There is nothing like the stillness and peace of the desert. Joshua Tree National Park grows on me each time I visit and is starting to make its way to the top of my favorite park list. I definitely recommend checking it out and I wanted to share some of what I love about this park and some recommendations for climbing, camping and other activities.
There is something about the desert. I’m pretty sure it is the solitude and peace that Edward Abby writes about in his memoir, Desert Solitaire. There are times when I am in Joshua Tree that I will stop on a hike or during photography and just absorb the utmost quiet. There is nowhere else that I have experienced this in the same way – it is one of the most unique desert areas to explore in the country. The landscape is covered with incredible boulder and rock formations, famous Joshua trees and surrounding mountains. It is peaceful, beautiful and magical toward sunset. During the day while climbing, it can be just as peaceful or a little busier with other climbers around your route and other climbing parties yelling back and forth to their belayers/climbers. The short hikes in the park get crowded but any moderate hike gets you out into the quiet.
“But for the time being, around my place at least, the air is untroubled, and I become aware for the first time today of the immense silence in which I am lost. Not a silence so much as a great stillness – for there are a few sounds; the creak of some bird in a juniper tree, an eddy of wind which passes and fades like a sigh, the ticking of my watch on my wrist – slight noises which break the sensation of absolute silence but at the same time exaggerate my sense of the surrounding, overwhelming peace. A suspension of time, a continuous present.” – Edward Abbey
We have spent the last three Thanksgivings in Joshua Tree National Park climbing. We get there the weekend before the holiday and then leave on Friday as the park gets really crowded for the long weekend. It is a beautiful time of year in the park and the weather can be perfect or somewhat cold. This year it was incredibly perfect with temperatures in the 70s almost all week and no wind. The climbing is awesome and the early morning and late afternoon light are perfect for photography. Pick up a climbing guide to the park if you intend to rock-climb and also make sure you know that Joshua Tree isn’t like some climbing areas. A guide book may tell you that a route is 5.7 and bolted so it sounds good, but when you get there the first bolt is 30 feet up and the climb starts from a place you scrambled to that is already 20 feet off the ground so a fall would be bad news. Do your research before climbing here. Also, there is no water in the park, so plan ahead and bring more than you need. For some general tips on traveling to Joshua Tree, check out another post I wrote here.
With over 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 bouldering problems and 8 campgrounds, there is plenty to choose from. For a head-start, here are some of our favorites in Joshua Tree :
Moderate Rock Climbing
- Mental Physics 5.7 – trad/sport (said to be one of the top crack climbs in the country)
- Big Moe 5.11a – top rope only (easy access and feels like a gym climb, great workout)
- Headstone Rock, SW Corner 5.6 and Cryptic 5.8 bolted (very popular moderate routes in the park)
- Vanishing Deserts on Half Rock 5.8: trad/sport (no one was in this entire area and we had it all to ourselves)
- The Bong 5.4: trad (great for a first trad-lead)
- Sail Away 5.8: trad
- Cholla Cactus Garden (header image is from here)
- Headstone Rock near Ryan Campground
- Any Joshua trees and cool rock formations
Camping – arrive early as most sites in the park are first-come first-served and fill up quickly. Another option if you want to be sure you have a place to stay and you aren’t living the van life is VRBO or Air B&B. We have rented a house before on VRBO that was near to the park and worked well as a base camp for all climbing.
- Hidden Valley Campground
- Ryan Campground
- Jumbo Rocks
- White Tank
- Indian Cove (separate entrance from main park, no Joshua trees in area, but great climbing)
Wildlife and Hiking
- Barker Dam area and off toward the ruins of the old pink house from the same parking lot are great for short walks and looking for bighorn sheep and quail. The Hidden Valley loop is another nice and easy walk. There are so many great hikes in the park and the best place to start is on the hiking page at NPS.gov here and of course, on The Outbound. The NPS site also has information on everything you need to bring for hikes – remember this is the desert and the heat and sun can take a toll quickly.
Restaurants and Gear Shops