The Ryan Mountain Trail is one of the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a short, steady uphill hike to the second tallest mountain within Joshua Tree. Hiking up a mountain may sound daunting, but rest easy… you can enjoy the Ryan Mountain hike with kids.
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Ryan Mountain Trail Overview
Flat Land Below Ryan Mountain
As you begin the Ryan Mountain hike, you are immediately greeted by two massive rock monoliths – one on either side of the trail. These striking rock formations are beautiful and are one of the most beautiful welcoming committees we’ve seen anywhere!
You start the Ryan Mountain hike heading south towards the north end of the mountain. If you arrive early in the day (recommended to get a parking spot), the Ryan Mountain trail will be in the shade. Bring an extra layer of clothing as it can get quite cold hiking in the shade.
The morning we enjoyed the Ryan Mountain hike with our kids in February, it was 49F (9C) in the sunlight at 8am. Once we entered the shade it easily felt 25F cooler – if not more…
The Climb up Ryan Mountain
The Ryan Mountain trail winds its way up and around some valleys along the side of the mountain. The trail surface is mostly gravel, but there are some rock steps along the way.
The terrain and flora along the Ryan Mountain hike is mostly rocks, Joshua Trees and small desert scrub plants, so there is virtually nothing blocking the amazing views of the Joshua Tree National Park down below.
As you make your first major turn of the hike, you re-enter the sunlight and see yet another massive rock formation on the side of Ryan Mountain. The rock formations within the Joshua Tree National Park were a wonderful surprise – I had no idea there we were in for this kind of scenery within the national park.
The Ryan Mountain trail keeps going up – slowly but surely. Take your mind off the effort by looking for Joshua Tree wildlife. We saw lots of little lizards along the way, but we hit the jackpot near the summit when we saw a flock of Desert Bighorn Sheep! There were even a few babies in the group – what luck!
Ryan Mountain Summit
The 360-degree views at the Ryan Mountain summit make all your hard work worthwhile. The rocky landscape of the Joshua Tree National Park is on full display here, complimented by tall, snow-capped mountains looming in the distance.
There’s plenty of space at the Ryan Mountain summit to stake out your spot to sit and appreciate the beauty of Joshua Tree National Park down below.
Ryan Mountain Hike Stats
Distance: The Ryan Mountain hike is a there-and-back trail. The full round-trip distance of the Ryan Mountain Trail is 3.0 miles / 4.8km.
Elevation Gain: This Joshua Tree hike is a slow, steady climb up the north face of Ryan Mountain to the summit. The total elevation gain on this hike is 1,050 feet / 320m. There is only 700 feet of elevation gain per mile of hiking to the Ryan Mountain summit – not too bad for a mountain summit hike.
At the summit, you’ll be standing atop the second tallest mountain in Joshua Tree National Park. The elevation of Ryan Mountain is 5,456 feet (1,663 m) above sea level, just shy of Quail Mountain (the highest point in Joshua Tree) which stands at 5,816 feet (1,773 m)
Difficulty: The National Park Service rates the Ryan Mountain trail as ‘strenuous’, but we respectfully disagree – we rate this hike as ‘moderate’.
The elevation gain on Ryan Mountain may be an issue for some who are not used to climbing hills, but people of all ages and abilities were out enjoying this breathtaking Joshua Tree hike.
Please read the NPS safety message for ‘strenuous’ Joshua Tree hikes.
Duration: It took us 3 hours to complete the Ryan Mountain hike with our kids (aged 4 & 6), and 3.75 hours including breaks. This is pretty much bang-on to our normal hiking pace with the kids.
Hikers without kids can expect to complete the Ryan Mountain trail in about 90-120 minutes.
Ryan Mountain Trail Map
You likely won’t need a Ryan Mountain Trail map for your family hike. The trail begins in the parking lot and it’s easy to follow all the way to the Ryan Mountain summit.
The Ryan Mountain hike is shown on the Joshua Tree map you are given when you pay your national park admission. You may also view the Joshua Tree map online.
We always use the AllTrails hiking app when we go hiking with our kids. The downloaded map and your phone’s GPS help you find the trailhead and stay on the trail once hiking. You can view the Ryan Mountain Trail map on AllTrails anytime.
Ryan Mountain Trail Location
How to Get There: The Ryan Mountain hike is conveniently located along Park Boulevard, the main road through the Joshua Tree National Park. It’s roughly at the halfway point between the two main entrances to the park.
It was a 30 minute drive to the Ryan Mountain parking lot from our Twentynine Palms Airbnb. We arrived at 8:10am on the Friday of the President’s Day long weekend in February and the large parking lot was about 25% full.
Ryan Mountain Hike Highlights
The Ryan Mountain hike was enjoyable the whole way to the summit, but there are three elements of the hike which stood out as highlights:
- The two massive rock formations standing guard over the entrance of the Ryan Mountain hike were so striking and impressive. They left a real lasting impression on me.
- Except for some skinny Joshua Trees, there is no tall or dense vegetation along the hiking trail. The ever-changing views along the Ryan Mountain trail to the summit are what makes this hike really fun.
- Seeing a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep was a real treat!
Hiking Ryan Mountain with Kids
Ryan Mountain is a challenging hike, but if your family is reasonably active, you will certainly enjoy a great family hike to the top.
Here are a few considerations for hiking Ryan Mountain trail with kids:
- There is a washroom in the parking lot near the Ryan Mountain trailhead. Be sure that everyone goes here as the Ryan Mountain trail is very busy and there is literally nowhere to duck behind a tree on the trail.
- The NPS recommends each hiker bring 1 gallon (4L) of water to replace fluids lost in the hot California sun. Water bladders are an easy and effective way to bring lots of water for the family on the Ryan Mountain hike.
- There is no potable water at the Ryan Mountain trailhead, but you can find drinking water at several throughout the Joshua Tree National Park. You’ll find drinking water at the Oasis Visitor Center, the Black Rock Campground, the Cottonwood Campground, the West Entrance and the Indian Cove Ranger Station.
- Your biggest risk hiking Ryan Mountain with kids is sun exposure. Be sure your kids wear a hiking hat, have full sunscreen on and stop for frequent water breaks. If your kids are not asking to stop and pee, they haven’t had enough water. It’s better to deal with over-hydrated kids needing to pee (with nowhere to go), than having the risk of under-hydrated kids.
- The Ryan Mountain Trail is not stroller accessible, but it is very common to see parents hiking in Joshua Tree with their baby or toddler in a carrier – Ospry seems to be the most popular brand of hiking carrier.
- Dogs are not permitted on any trails within the Joshua Tree National Park.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
There are very few places to stop for a snack or to have lunch along the Ryan Mountain Trail. There is a large flat area at the Ryan Mountain summit where you can stop and enjoy the 360-degree view of Joshua Tree National Park.
What to Bring for Ryan Mountain – Joshua Tree Hikes
We do a ton of hiking with our kids and know that bringing the right gear along is important. Equally important is not bringing too much unnecessary gear.
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