Peak of Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park

Hiking the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

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There are many hikes in Joshua Tree National Park and sorting through the “must dos” can be challenging.  The Ryan Mountain Trail is one of these trails that should not be missed, and after hiking it you won’t have any doubt that it truly is one of the Best Hikes in Joshua Tree

This hike, which is located in the western part of the park, provides a route to the top of Ryan Mountain, awarding those willing to take the challenge with 360-degree panoramic views of the entire park and beyond.  Though the exposed trail is a bit challenging to summit on a hot day, it is highly recommended for those who have the time and energy to take it on!


  • Difficulty: Moderate to hard
  • Distance: 4.0 miles (round-trip)
  • Trail: Out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 1,409 feet
  • Peak elevation reached: 5,468 feet
  • Best time of year to hike: Fall through early spring
  • To beat the crowds: Arrive before 8:30 am or after 4:00 pm
  • Footwear: Sneakers
  • Watch out for: Sun exposure
  • Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
  • Pets: Not allowed
  • Time needed: 2 hours


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The Ryan Mountain Trail is one of many hikes and sightseeing activities covered in our 12+ page itinerary for Joshua Tree National Park.



To access the trail, park at the Ryan Mountain trailhead parking lot, located on Park Boulevard approximately 8.2 mi west of the intersection with Pinto Basin Road and about 12.6 miles east of the park’s western entrance.  You should allow about 25 minutes from the Oasis Visitor Center, and slightly less if coming from the western entrance.

Ryan Mountain Trailhead parking map for Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Mountain Trailhead Parking from the National Park Service

Parking is dedicated to this hike and there are just over 50 spots available, depending on the number of campers and larger vehicles present.  As this hike is popular, you should be prepared for the lot to be busy and potentially full.  You should be able to find a spot if you arrive to the hike early in the day or in the late afternoon.  If not, just be patient and a hiker coming off the trail should vacate a spot every 5 to 10 minutes.

Pit toilets are available at the trailhead, and they were very clean and in good repair.










As you stand looking south (which is likely the direction you parked your car), the trailhead starts from the left side of the lot.  Immediately after starting out on this hike, you head due south, and remain going in this direction for the entire trek.

Ryan Mountain Trailhead Sign in Joshua Tree National Park

Shortly after starting the hike (about 0.2 miles in), you’ll see another trail intersecting the Ryan Mountain Trail.  This is the Sheep Pass Connector Trail, which originates from the Sheep Pass Campground (about 0.8 miles to the east).  These trails stay together all the way up to the top of the mountain.

After the intersection, the dirt trail heads steadily uphill.  Those that engineered this trail really took care to make the climb even over the length of the hike and did so while maintaining a fairly direct route to the top.

While you are heading up, take time to look around.  The rock formations nearby are amazing to see.

Rock formations on the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

The trail is very well maintained.  Even though you are climbing up a mountain, sturdy hiking shoes are adequate for this hike.  We kept the hiking boots in the car and were more than happy with our decision.

Like other hikes in Joshua Tree, it may appear to be barren and without life, but if you look around you'll be able to see plenty of life, like these barrel cactus, which dot the landscape (in addition to Joshua Trees, of course!).

Barrel Cactus in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park

As you get close to the top, the trail winds slightly before you finish climbing nearly 1100 feet since the start of the trail.  At this point, you’ve likely been hiking for over an hour and will be ready for a break at the top!




Hiker at the Ryan Mountain Peak in Joshua Tree National Park

At the top of the mountain, you’ll have great 360-degree views all around you.  If you are lucky enough to come on a clear and smog-free day, you’ll be able to see the San Bernardino Mountains to the west and all the way into Arizona to the east.  We found it incredible that even though we were in the middle of the desert, we could see snow on the nearby mountains!

View from the peak of Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park

Snowy peaks from the top of Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park

The top can be busy, but it was large enough to accommodate all the hikers when we went and still allow everyone plenty of space.  Depending on the weather, you can also expect to have quite a bit of wind while you are enjoying the views and refueling.

Refueling at the top of Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park

We really liked the hike back down immensely.  Of course, the easier walk was nice and went pretty fast. However, the best part was that we had the sun at our backs, which made the views to the north very clear and highlighted the colors of the desert.  Make sure you take time to stop and enjoy the views on the way down but be careful to watch your step and not get complacent with your footing!


View down the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Coming down the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Coming down Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park







  • This trail is rated as “strenuous” by the National Park Service. The hike is not that difficult at all-the rate of elevation gain is modest compared to many other “moderate” trails in the National Park System.  However, what makes this hike difficult is the constant sun exposure (surprise-there is no shade in the desert!) together with the potential for blistering temperatures.  If you are not prepared, the combination of the beating sun and the steady incline will prove to be too much to handle.  To counteract this, we recommend carrying twice as much water as you think you need (2 liters for this hike is a good amount, even in the wintertime as it can be very dry), plenty of sunblock and allow plenty of time for the hike.  You should also make sure you wear a hat.
  • For carrying water, we recommend the Platypus pack. While similar to other water packs, this bag can be used with any backpack and is easy to clean.  Another great option is this bottle by CamelBak.
  • If you can, we recommend taking this hike earlier in the morning or in the later afternoon. This will provide the best views as well as the most moderate temperatures.  Other hikes to do in the middle of the day include short ones like the Cholla Cactus Garden.  The Hidden Valley hike, which is nearby, is also a great walk and is has some shady spots!





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