The Ryan King
Hike Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park
Think big picture. Then hike to it. At 5,456 feet, the summit of Ryan Mountain has the best view in the park. Its brilliant panoramic expanse, spanning desert to mountains, and—bonus—late afternoons in winter can feature a sky tinged with lavender thanks to the low-sitting sun.
The trail to the top is just 1.5 miles (one-way), but it’s a rather rapid ascent of over 1,000 feet, so expect to huff and puff a bit. Several stone steps and a few steep grades make up parts of the adventure, but the desert views stay with you most of the way—increasing in size the higher you rise. Joshua Tree’s signature forests and nature-carved rock slabs surround you.
The summit is marked by a huge pile of boulders and rocks, and there’s plenty of room to jump for joy or sit quietly on a slab of the mountain and scan the scenery, including three valleys, the Pinto Basin, Mount San Jacinto, and the Little San Bernardino Mountains.
Stay for sunset (bring a headlamp and leave before it’s too dark) and enjoy the tangerine glow.
WHERE TO EAT & STAY:The town of Joshua Tree maintains a high desert bohemian and arts vibe that feels uninfluenced by social influencers (for now). Grab a beer at the Joshua Tree Saloon, where the Old West welcome hikers, climbers, campers, and locals eating everything from jalapeño poppers to baskets of baby back ribs basted in a homemade Jack Daniels No. 7 BBQ.Wash everything down with one of the seasonal brews or a staple Guinness. We also really like Pie for the People—eat in or take out from this pizzeria that’s become a beloved locals’ favorite for its hand-forged pies. Try the David Bowie: mozzarella, bacon, roasted pineapple, jalapeños, Guinness caramelized onion, plum sauce—yum! Camping at Joshua Tree is very popular, with plenty of options depending on what you like (and what you can get!).
WEEKEND SHERPA RECOMMENDS: More recently, LA’s influence is coming through among artists who have moved to the area or own properties and are setting up unique stays at or near their abodes. Like this Airstream, located a few minutes from town up a dirt road, on 1.5 acres overlooking the desert landscape, including Joshua Tree National Park. The artisan touches range from sweet patio lighting and firepit warmth to Pendleton wool blankets for a spirit of the west desert decor.
The trailhead is at Park Boulevard (Loop Road), Joshua Tree National Park. No dogs.
Bring the Outdoors to Your Inbox
Sign up for our weekly email and stay up to date on where to explore in California.* No spam, that’s a funky food!