52 in 52, Episode 9: Ryan Mountain Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
Last Updated on March 4, 2022 by Polly Dimitrova
After being introduced to Joshua Tree National Park’s most iconic features at Hidden Valley Nature Trail, we continued our adventures through the park with another remarkable must-do hike – Ryan Mountain! Standing tall at 5,457 feet, Ryan Mountain offers sweeping 360-degree views which make the strenuous 1.5-mile climb to the summit absolutely worth the effort! As you have already guessed, Ryan Mountain is among the most popular hiking trails in Joshua Tree with a few essential elements to point out. Keep reading for the full hiking guide to Ryan Mountain Hike in Joshua Tree National Park – Episode 9 of the 52 in 52 series!
Getting to Ryan Mountain Trailhead
Conveniently situated along the main Park Boulevard, the Ryan Mountain Trailhead is at the heart of Joshua Tree National Park. It will take you slightly over 20 minutes to reach the trailhead from either the West and North entrances to the park, however, we were coming from Hidden Valley so it was only an easy 10-minute drive. One hallmark of U.S. National Parks is the distinct lack of cell service so navigating with just a map is an enjoyable callback to a bygone era. Unfortunately, as we arrived at around 11 am on a Saturday, we faced the unexpected and daunting challenge of finding a parking spot. Approximately 15 – 20 minutes later, several hiking groups returned and one finally opened up. Keep in mind that in this area of the park it is not advisable to park along the road as you will get a ticket!
When to Visit Ryan Mountain Hike
With minimal to no shade, the trail up to the summit is fully exposed to the constant Californian sunshine! Bearing that in mind, you should aim to visit Ryan Mountain in the late winter to early spring season. Additionally, we quickly found out that Joshua Tree National Park is an extremely popular tourist destination with flocks of hikers and climbers paying a visit during the weekends. Most of the park’s sights, including Ryan Mountain, have very limited parking spaces that fill up faster than we expected. For the best experience: try visiting early in the morning or on a weekday! If you don’t, you risk being stuck, waiting for a spot to open up or getting a ticket for parking incorrectly on the side of the road – none of these seem to be fun!
About the Trail
Distance: 3 miles
Duration: 2 – 3 Hours
Elevation Gain: 1,050 ft
Dogs: Not Allowed
Access: Free after paying the park’s entrance fee
Starting Point: 34.0020424,-116.1362257
After you find a golden ticket of a parking spot, proceed to the large trail sign marking the beginning of Ryan Mountain Hike before following the trail upwards a rough, rocky staircase. A few steps is all that it will take to realize that this is a well-worn, straightforward path. Do not allow the easy to follow trail fool you, though, because you are about to climb 1,050 ft of elevation in just 1.5 miles. In simple words – be prepared for a continuous uphill for most of the way up to the peak.
We are always up for a bit of challenge and not usually put off by a constant incline, but it was the steep and inconsistent stairs that we were not prepared for. Our knees were definitely grateful for our hiking poles and strongly recommend bringing some if you are planning on hiking Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park.
As we slowly trudged up the first incline of the hill, we reached the first and only intersection along the trail. Keep your eyes open for the trail sign that points you in the right direction. Taking left would take you to the nearby Sheer Pass Campground. After this junction, you can calm and relax your mind for the rest of the straightforward, meandering path. One of the most essential hiking tips that I believe in is to find a good, steady pace and allow your legs to lead you.
Slowing down and stopping for a quick sip of water is a good idea to keep yourself hydrated, catch your breath, and of course admire the spectacular vistas that constantly fall before your eyes. As the trail gradually winds southward, you will have passed the first ridge and are now following the rim. The path keeps taking you uphill, but at least you are taking a break from the steep stairs for a few moments. Sections of dirt paths and improperly placed rocky stairs follow one another up higher. Looking to the right side of the trail provides you with incredible views of the entire park, interesting rock formations, and the park’s namesake Joshua Trees in the distance. This view serves as encouragement and motivation if you are struggling with the climb.
At almost 1 mile, you will reach the saddle and what seems to be the least challenging part of the trail up to Ryan Mountain. Not only is the incline less significant but the path here is predominantly dirt with just a few rocky staircases. You will know that you are getting closer to the top as the trail begins to level off and winds through a field of cacti. While the large pile of rocks in the distance may not seem spectacular, that is your goal marking the Ryan Mountain summit!
Everybody loves celebrating reaching the mount with a good rest to soak in the views and refuel the body through snacks and liquids. My husband and I found a rock facing East and enjoyed our well-deserved lunch with a view. In the distance ahead we could appreciate the snow-capped San Jacinto and San Gorgonio peaks. A small fluffy White-Tailed Antelope Squirrel was running and playing in between the rocks beneath our feet. It kept coming closer to us and posing for a photo! We truly enjoyed these few moments of peacefulness and tranquillity with the incredible panoramic vistas before our eyes. Before heading back down, we made a full circle around the summit to soak in the landscapes on each side. It was incredible being able to take in the majesty and grandeur of the park through so many different perspectives and angles.
Getting back down to the beginning of the trail means taking the same path. The way downhill was much faster but equally tiring, especially on the knees, in the rocky staircases portions of the hike. My husband and I discussed the adventure we had just experienced while our feet took us downward. We were absolutely thrilled and pleased with hiking all the way up to Ryan Mountain and the views it offered; it was a more demanding and challenging hike than we were expecting, but (other than the wonky stairs) we loved every moment of it!
Have you been to Ryan Mountain, or are you planning it as a part of your trip to Joshua Tree National Park? Let me know about it in the comments below! And – Make sure to come back next week for another episode of the 52 in 52 series as our journey through Joshua Tree National Park continues with our next stop – Hall of Horrors!