An Off-Beat Hiker’s Guide to Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park is where great climbing’s at. It’s got never-ending grip-tastic rock structures to climb. But what about hiking?

Taylor and I went on a two-night backpacking trip in Joshua Tree. We started on the California Riding and Hiking trail that travels from Black Canyon to Ryan Campground.

I’d say Joshua Tree has decent day hikes, but isn’t super backpacker friendly. The trails are sandy and flat, with long stretches of desert. Rather than climb over mountains, they weave in between valleys and canyons, initially leaving me yearning for the tops. The hikes that do reach summits, like the trail up to Ryan Mountain, are short. The view of the desert mountains are cool at first, but I quickly grew tired of the flat trails and wished to experience the majesty from above.


Exploring our way over mountain ridges


Just because the official trails don’t climb the mountains, doesn’t mean you can’t. I know, I know, going off trail is a no-no and normally I wouldn’t bush-wack. But is it really bush-wacking when there are no bushes to wack? The mountains of Joshua tree have these natural trails made of sand or rock that make it easy to explore. As long as you don’t crush the plants, stick to the rocks and other sturdy ground, I’d say it’s okay to wander off.

Of course, Taylor and I kept track of where we came from. Our tent was based at the bottom of a distinct rocky hill, which served as a helpful landmark when it came time to return. No matter where we ventured, we could always see that rocky hill.


Once you’re out there, you realize other people have been there before. Human shoe-prints guided us at times, trickling in and out of sight. Going off trail helped us get the most out of our Joshua Tree experience. The views were incredible, like a desert fairy tale. Up high, there were no visible signs of human existence for miles and miles, but we had to make out own paths to get there.


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