Despite the harshness of the desert environment, some people actually made a home in what is now Joshua Tree National Park. Miners, Jepp and Tom Ryan built a large house next to Ryan Mountain in 1898. Over a hundred years later, much of their old adobe structure still stands and can be easily visited today.
Two routes lead to the ruins of Ryan Ranch. If you are staying at Ryan Campground, you can hike 0.8 miles round trip to the ruins, with 45 feet of elevation gain. If you aren’t staying at the campground, the hike is just slightly longer, 1.2 miles round trip with 85 feet of elevation gain, starting from a trailhead on Park Boulevard just outside the campground. The trails unite next to the ruins. If you have extra time, there are additional things to see around the adobe like old machinery and artifacts, graves, a covered well, and petroglyphs.
From Ryan Campground: Find the start of the trail at a panel across from site 15. The trail heads northeast toward the ruins, which come into view below the slopes of Ryan Mountain. Headstone Rock, a short rock formation with two climbing routes, is located just north of the trail (a path from Ryan Campground to Headstone Rock also continues to the Ryan Ranch ruins). After hiking a third of a mile from the campground, you will reach a junction with the other trail in from Park Boulevard. Near this junction, a panel asks visitors to help preserve Ryan Ranch. Walk the last short distance across the desert to the ruins.
From Park Boulevard: Find the turnout on the south side of Park Boulevard (Loop Road) just east of the entrance to Ryan Campground. Bathrooms and a panel about Ryan Ranch are at the trailhead. Walk south for half a mile to the junction with the trail from the campground and turn left to reach the ruins of Ryan Ranch, a short distance away.
Exploring Ryan Ranch: The panels at the trailheads describe the hike to Ryan Ranch, where:
…you’ll find the decaying adobe brick walls of the ranch house and bunkhouse. Scattered about, you’ll find a collapsed windmill, a stone-covered well, several graves, and machinery. Time, fire, and vandals reduced the site to its present condition. Please leave all objects you find for others to ponder.
The primary ruins of Ryan Ranch are the adobe walls of a multi-room homestead. While the roof is gone and parts of the wall have crumbled away, the arid climate has preserved much of Ryan Ranch. The panel also offers this description of the history of Ryan Ranch:
Jepp and Tom Ryan homesteaded this site to secure the natural spring once located here. The water was essential to the Lost Horse Mine, which they owned with their brother Matt and local prospector Johnny Lang. The ranch supported the mining operation: pumping water 3.5 miles to the mine, processing ore, and serving as a mining office and home. The cattle raised here helped feed the family and workers; some 60 people lived at the ranch and mine during the gold boom. By 1908 full-time operation of the mine ceased and the Ryans turned their attention to cattle ranching, until the establishment of Joshua Tree National Monument halted grazing.
To find out more about their mining operation, you can also hike to Lost Horse Mine, where you can see one of the best-preserved mills under National Park protection.
The walls of Ryan Ranch have a nice peach color thanks to the desert clay from which they were made. The adobe bricks have another ingredient that is more unusual. In addition to clay, sand, and water the Ryan’s added tailings (refuse) from Los Horse Mine into the mix. The panel at the trailhead explains that:
Jepp Ryan, in the 1930s, discovered that the old mine tailings contained gold, which meant so did the brick–leading to dubbing the Ryan house, “the gold brick house.”
To have your own golden experience at Ryan Ranch, make the short hike at sunset.
Once you have stepped through the adobe, stroll around the desert surrounding the homestead and see what artifacts you can spot. Blades from an old windmill are nearby.
If you follow paths away from the ruins, you can find an old ranching trough, gravestones, and Native American rock art. Remember that on federal lands, all ancient ruins, artifacts, and historic remnants are protected by law for the benefit of all people and should not be damaged or removed. Respect the ruins so that they may be preserved for future generations.
Joshua Tree National Park has an entrance fee and it costs extra to stay overnight at Ryan Campground, which has 31 first-come first-serve sites. No permit is required to hike to Ryan Ranch, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: Take Park Boulevard half a mile east of the intersection with Keys View Road to the entrance of Ryan Campground on the south side of the road. If you aren’t camping, drive another 400 feet east on Park Boulevard to a turnout across from a sign that reads “Ryan Ranch Parking” where there is a bathroom and a trailhead for Ryan Ranch. Inside Ryan Campground, the trail to Ryan Ranch begins across from site 15.
Trailhead address: Park Boulevard (Loop Road), Joshua Tree National Park, CA 92277
Trailhead coordinates: 33.98882, -116.153846 (33° 59′ 19.75″N 116° 09′ 13.84″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding California Desert trails and campgrounds.
|Ryan Mountain |
This 3-mile hike offers summit views from the center of Joshua Tree National Park.
|Barker Dam |
This level 1.5-mile loop visits a small foreign-looking reservoir within the Wonderland of Rocks.
|Wonderland Wash |
This level 2.1-mile hike travels past the ruins of Wonderland Ranch up a use trail into the Wonderland of Rocks.
|Wall Street Mill |
This level 1.55 to 2.15-mile hike visits a well-reserved gold mill, exploring the mining history of Joshua Tree National Park.
|Hidden Valley |
This one mile loop circles the interior of a small valley surrounded by tall rocks that serves as an excellent bouldering arena.
|Lost Horse Mine |
This 4-mile hike visits a well-preserved mine and mill.
|Inspiration Peak |
This 1.2-mile hike leaves the crowds at Keys View for even grander views at a 5,550-foot summit that looks out on the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, Mount San Jacinto, and much of Joshua Tree National Park.
|Desert Queen Mine |
This 1.6-mile hike follows a level trail to an overlook before crossing a canyon to visits the ruins of one the most profitable gold mines in the California desert.
|Lucky Boy Vista |
This level 2.5-mile hike visits a modest overlook at the site of an old mine.
|Crown Prince Lookout |
This easy 3.25-mile round trip hike crosses a desert plateau to a pair of overlook near the site of an World War II era observation post.
|Contact Mine |
This 3.9-mile hike ascends 700 feet up a wash, a canyon, and an old road to a mountainside mine site that offers a glimpse into the mining history of Joshua Tree.
|Fortynine Palms Oasis |
The 3-mile round trip hike visits a cool desert oasis.
|Indian Cove |
The 101-site campground is home to a 0.6-mile interpretive trail and endless bouldering and rock climbing opportunities.
|Arch Rock |
This short hike leads to a natural arch in the granite formations by White Tank Campground.
|Cholla Cactus Garden |
This quarter-mile loop allows visitors to stroll through an intense concentration of cholla cacti.
|Lost Palms Oasis |
This 7.2-mile hike visits a desert oasis nestled between mountains in the southeast corner of the park.
|Mastodon Peak |
This 2.6-mile loop visits a 3,400-foot summit with panoramic views of southeastern Joshua Tree.
|Bajada Trail |
This level 0.3-mile nature trail loop explores the plants living on a desert bajada.
|Warren Peak |
This 5.5-mile hike summits a peak with impressive views over the west side of Joshua Tree.
|High View Nature Trail |
This 1 1/3-mile loop climbs a ridge on the west side of the park that offers views of San Gorgonio Mountain and Yucca Valley, along with an introduction to desert plants.
|Hikes in the California Desert |
Explore more trails in Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Mojave National Preserve.
|Joshua Tree Campgrounds |
Nine campgrounds with 500 total sites are spread throughout the park to facilitate your visit.
|Joshua Tree Wildflowers |
The desert in bloom is something any outdoor enthusiast in California should see.