One of my first hikes on a three-week road trip through the south-west of America, the sunrise hike to the top of Ryan Mountain doesn’t disappoint! The mountain is named after Jepp, Tom and Matt Ryan, three brothers who established a mill to crush stone for miners in 1895. Ryan Mountain is regarded as one of the best (and most popular) hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, which “provides sweeping panoramic views of the park”. So I’m hoping my dawn start will be worth the effort!
There’s already an orange glow in the sky as I head up the well-made track, which initally rises very gently.
Some large gneiss (or granite) boulders near the base of the the trail frame views of the distant mountains. Called inselbergs – a German word meaning “mountain island” – these boulders were formed when by weathering of the granite bedrock. Covered by soil when the Mojave Desert was semi-arid (7-9 million years ago), the granite gradually become rounded by water erosion through the soil. As the landscape became drier, soil stopped forming and the elongated boulders were left behind.
The morning sun is just starting to illuminate the San Gorgonio mountain range, as I pass the junction with the trail to the Sheep Pass Campground.
After the first 0.2 miles the trail starts to climb more steeply as it heads towards a saddle below the Ryan Mountain peak.
The trail continues to climb steadily up to the saddle; although the sun is now up and it’s already getting warm, the trail is still in the shade.
From the saddle the trail is exposed to both morning and afternoon sun, as it heads up the base of the peak. There’s now views in almost every direction.
A short distance below the summit is an informal lookout, which offers spectacular views to the east.
In the distance are the Twentynine Palms Mountain, Granite Peak and Pinto Mountain.
It’s another 15min or so to the Ryan Mountain peak, with more impressive views along the last section of the trail.
The top of Ryan Mountain (5,457 feet / 1,663m) is marked by a small sign and a large pile of rocks…
…and 360 degrees views over Joshua National Park and surrounding mountain ranges.
From the peak you can see San Jacinto Peak (10,804 feet) to the west across the Coachella Valley and San Gorgonio Mountain (11,503 feet) to the northwest, as well as hundreds of inselbergs across the desert.
It’s back the same way down, with all of the trail now in the sun. It’s definitely been worth the effort of getting up early – this is a great walk to do around sunrise or sunset with some outstanding views.
Native American Rock Shelter
A separate – and very short – trail from the capark leads to a Native American rock shelter. The shelter has smoke stains on the rocks from many centuries of use.
Getting to Ryan Mountain
The trailhead for the Ryan Mountain Trail is located off Park Boulevard, which is the main road running east-west through the northern section of Joshua Tree National Park. The large carpark has basic toilets, and the start of the trail is clearly signposted.
When to hike Ryan Mountain
Avoid this hike in summer, when temperatures reach up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius). For most of the year, warm days and a fairly exposed trail mean that it’s best to start early or late in the day.