feature queen-sized beds wrapped in crisp white linens and fluffy pillows, with USB ports in the built-in bedside tables. There’s a kettle and French press in the cupboard, along with a bag of very good complimentary coffee.
Each trailer comes with its own private outdoor living space with lounge chairs, dining area, fire pit and charcoal grill. Kitchens are stocked with basic camping utensils, a cast-iron skillet, dinnerware and wine glasses. Indoors and out, the entire camp is blanketed with high-speed wifi, so you’re never really off-the-grid. But don’t tell that to the roadrunners and occasional snake that call this place home.
A large modern barn at the entrance serves as the lobby and general store. Cars are not allowed beyond the barn, so you might be doing a lot of walking if your Airstream is positioned on the far side of the camp. Bicycles are complimentary, though. And they also provide little red wagons for hauling luggage and groceries.
There’s a very decent swimming pool adjacent to the barn. And while there is no bar, the store inside the lobby does stock a good selection of craft beer and ice cream.
AutoCamp’s website includes a “dining” tab that lists a menu of provisions: breakfast quesadillas, turkey sandwiches, salads and things like lasagna and chicken pot pie. But it’s important to note that AutoCamp does not have a cafe. These cafe-sounding items are merely grab-and-go provisions tightly wrapped in plastic and sold from the refrigerated case, sort of like what you might find at a local gas station or 7-11, only slightly fresher.
The provisions menu also lists expensive BBQ kits for two: New York strip steaks with salad, mac ’n’ cheese and s’mores for $85, or a couple of chicken breasts with sides for $79. At those prices, it must be good, right? No. Don’t fall for it like I did. The quality of those steaks is shockingly bad. If you wish to cook a steak over the charcoal grill (and who doesn’t?), just drive into the small town of Joshua Tree, two miles away, and grab some supplies at Vons.
Bottom line: This is a great way to camp. It’s definitely better than pitching a tent. The Airstreams are very comfortable and might even the best accommodations in the area. I just wish the compound were more secluded and felt less like a trailer park on the side of the road. The food isn’t great, sadly, so you’ll want to bring your own or else dine in Joshua Tree or Pioneer Town.
Rates from about $200; 62209 Verbena Rd, Joshua Tree, California, 844-366-9715, autocamp.com/joshua-tree