The 2.9-mile round trip Ryan Mountain Trail sports a 1050 feet elevation gain.
JOSHSUA TREE NATIONAL PARK — Day hikers can enjoy a great panoramic view of Joshua Tree National Park from a mountain summit just off the park’s main road.
The 2.9-mile round trip Ryan Mountain Trail sports a 1050 feet elevation gain. It is best done October through May.
To reach the trailhead, from the park’s Oasis Visitor Center on Utah Trail Road just south of Calif. Hwy. 62, take the former south. Once in the park, Utah Trail Road becomes Park Boulevard. In 8.5 miles from junction from the Pinto Y junction, you’ll reach the Ryan Mountain Trailhead parking lot on the left. Do not park at the Sheep Pass Group campground.
From the lot, the trail heads south toward the mountain. At 0.2 miles, a trail heads east to the campground. Continue straight-right/south.
From there, the trail quickly gains elevation, and it’s uphill all the way. Rocks have been built into the landscape, creating stairs that help make the ascent bearable.
The trail turns rocky but is still desert with the standard cacti, yucca and a Joshua tree or two. Your path hugs a couple of mildly interesting rock walls and passes some large, weathered outcroppings.
Among them is an interesting formation at about 0.45 miles. From some angles on the trail, the outcrop looks like a face awhile at other locations it appears to be praying hands.
The real surprise on the trail is wildlife. Bighorn sheep sometimes can be seen wandering around. Known for their large, curling horns, on ram they can weigh up to 30 lbs. Thanks to their brown fur, they can seamlessly blend with the surrounding rock.
Chuckwallas, a sizeable lizard with a partially orange back, also inhabit the mountain side. They store water in lymph sacs beneath skin folds on the side of their bodies. They also have special glands that filter the salt out of their bodies, which they excrete by blowing out of their nostrils.
You’ll reach the summit at 1.45 miles. Sitting at 5,457 feet above sea level, the summit offers 360-degree views.
With the parking lot at 12 o’clock and straight north, you can see a number of great sites by going around the clock face.
The slightly higher Queen Mountain is at 1 o’clock. The Jumbo Rocks area is just after 2 o’clock. Pinto Basin is on the other side of the low-lying hills at 4 o’clock.
The peaks of the Little San Bernardino Mountains run from 5 to 10 o’clock with the Coachella Valley beyond it. San Jacinto Peak is at 8 o’clock with Palm Springs on its left and below it.
Snow-capped San Gorgonio Peak sits at about 10 o’clock. The nearby Hall of Horrors rock area is at 11 o’clock. And the Wonderland of Rocks at almost the noon position north of the park road.
The fairly flat summit also makes for an excellent spot to enjoy either sunrise or sunset.
Once you’ve returned to the trailhead, there’s a small bonus waiting for you. From the parking lot just west of the Ryan Mountain trailhead, look for a marker and a short 100-foot path to “Indian Cave.” Though not technically a cave, the enclosure once provided shelter for people. The blackened ceiling indicates campfires were once lit inside it.
As the entire trail is unshaded, always don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat. Bring plenty of water and a snack as well.
- Granite outcroppings make for interesting rock formations on the trail.: Rob Bignell