Joshua Tree National Park: Ryan Mountain

This popular 1.5-mile climb leads to a panoramic view of valleys, mountains, deserts, and one really cool rock formation.
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This popular 1.5-mile climb leads to a panoramic view of valleys, mountains, deserts, and one really cool rock formation.

After a quick pass through a cluster of towering boulders - squint left to look for rock climbers - this moderate 3-miler starts a 1,000ft climb up Ryan Mountain. Mojave yuccas and desert scrub are early distractions, giving way to ever-expanding views of surrounding mountains and valleys. After the big curve on the western slope, the parking lot drops out of view and the trail turns rocky. From here it also climbs a bit more steeply - dodging boulders and cutting through carved rock - before a gentle ridgeline ascent. On the 5,4571 ft summit, a 360 degree turn affords stunning views of several surrounding valleys and mountain ranges. The jagged, lunar-like Wonderland of Rocks is visible to the northwest.

This hike, though moderate, is generally shadeless and can be taxing in summer. Bring water.

-Mapped by Amy C. Balfour

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 2.3

Waypoints

RM006

Location: 33.98619, -116.13461

After winter snowstorms, you may find yourself trudging through snowdrifts as you take your last few steps toward the sign marking the summit. But the views will keep you from caring. A 360 degree turn from the northeast sweeps in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, the Pinto Basin, and the Hexie and the Little San Bernadino mountain ranges. The jagged, lunar-like outcropping visible in the northwest is the Wonderland of Rocks - a nice subject for a sunset photo.

RM005

Location: 33.989296, -116.132864

The last big bend before the summit. It's a level spot to catch your breath while taking in views of the mountains and deserts in the east and southeast. From here, it's a gentle climb to the summit.

RM004

Location: 33.998267, -116.136821

To the south you'll see the yucca-and-rock covered ridge that leads to the summit. Fortunately, it's not too imposing. Here the trail threads through boulders and skips over steps that have been cut into the rock. The pointy fronds of the ubiquitous Mojave yucca lie in wait to snag your polarfleece.

RM003

Location: 33.998219, -116.136797

As the trail curves around the hill, the parking lot drops out of sight. Here you'll catch a few hints of the expansive views to come. From this point, the trail starts a slightly steeper ascent.

RM002

Location: 33.999912, -116.135405

Junction with the the trail to Sheep Pass Campground. Take a right to continue to the summit.

RM001

Location: 34.00255, -116.13592

The trailhead looks like a giant's marble yard, with towering boulders clustered just south of the parking area. After a winter storm, the well-marked trail may be muddy in places, and you may encounter deep snow as you approach the summit. In summer, know that the trail has little shade. Though the hike up can take anywhere from 1-3 hours, expect a much quicker descent - as little as 30 minutes if you hurry.

Ryan Mountain Trailhead

Location: 34.0022967, -116.1354876

After a winter storm expect a muddy trail. You may hike through snow near the summit.

Expanding Views

Location: 33.9979917, -116.1362171

Views open up as the trail curves east.

Yucca-and-Rock Covered Ridge

Location: 33.9973868, -116.1366892

Last Stop Before the Summit

Location: 33.9892387, -116.1325693

Looking east toward the Pinto Basin. The lonely Joshua Tree here looks vaguely like a Hidden Mickey from Disneyland.

Ryan Mtn Summit

Location: 33.986143, -116.1345005

According to the sign, my backpack is resting comfortably at 5,457ft.

Snow-Covered Mountains

Location: 33.9857159, -116.134243

View of Wonderland of Rocks

Location: 33.9853245, -116.135788

View of Wonderland of Rocks 2

Location: 33.9856092, -116.1360455

Joshua Tree atop Ryan Mtn

Location: 33.9858939, -116.1354876

Descending from the Summit

Location: 33.9862853, -116.1355734

White cholla cactus, Mojave yucca and a few Joshua trees are scattered across the ridgeline to the summit.

Rocks and Snow

Location: 33.9929037, -116.134758

The setting sun casts an otherworldly glow across the rocky landscape on my descent.

Sunset on Boulders

Location: 34.0011582, -116.1356163

Just before 4:00pm on December 23rd. Two hours earlier a climber was scrambling up the large rock formation on the right.