Hike the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, California!

The Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park is a spectacular hike that offers panoramic views from the second-highest point in the park.

Ryan Mountain is one of our favorite hikes, not just in Joshua Tree National Park, but in all of Southern California. We’ve done it twice, and enjoyed it immensely each time.

View from Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park California
A view from the Ryan Mountain trail in Joshua Tree

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Since Ryan Mountain is centrally located within the park and offers such stunning 360-degree views, the Ryan Mountain hike is one of the most popular Joshua Tree hikes.

On a good weather day, expect to share the trail with other hikers, including families with young kids!

If you plan to hike the Ryan Mountain Trail on your visit to Joshua Tree National Park (and we think it makes a great addition to your itinerary!), here’s what to expect, plus some things to know before you go.

What Can You Expect on the Ryan Mountain Trail at Joshua Tree National Park?
Essential Facts About the Ryan Mountain Trail at Joshua Tree
How to Get to the Trailhead for the Ryan Mountain Hike
How Long Does It Take to Hike the Ryan Mountain Trail?
What to Bring on the Ryan Mountain Hike
Tips for Hiking the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

What Can You Expect on the Ryan Mountain Trail at Joshua Tree National Park?

Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its enormous boulder formations and desert flora, and you will see plenty of both as you begin the climb up the mountain.

Ryan Mountain is 5,456 feet tall, and the panoramas from the summit are nothing short of spectacular. You can see pretty much the entire desert park spread out beneath you, as well as the mountains in the distance.

The views start opening up as soon as you gain a little bit of elevation, so be sure to stop every now and then to look around and enjoy them, and take photos! The stops also allow you to catch your breath as you climb!

View of the Wonderland of Rocks from the Ryan Mountain Hike in Joshua Tree, California
View of the Wonderland of Rocks

While the trail is uphill all the way, the first part of the trail is steps carved out of local rock, and relatively steep. Later, you will still be walking steadily up, but no steps.

A pile of loose rocks marks the summit of Ryan Mountain. At the top, you can walk around to enjoy the views in all directions, and find a place to sit and enjoy a snack.

On a clear day, the panoramas are gorgeous, especially if you visit when there is snow on the distant mountains. Look for Mount San Jacinto, and for Mount Gorgonio, the tallest peak in Southern California.

Boulders, Flora, and Fauna

One of the most fun aspects of visiting Joshua Tree National Park is the variety of flora and fauna you can see in the park.

At the lower elevations, look for Joshua trees. You will see a variety of succulents along the trail as well. If you hike Joshua Tree in the spring, you may see cactii and Joshua trees in bloom during your visit.

Pinyon Pine in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California
Pinyon pine in Joshua Tree NP

At the start of the trail, stop to photograph the gorgeous white tank granite formation you can see from the trailhead. At the lower elevations of the trail, you will see other formations to photograph, such as the Wonderland of Rocks.

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife! Along with small creatures such as lizards, you may spot bighorn sheep, especially at the higher elevations.

Essential Facts About the Ryan Mountain Trail at Joshua Tree

The Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park is a 3-mile round-trip out and back trail to the summit of the mountain and back.

The elevation gain on this trail is about 1,070 feet, so it is a workout for sure. There are lots of steps in the lower half of the trail. The rest of the way, it is packed dirt and gravel.

Steps on the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Steps on the Ryan Mountain trail

The Ryan Mountain Trail is rated strenuous by the park. When we visited, we saw hikers of all ages on the trail. As a relatively uphill trail, we would say it is at least high moderate to low strenuous.

Dogs are not permitted on the trail. The Ryan Mountain Trail is open year-round, but if you plan to visit in the winter, pick a good weather day to avoid possible ice or rare snow along the trail.

The Ryan Mountain Trail is not stroller-accessible, and young children may need to be carried.

Ryan Mountain Hike in Joshua Tree California
Another view from the Ryan Mountain trail

How to Get to the Trailhead for the Ryan Mountain Hike

The trailhead for the Ryan Mountain Trail is located off Park Boulevard, the main road that runs east-west through the northern portion of Joshua Tree National Park (see map).

The trailhead is located between Sheep Pass Campground and Ryan Ranch Campground, approximately at the midpoint of the north and west entrances to Joshua Tree National Park, and it is signposted.

There is a large parking lot at the trailhead, and primitive restrooms. There are no restrooms along the trail.

From the parking lot, you will see the information sign for the trail and steps leading up the mountain to begin the hike.

Start of the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park California
The start of the uphill hike

How Long Does It Take to Hike the Ryan Mountain Trail?

Without too many stops, you could complete the Ryan Mountain hike in about 1.5 to 2 hours. But we generally take closer to three or four hours, longer if the day is clear and photos look set to turn out good.

We suggest allowing about three hours if you can spare the time, to give yourself longer to enjoy the expansive views from the trail and from the summit, and to observe flora and fauna.

What to Bring on the Ryan Mountain Hike


The Ryan Mountain Trail is a desert hike. You need to carry plenty of drinking water no matter what time of year you visit, but even more so if the weather is warm.

You can’t purchase food or water within the park, so stock up on supplies before you arrive. A hydration pack, or refillable water bottles, are convenient ways to carry enough water on hikes.

There isn’t any drinking water at the trailhead, so fill up at the Visitor Centers, or outside the park.

View from the Ryan Mountain Hiking Trail in Joshua Tree NP California
The Ryan Mountain trail offers stunning views

Snacks And/or A Portable Meal

We always bring protein bars, fruit, and trail mix on hikes. They are a relatively healthy way to refuel and taste great! You will enjoy having something to munch as you soak in the views at the top.

If you start early, bring a thermos filled with a hot beverage to enjoy at the summit. If you will be at the top around lunch, bring a sandwich! Make it something you can stand and eat, though: we didn’t see many flat boulders on which to sit.

Digital camera with Zoom Lens

Your smartphone will do just fine to record the beautiful scenery: don’t forget to take videos as well!

But if you enjoy photographing birds and animals, you may want to bring a small camera with a powerful zoom lens.

We use the Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70 and love it. It has a 30X zoom and Leica lens, and takes great shots of birds and small animals. It’s small enough to go into a pocket, so we don’t have to lug around heavy gear when we hike.

Vegetation near the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree, California
Joshua trees near the trail

Sun Hat

You won’t find a lot of shade on the Ryan Mountain Trail (if you start really early, there’s some shade at the start). Wear a wide-brimmed hat with SPF protection.

Sun Protective Clothing

We wear sun protective shirts and pants on hikes where we know we are going to be in the sun for much of the day. They are lightweight and comfortable even in the heat of the desert. Check this women’s shirt on Amazon or this men’s shirt.

Sunscreen, SPF Lip Balm and Sunglasses

Again, the Ryan Mountain trail is a desert trail. Remember your sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm with SPF.

Good hiking Shoes or Boots

Sturdy, closed-toed hiking boots or shoes are a must, for good grip on rock, gravel, and dirt. We are currently wearing Moab by Merrell and we love them. The shoes are wide at the toes, offer good support, and aren’t super heavy.

Check out the women’s shoes here on Amazon, and the men’s here.

Hiking Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree, California
Hiking Ryan Mountain

Garmin InReach Mini for Messaging

When you do not have cell reception, the Garmin InReach Mini allows you to send texts or an SOS request if you need help. If you hike routinely, it is a great investment for the peace of mind!
Buy it on REI | Buy it on Amazon

Tips for Hiking the Ryan Mountain Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Start Early in the Day

In season, the Ryan Mountain Trail can get crowded in the late morning and early afternoon. Although the parking lot is large, you may find it full at those prime times.

Arrive early in the day, not only to snag a parking spot upon arrival, but also for better light for photography, and less intense sun.

Pile of Boulders at Summit of Ryan Mountain in California
A pile of rocks at the summit of Ryan Mountain

Or Arrive Late in the Afternoon

If you start in the late afternoon, you will generally not have a problem finding parking. Time your hike such that you can catch sunset on the way back, but plan on getting back to your car while it is still light out.

The light is mellow in the late afternoon for photography, and you might get colorful skies at sunset as well!

Hike the Ryan Mountain Trail between Fall and Spring

While the trail is open year round, the park advises not attempting this trail in the summer, or whenever temperatures are high outside.

Late fall to spring is the best time of year to hike in Joshua Tree National Park, this trail being no exception. We’ve hiked it twice now in very late winter / early spring, on bright clear days.

Always check weather conditions before heading out: there are rare instances when it snows in Joshua Tree in the winter! Watch for slick surfaces due to frost and ice when cold out.

Ryan Mountain Hike, Joshua Tree NP, in Winter
A view of the distant mountains

Allow Adequate Time

We always recommend allowing yourself a little extra time when you are hiking, especially when the hike has superb views.

You will want time to savor the views, take photographs, and take the time to observe plants and wildlife as you hike.

Also, if you anticipate needing breaks, or you plan to do this hike with younger kids, build in time for breathers along the way up.

Dress for the Weather

Layers are a great idea on a mountain hike. It will likely be cooler in the shade, especially early and late in the day, and cooler and possibly breezy at the summit.

In addition, light and loose clothing will keep you comfortable as you hike. Dress for sun protection: thin long-sleeved shirts and pants offer protection while allowing you to stay comfortable when it’s warm.


Looking for other fun hikes for your Joshua Tree National Park trip? Check out our articles on the Barker Dam Nature Trail, or the popular Hidden Valley Trail.

Also be sure to check out our round-up of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, and our article on where to stay in Joshua Tree!

If you are planning to explore the deserts of Southern California, also check out our articles on Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

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Discover what to expect on the Ryan Mountain hike in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. Plus our tips for hiking this challenging trail!


Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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