Ryan Mountain offers a fairly straight forward out and back hike to a round summit at the center of Joshua Tree National Park. The 3-mile round trip trail climbs 1,075 feet up a dirt trail with numerous stone steps. The sun-exposed trail crowns a 5,457-foot mountain with impressive panoramic views of the jumbled rock formations and Joshua tree forests that surround the peak. The summit of Ryan Mountain is the best place to get a top-down view of the heart of the park.
Slap on some sunscreen and set out southbound up the trail, slipping between pillars of tall misshapen granite. There is a fair amount of elevation to gain and only 1.5 miles to do it in, so the trail starts climbing right away. To assist with the ascent, rocks from the surrounding landscape have been built into steps. The trail is well constructed and in great shape.
After 0.2 miles, you will come to the trail’s one and only junction. To the left, a trail extends to Sheep Pass Group Camp, an alternate starting point for the hike. Turn right to press on for the summit.
As the trail continues to climb, you will wrap around the west side of the mountain. Enjoy an excellent view to the northwest toward the Wonderland of Rocks, jumbled rock formations that define the classic Joshua Tree landscape. Further to the west and southwest, the Little San Bernardino Mountains rise over the park.
A prominent formation on the side of Ryan Mountain
A quarter-mile above the junction, the trail rounds a corner and enters a draw in the mountainside. Here you get a head-on view of an impressive rock formation on the slope of Ryan Mountain. From some angles the granite creation looks like a face and from others it resembles praying hands. Study this feature over the next 0.45 miles as the trail maintains course for the top of the draw. Slip through a gap in the ridgeline as the trail bends to the right and continues southward. To the north and east are lower false summits on Ryan Mountain. To reach the true summit, it is another 0.6 miles of hiking with 400 feet of elevation gain.
Looking back down the trail toward the Wonderland of Rocks
The top section of the trail offers new views to the north and east over Pinto Basin. By now you will have realized that Ryan Mountain Trail has some of the most panoramic views in the park, and the biggest view of all comes at the top. The trail tapers out, reaching a sign marking the 5,457-foot summit next to a pile of rocks. The lofty vantage seems to look out over every inch of Joshua Tree National Park, and beyond. On a clear day, you can gaze southwest toward Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio. At the southwest base of Ryan Mountain, look down on Ryan Campground and the ruins of Ryan Ranch. Lost Horse Mountain rises above the other summits to the south, completing the view. Circle around the summit to take in each panoramic perspective of Joshua Tree.
When you are ready to hike back, return the way you came. it is all downhill from the summit. Back at the trailhead, walk to the west end of the parking lot where you will find a marker for a level path traveling a hundred feet to “Indian Cave.” Blackened rock on the ceiling of this cave-like enclosure is evidence of the park’s former inhabitants.
A cactus along Ryan Mountain Trail
To get to the trailhead: Take Park Boulevard 2.1 miles east of the intersection with Keys View Road to a turn off for Ryan Mountain on the south side of the road. There is a large parking area and a bathroom at the start of the trail.
Trailhead address: Park Boulevard (Loop Road), Joshua Tree National Park, CA 92277
Trailhead coordinates: 34.002572, -116.135939
Use the map below to create your own directions:
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