Welcome to the moon! At first glance, J Tree looks like another planet, a sentiment shared by the first western settlers who came across this beautiful and harsh place. The park gets its name for the eponymous tree that can only be found here, that much we know, but the actual origin of the name of the “Joshua Tree” is up for debate. The most popular, and most fun, origin story comes from Mormon Settlers in the late 19th century who wrote that the tree reminded them of the biblical story of Joshua reaching his arms into the air towards his lord to ask for help.
What Makes It Great
Of course, the 19th century Mormons were not first humans to set their eyes on the unique flora and geology of J Tree. Humans have been said to populate the area that is now JTNP for the last 5000 years. The Park was first designated as federally protected land in 1936 as a National Monument but it was not until 1994 that it was elevated to National Park Status. Although the park has seen a huge increase in general popularity since then, there is plenty of space for the average traveler.
Ryan Mountain is a great trail for hikers to get a real feel for the epic vastness of Joshua Tree National Park. Although on paper, it does not look like a huge, hard hike, its desert locale is deceiving. The hike will take you on a three-mile out and back journey with about one thousand feet of elevation gain. Not hard right? Wrong!
The trail is thin, at times crumbling and always warm. From the parking lot on Park Boulevard, the trail takes you on a slight climb around the northern edge of Ryan Mountain with great views of the surround rock formations as you go. The path is fairly well delineated, but make sure you keep an eye out as you go for little offshoots from the trail. It still can be easy to stray from the trail as the high desert terrain can blend together if you are not careful. The top offers awesome 360 degree views of the park including an unobstructed outlook to the Lost Horse, Queen and Pleasant Valleys.
Try to get up early and do the climb in the morning as the mid day desert sun can be stifling. Look out for the exciting flora, and keep your eyes out for the fauna as well, little lizards are everywhere if you look close enough.
Who is Going to Love It
This trail is great for any hiker, but be careful on this one. It is exposed to the sun the entire time and you will be hiking in the desert. Wake up early is possible and do it in the morning to cut down on the heat. Also make sure to bring a lot of water. Other than that, anyone can do it!
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There is a huge parking lot right off of Park Boulevard with lots of free parking. This is easy to find from anywhere within the park, as you will see lots of signs and everything is well marked. The only fees involved are the park day fees that you will need to pay to enter any United States National Park.