Ryan Mountain is a straightforward but 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.
Unlike some of the busier trails closer to Los Angeles, 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 for Ryan Mountain Trailhead, 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. 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 elevation gain is definitely noticeable on this route, so it helps to focus on the scenery instead of your cranky legs as you keep climbing upward.
The single-track trail continues winding southward along one of Ryan’s long, rounded ridges. At this point, the actual landscape of Ryan Mountain is not particularly interesting — but the views of the surrounding park are absolutely stunning stunning.
Further along the trail, the path starts hitting some of the smaller, jagged boulders of Ryan Mountain. They’re not quite as impressive 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.
Because Ryan Mountain is a centrally located trail and a spectacular vantage point for in-shape hikers, you can usually expect to have a few friends sharing the summit with you when you arrive.
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?
Excellent. There's pretty much just one path straight up the mountain so it's difficult to lose sight of it. The path itself is very well constructed but does have many jagged boulders and uneven ground. Nothing too dangerous - but watch your step.
First-come, first-served Ryan Campground is the closest place to spend an evening in Joshua Tree.
The Ryan Mountain trailhead sits pretty much in the center of the park, just east of the intersection with Keys View Road. If you're traveling east, pass the Ryan campground on your right, and look for the large parking area just up the road, also on the right. Alternately, you can start this trail from the Sheep Pass Group Campground.