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Top Hiking Spots in Joshua Tree National Park: Ryan Mountain

12 October 2016
Ryan mountain

Ryan Mountain will give you arguably the best single-spot view of Joshua Tree National Park. On a clear day, you can enjoy views of Mounts San Gorgonio and San Jacinto, as well as of the Salton Sea. A huge favorite among hikers.

Photo by american_rugbier

Not hard to see why.

Ryan mountain

The Salton Sea from Ryan mountain. Photo by Anissa Wood

Yeah, it’s a relatively easy trail too: gradual ascent and short distance, for great visual payoffs. Stats: distance, 4.6 kilometers, elevation gain, 326 meters, time, 1.5 hours. A moderately difficult trail.

How to get there?

Ryan mountain

Photo by Google maps

The Ryan Mountain trailhead is pretty much in the centre of the park, a bit east of the intersection with Keys View Road. The trailhead is at Sheep Pass Group Campground, an easy 24-minute drive from Twentynine Palms.

At the parking lot by the trailhead, there’s a large rock formation just to the right of the trailhead itself. If you’re in the mood for a little exploring, there’s a small plaque detailing some evidence of early native settlements in the area. But if you just want to get the hike underway, find the rock staircase that marks the beginning of the trail.

Because its trailhead is near two campgrounds, a well-maintained port-o-potty, as well as a large parking lot, its good reputation is well deserved. Although it’s often busy, it never feels crowded because the people who come here are really going out of their way and they tend to be more respectful of the environment.

What condition is the trail in?

Ryan mountain

Photo by Rob Adams

Excellent. There’s just one path going straight up the mountain so it’s difficult to lose sight of it. The trail itself is very well constructed, but it does have several jagged boulders and lots of uneven ground. Nothing too dangerous – but watch your step.

As you make your way up, you can get a nearly 360 degree view of the whole park. This is an excellent way to get a feel for the scope of the landscape; also a highly-recommended hike for first-timers.

What’s the path like?

The path is easy to follow and well-worn, but is definitely still rugged enough to be challenging. Uneven ground and on-trail boulders will keep your eyes and feet busy on the way up, but don’t forget to take time to enjoy some of the views around you. Almost immediately, gorgeous, vast panoramas of the Wonderland of Rocks open up on the northwest.

The single-track path continues winding south along one of Ryan’s long, rounded ridges. Here, the actual landscape of Ryan mountain itself is not particularly interesting — but the views of the surrounding park are simply stunning.


Photo ops galore.

Yup. A little further along the trail, the path starts hitting some of the smaller, more jagged boulders of Ryan mountain. They’re nothing compared to the rest of the rock formations in Joshua Tree, but they’re still worth noting, and looking out for when you’re trying to work your way among them to the top.

Ryan mountain

Photo by RickMcCharles

Gradually, you’ll start to notice that the trail isn’t just a simple straight line over the mountain ridge. The rounded interior of Ryan mountain will reveal itself as you make your way south over the terrain. And again — all the while, you’ll have unbelievable views of the western half of the park.

Ryan mountain

Photo by David Fulmer

All in all, I’d say that if you only have time for one hike in Joshua tree on your Wild West Challenge, make it this one, for both the experience and the memories you’ll take away.

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