Walk on the Wild Side

Hike J Trees CA Riding and Hiking Trail

Joshua Tree’s California Riding and Hiking Trail traverses 35 miles through the entire park, but you don’t have to hike all of it to see the good stuff. Get up close and personal with the park’s quirky namesake trees on a moderate out-and-back route starting from Ryan Campground. We recommend making it a roughly 6-mile round-tripper, but you can add or subtract mileage as you wish (and as conditions permit). Setting off towards the east you’ll head into Joshua Tree wilderness. This portion of soft dirt singletrack takes you into a valley between the Hexie Mountains and Ryan Mountain. Joshua trees and mojave yucca galore decorate the desert floor. Follow the trail along gradual rolling hills, at an average elevation of 4,300 feet. Keep an eye out for the elusive bighorn sheep, sometimes seen in these parts. It’s more common to spot kit foxes and black-tailed jackrabbits. Another common sight this time of year: red blossoms of the ocotillo plant, which blooms in early spring and again in fall. However long you go, be sure to take a detour to the impressive Headstone Rock on the way back, located just east of Ryan Campground. It’s a massive rock resembling a headstone and balanced on top of a towering granite pile. You can scramble up the rock pile to the base of the headstone and watch experienced climbers attempt the route to the top of it. The surrounding desert views confirm that you’ve truly gone into the wild.

From Twentynine Palms Hwy. (CA-62), turn south onto Park Blvd., where you will pass the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. From the visitor center, follow Park Blvd. (entering the West Entrance Station) until you see signs for Ryan Campground on the south side of the road, 16 miles from the visitor center. The trail heads east from the south side of the campground. Headstone Rock is less than a quarter mile from Ryan Campground and is visible from there, but you will also see a climbing route sign labeled Headstone Rock that will point you in the direction of the rock. No dogs.

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