California’s Joshua Tree National Park is something from another planet, or at least that’s how it seems.
In my mind, the park always had a cloak of mystery and sometimes even darkness wrapped around it, the very place where Charles Manson and his followers hid out, where curious druggies experiment with peyote and where extraterrestrial enthusiasts claim to have spotted UFOs.
After visiting California and exploring the park for myself, I’ll admit the landscape is pretty otherworldly.
Abandoned piles of rock, precisely-cut peaks, bold clouds forming unusual patterns in the bright blue sky, barren landscapes full of odd-looking Joshua Trees, twisting branches reaching up out of gravel and dirt.
At certain times I was transported back to days hiking around Chile’s Torres del Paine, a beautiful yet eerie national park appearing like something out of a Tim Burton movie.
At other times in Joshua Tree National Park, I found myself envisioning the books of Dr. Seuss and the way he loved to draw characters and plants with fluffy mop cuts.
There was one reason my boyfriend and I visited Joshua Tree National Park:
We stopped at the Visitor Center upon arrival to pay the parking fee — $15 per vehicle — and get some information on the local trails.
In the end, we decided to summit Ryan Mountain, a “strenuous hike” (I found it to be moderate, maybe only slightly strenuous) 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) in length.
From the top, which is 5,461 feet (1,664 meters) high, hikers enjoy vistas of the Lost Horse, Queen, and Pleasant Valleys.
Overall it took my boyfriend and me about 2.5 hours round-trip, including lots of photo taking.
I recommend bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top, as it’s peaceful — we didn’t see many other hikers — and there are birds that fly over the mountains and get really close to you. It’s just a really serene setting worth spending some time in.
Moreover, make sure to bring lots of water. I personally drank 64 ounces of water during the hike, and it wasn’t extremely hot out.
If you have time, also make a stop at the Keys View — pictured below — which offers panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, Santa Rosa Mountains, San Jacinto Peak, San Gorgonio Mountain, San Andreas Fault and, on a very clear day, Mexico.
To give you an idea of what kind of scenery you can expect on a Joshua Tree hike up Ryan Mountain, I put together the below photo essay of some of my favorite shots from the trek.
After spending time at this park, continue enjoying California outdoors by exploring the Sierra Nevadas and climbing Mount Whitney, hiking the Lakes Trail (the perfect way to spend 1 day in Sequoia National Park), heading to Yosemite to hike Sentinel Dome to Glacier Point, the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls, or Columbia Rock (which make for the perfect Yosemite 3 day itinerary), or completing the stunning James Irvine Trail in Northern California.
Also, an important note:
When hiking, know that you’re on Indigenous land.
The Serrano, the Cahuilla, the Mojave, and the Chemehuevi were the original inhabitants of the land that Joshua Tree National Park resides on. These Indigenous peoples were displaced and/or forced to relocate.
Along with educating yourself on the history and culture of these tribes, consider making a donation to causes and charities that directly support them. Moreover, where possible hire Indigenous guides and purchase from Indigenous-owned businesses.
oshua Tree National Park Tours
Looking to explore Joshua Tree and its surroundings with a guide? Here are a few highly-rated experiences:
- Joshua Tree National Park Offroad Tour
- Half-Day Guided Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park Self-Driving Audio Tour
- Rappelling Adventure in Joshua Tree National Park (4 Hours)
- Secrets of Joshua Tree Hidden Valley Scavenger Hunt
- Palm Springs Indian Canyons Bike and Hike from Palm Springs
Have you gone hiking in Joshua Tree National Park?
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