Joshua Tree National Park, named for the Joshua trees that dot the high desert landscape, sits in the elevated areas of the Mojave Desert in southern California. The Coachella Valley, home to Indio and Palm Springs, lies just to the south. Joshua Tree National Park is a paradise for rock climbers and amateurs new to rock climbing, as numerous rock outcroppings serve as perfect stomping grounds for those looking to develop or enhance their climbing skills. Scrambling and rock climbing are rarely if ever required for advancing down a trail, but the opportunities abound for those who wish to spice up their hikes with an added challenge. The park has an abundance of scenic vistas, including some at the top of the park's several mountains. When I visited Joshua Tree in October 2021, we hiked up Ryan Mountain, saw Arch Rock, hiked by Barker Dam, and walked around the High View Loop near Black Rock.
Part 1: The Hike Up Ryan Mountain
Ryan Mountain offers some of the best eagle-eye views in the whole park. Though Joshua Tree National Park isn't known for its hikes up to mountain peaks, Ryan Mountain's trail certainly offers one of those. You can see tons of Joshua trees from up here, looking down! The lack of shade, the high elevation, and the warm, arid climate put you squarely at the mercy of the Sun. Prepare for intensely bright and intense sunlight. My eyes were so tired from the Sun on this hike that I had to take a break at a visitor's center afterward. The views were exhilarating, though.
Part 2: Arch Rock, Cholla Gardens, and Barker Dam.
After Ryan Mountain, we saw a variety of attractions each requiring little to no walking. The first of these attractions was Arch Rock, a short walk from a parking lot designated for that point of interest. Here's a view from along the trail to Arch Rock:
And here's Arch Rock itself. The endeavor to take a photo of it without some random people standing under it was a difficult one.
Here's a Joshua tree "forest" situated right along the roadway through the park.
Cholla Gardens is an area of cholla plants right along the main roadway. If you want to know what a cholla plant is, look no further:
Keys View is an overlook next to the Keys Ranch. The overlook here faces south, and you can see the Coachella Valley from up here. The Coachella Valley includes cities like Palm Springs and Indio.
Petroglyphs along the Barker Dam Trail
A Desert Juniper Along the Barker Dam Trail
Part 3: Hidden Valley Nature Trail
This is where all of the totally freeform rock climbing can be done. No rock climbing or scrambling is required to complete the trail, meaning that any rock climbing or scrambling you do is totally elective. The entrance to the hidden valley is somewhat of a secret passageway, and it leads you to a large area surrounded by tall rock formations. Any of these rock formations virtually comprises its own playground on which to climb.
The folds and scarifications in the rocks make great places to put your hands and feet when bouldering. A rappelling class was being held along some of the short rock walls here. This is seriously an excellent playground for rock climbers, whether your interest is scrambling, rappelling, or bouldering.
Here's a view from a rock formation I ascended by scrambling around, with my wife down below for scale:
Part 4: The High-View Loop Trail
This short hiking trail begins at the Black Rock Mesa Ranger Station, in the northwest corner of the park. I was surprised to find that, even though this area is closer to the town of Joshua Tree, where we had our accommodation, it was very lightly traveled. The Black Rock Mesa trailhead is the origin of several other longer heights, but the High-View Loop Trail was all we had time for. The circuitous trail goes up and down a small mountain peak, but that peak was insanely windy at the top. I don't know if that's typical, or conditions just lined up in a particular way on that particular day to create impressive wind speeds. We were very close to losing a hat at the top of the peak. Here's a view from the top of this small mountain:
The High-View Loop gives hikers the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the most elaborate Joshua trees seen in the park: