Ryan Mountain Hike: Second Highest Point in Joshua Tree National Park

A couple weeks ago I headed out to Joshua Tree National Park to spend a full day checking out as many of the hikes as possible. I went to the cactus gardens, arch rock, baker dam and finally Ryan Mountain in an epic all day adventure. Ryan Mountain was by far one of the standouts of the trip though as it was a moderately easy hike that gets you to the tallest point in the park for beautiful 360 views of a desert landscape that you do not often see.  It was a beautiful trek the entire way and one that I would highly recommend. Read on for the full review.


Ryan Mountain is located right in the middle of the park and is closest to either the north or west entrance. It is easy to find and has a parking lot that is located right on the main road. Unlike some of the smaller hikes it is clearly marked and has a bathroom at the base. We went on a weekday and the parking lot was about 50% full, I imagine on the weekend it is probably even more busy and parking may be more difficult. The trail itself is around 3 miles round trip but the elevation gain is a little over 1200. This means that the hike gains elevation pretty quickly. While it is not especially difficult you want to make sure you take your time if you are not used to this type of hiking.

The Hike

The hike itself is unlike many of the hikes I have done in the past. The desert terrain is so flat that almost as soon as you start up the mountain you can see a vast distance. This makes for many great resting points as the view just continues to get better and better as you ascend. The hike hugs the side of the mountain for two thirds of it before heading in for the summit push. The path is well maintained and has a wide variety of trees, flowers and cactus to check out as you are hiking. Also, as you start to get higher up you can see all of the people climbing the different rocks in the park. There was almost never a rock I saw that didn’t have the silhouette of someone climbing it or standing on its top. It truly is a mecca for rock climbers. If you squint you can see the silhouette of a rock climber at the top of the rock on the last picture below.

The Summit

After about 45 minutes to an hour of hiking we made it to the summit. It is completely worth the hike you put in to get there as the views are amazing in every direction. You can see the spotty rocks that line the landscape and even the Joshua Trees on the desert floor if you have a zoom lens. The summit itself is around 5400 feet so it gets you significantly higher then anywhere else in the park and on a clear day you can even see San Jacinto and San Gorgonio in the distance. There is a rock pile on the summit that I saw many people standing on to get full 360 degree photos. When we were there there was only about 5 or 6 people hanging out so it was nice to have such an beautiful summit to ourselves.

Joshua Trees lining the desert floor from the summit

The Descent 

One of the best parts of this hike for me was that we descended during the start of sunset. The desert floor and the surrounding rocks had a red tone that made them beautiful and unique in this type of light. I would highly suggest staying for this type of light in the park as it makes for amazing pictures without the harsh light of the sun above.

This is a must do if you make your way out to Joshua Tree National Park. Sure it is more difficult then most of the other hikes in the park, but the views are so rewarding that you would be crazy to miss it. I recommend taking as long as you need to hike up, as you will realize how worth it it is as soon as you make it to the summit.

Check out the rest of the pictures below and get directions to go hike it yourself.

Photo Gallery


Get Directions to Ryan Mountain


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  • William Staley

    Looked like a perfect day out there at J Tree. Always a fun place to hike, camp, and stargaze.

    If you ever want to do a mild off-road adventure. You can drive into the park on Berdoo Canyon Truck Trail. Start off of Dillon Road a few miles from Indio. The dirt road is a little trashy looking at the start, but cleans up shortly. The route meanders up the narrow canyon gaining about 3000 feet and then topping out on the Joshua Tree Plateau. You can do this in a high clearance 2wd vehicle driving carefully – nothing too radical. I think total dirt miles are about 20 miles and you get to see some beautiful backcountry.

    Keep up the good work Josh.


    • JoshMc

      Thanks Bill!

      One of my friends is looking into getting a jeep so hopefully we will be able to do some of these offroad adventures in the future. Also I was in Anza-Borrego this weekend, I bet you have some great stories from offroading down there!

      • William Staley

        Anza Borrego’s a cool place. Many off-road trails there, but I’ve only done a few. I will be visiting the southern deserts starting real soon, as I am beginning work on a 7-day, 1,500 mile off-road adventure. That entails many many miles of scouting trails, finding feasable routes. Lots of fun. Not much free time during the week, but trying to visit your site every now and again. Take care Josh.

  • shaun

    Quail Mountain is the highest peak at 5,813 feet, not Ryan at 5,461 feet.

    • Thanks for the correction I will edit the post with this information!

  • sonyaberg

    I just returned from this hike and agree that sunset is the best time!

    • That is for sure true! So awesome to see the views from sunset up there!