Monday, November 12, 2012

Hiking Joshua Tree National Park - Ryan Mountain Trail

You could spend days wandering around Joshua Tree National Park, but if you only have one I suggest you hike Ryan Mountain. This 3-mile out-and-back hike is a bit strenuous, but not overly so. Today I saw everyone from kids to retired folks and everyone in between enjoying the Ryan Mountain Trail. And let me tell you, the payoff for reaching Ryan's summit - the second highest in the park - is extreme.

Ryan Mountain in the distance, Joshua Tree National Park
Ryan Mountain's central location and 5,461-foot summit make it a perfect vantage point for appreciating Joshua Tree National Park's surrounding features, such as the valleys of Lost Horse, Queen and Pleasant, as well as the southern portion of the Wonderland of Rocks.

You can reach the trail head from any of the park's entrances, but I recommend you come in through the west entrance, where you immediately encounter grove upon grove of the park's namesake - the Joshua Tree. Take a quick detour down Key's View Road to get a grand view of the Coachella Valley and desert cities below. Then on your return to Park Boulevard you will see Ryan Mountain rising up to the east.

On the ascent: Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park
Turn right to get back on Park Boulevard, and just after passing the Ryan Campground on your right and the Hall of Horrors on your left, you will see the large parking area for the Ryan Mountain Trail. There are restrooms here, but no water, so make sure you bring plenty of your own.

The trail is simple to follow. It first rises up a steep hill and after less than a mile you are treated to westward views over a deep canyon and incredible rock formations. Look closely and you may see rock climbers here. Look to the north and you will see the Hall of Horrors rocks in the valley below - pay attention to how big they look on the way in and how small they look from here. Then notice the incredible rock formations of the Wonderland of Rocks that extend toward the northern horizon.

Joshua Tree on Ryan Mountain
With views in every direction, you won't know which way to look as you continue up the trail. But keep a close eye on the trail. This is a heavily trafficked trail and can be a bit rough in patches. Be careful. Don't let a careless misstep ruin your day at Joshua Tree.

As you make your way to the summit, you will notice that the trail continues on past where you thought the summit would be. Don't worry, the trail gets more gentle the closer you get to the top. And when you arrive, you will be glad you made the effort.

Wonderland of Rocks in the distance, facing north on Ryan Mountain
If you go up and turn right back around you can probably do this hike in less than two hours. Take some time, though, and appreciate the 360-degree views. Take your map up to the summit with you so you can really absorb where you are. Joshua Tree National Park is a place you will want to linger.

Joshua Tree on the eastern slope of Ryan Mountain
Here are the quick stats for the Ryan Mountain Trail:

Trailhead: The trail head is not shown on the map you are given for free at any of the three Joshua Tree National Park Visitor's Centers; Nonetheless, it is easy to find. Just take Park Boulevard and you will find it on the south side of the road just east of the Ryan Campground (which is on the map).
Distance: 3-mile out-and-back
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,000 feet (304 m)
Map: You will find a map for the Ryan Mountain Trail here.
Hiking Time: About 2 hours, depending on your personal speed.
Best Times to Hike: This hike is great year-round. Fall through spring, make sure you layer as the temperature at the summit is typically colder than at the trailhead.
Difficulty: Moderate

View of Mount San Gorgonio from Ryan Mountain summit
For more information on this hike or other hikes discussed in the blog HikeyHikey, feel free to leave a comment below. Check out my other blogs Man of Merit andMyFitLife2Day. Or contact me via my splash page at

Happy hiking!