A straightforward, relatively easy 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?
Tags: Hiking, Joshua Tree National Park, Ryan Mountain
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, the REI Blog, Adventure Journal, and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub. He was in Columbia Sportswear's inaugural #OmniTen program and was featured prominently in their documentary "I Am #OmniTen."
His stories for Modern Hiker have brought regional and national attention, and have been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press.
Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer, and was Series Producer of pivot's TakePart Live and Head Writer of G4's Attack of the Show.
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Categorised in: hiking, Joshua Tree National Park, Trail Write-Ups
This post was written by Casey Schreiner on
January 28, 2008