A straightforward, moderately tough hike up one of the most prominent, centrally-located peaks in Joshua Tree National Park. From this popular trail, hikers can get nearly 360 degree views of the entire park. This is a wonderful way to get a feel for the scope of the landscape, and a highly-recommended stop for first-timers.

Ryan Mountain is a popular trail in Joshua Tree National Park. The trailhead is located at one of the park’s major road junctions, has a two nearby campgrounds, a well-maintained port-o-potty, and a large, often-full parking lot. And it’s popular reputation is all well deserved.

Unlike some of the more crowded local L.A. trails like Switzer Falls or Runyon, the crowds don’t seem to diminish the experience of this route. Maybe it’s the landscape of Joshua Tree, or the fact that people who come here are really going out of their way, so they tend to be more respectful of the environment … either way, don’t be put off by a full parking lot or big crowds. This trail is worth it.

At the parking lot, there is a large rock formation just to the right of the trailhead itself. If you want to do a little exploring, there is a small plaque detailing some evidence of early native settlement in the area. If you just want to get the hike underway, look for the rock staircase that marks the beginning of the hike.

The trail is well-worn and easy to follow, but is definitely still plenty rugged. Uneven ground and on-trail boulders will keep your feet and eyes busy on the way up, but be sure to take time to enjoy some of the views around you. Almost immediately, vast panoramas of the Wonderland of Rocks open up to the northwest.

The single-track trail continues winding southward along one of Ryan’s long, rounded ridges. At this point, the actual landscape of Ryan is not particularly interesting — but the views of the surrounding park are stunning.

Further along the trail, the path starts hitting some of the smaller, jagged boulders of Ryan. They’re nothing compared to the rest of the rock formations at Joshua Tree, but they’re still worth noting — and looking out for when you’re trying to work your way through them to the top.

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

On this day — and on the first time I reached the summit, there were a good number of people milling around, taking in the sweeping views of the park — including what looked like a group of students in from USC.

But even when the summit is packed with people, there is always a secluded rock overhang or group of boulders you can hide behind to get what feels like a private view. You can pretend you’re the only person in the entire park — because if you’re lucky, it’ll probably feel that way. That’s one of the reasons we go to the desert, isn’t it?

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's work on the site has appeared in regional and national publications, including the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, the Associated Press, CNN, New York Magazine, High Country News, and others. He has broken several national news stories about outdoor vandalism and policies and his first book "Day Hiking Los Angeles" is available for pre-order.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on January 28, 2008


  • Anthony says:

    I wouldn’t call climbing 1,070 feet in ~1.5 miles at “gradual decent” … haha. Great hike though.

  • Rick says:

    This is the hike to do early in your visit and once, as it gives great perspective on the entire park. However, I would not call it an easy hike. “It’s a lot of up!” one hiker told me in the parking area. And she was right. Be ready for the mental anguish of very few flat stretches. You will get winded. Once you have done this hike, this park is then fully enjoyed when you start to experience the plants, wildlife, and the sheer “nothingness” of the desert. It will clear out the cobwebs of big city life!

  • Ryan Mountain Rocks! says:

    Had the pleasure of hiking this trail this past Thursday! Incredibly beautiful and when we went not very crowded. Highly recommend this trail and Joshua Tree in general, one of my favorite places on Earth.

  • nicholas says:

    I really enjoyed the descriptions and pictures. I am planning my second trip to JTNP in as many weeks. I’ve recently moved from Minnesota and enjoyed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to the max. I will most definetly make my next trip to Joshua Tree and hike Ryan Mtn. Thanks again and well done

  • Katherine says:

    Love that last picture. Thanks for the detailed info on hiking Ryan Mountain. We plan to hike it next month on our trip.

  • Scott says:

    A phenomenal place to watch the sunset!

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