Climbing Overview: Joshua Tree National Park
Rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park
Rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park (Bill Hatcher/National Geographic/Getty)

Joshua Tree National Park, California

  • Known for its unique beauty, desert wild flowers, easy access, and varied rock climbing, Joshua Tree National Park has more than 7,000 rock climbs of every rating. For an instructor or guide, contact Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School.
  • The wildflowers at Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert are a top attraction. Depending on rainfall and temperatures, the blooms are usually out in late March and April. Watch for Desert Lily, Dune Primrose, Western Jimsonweed, and Desert Star, among others.
  • Bolting in wilderness is currently prohibited. A permit system is being developed for installing new bolts in wilderness with the goal of minimizing impact.
  • From Hidden Valley Campground, check out the slabs/face climbs of the Echo Rocks area and the maze of climbs around Barker Dam. Don’t miss Saddle Rock, one of the largest formations in the Park.

More than 5,000 routes on wonderfully sticky, rarely crumbly granite have earned J-Tree its reputation as one of the world's premier climbing spots. The fact that it's climbable year-round (rock, of course, not ice) is a sizable bonus, not to mention the pristine, high-desert views that reward you at the top of each route.

Since routes are generally short, you'll log quite a few climbs in a single day. It's a great opportunity to mix it up—most areas offer enough variety that you can practice every skill you know. If you've never climbed before, this is definitely the place to start. Find yourself an experienced guide and learn what Joshua Tree is all about.

Special Know-How

Yes, this is the desert, but mornings and evenings can get quite cold. Plan for both extremes: Dress in layers, pack sunscreen, and bring plenty of water.

In the summertime, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. Generally, they won't bother you unless you bother them. But certain maneuvers that would be perfectly normal elsewhere—jamming your hand into a deep, dark crack that you can't see into, for instance—could get you into trouble here.

Some park rules to keep in mind: Don't climb at an occupied campsite; don't use anything artificial (glue, etc.) to build up holds; don't chip away at the rock or remove plants; don't climb within 50 feet of any rock paintings.

The Best Climbing Areas

Wonderland of Rocks
A dense boulder field covering more than nine square miles, the Wonderland has more routes than any other part of the park. You can find just about everything here, from easy bouldering to gnarly lead climbs. Especially noteworthy is the overhanging north face of Timbuktu Towers, with routes rated up to 5.13d.

Real Hidden Valley
Just down the road from the Hidden Valley Campground is the area known to climbers as "Real" Hidden Valley. Its most-visited site is Sports Challenge Rock, where you can find a broad range of top-rope climbs, as well as some great places to practice leading. For bouldering, try Turtle Rock.

Hall of Horrors
Contrary to its name, this area is just as suited to beginners as it is to veteran thrill-seekers. The chimney on the west face is a great confidence builder for anyone just starting out. More horrific are the face routes on the east side of the west wall.

Hemingway Buttress
Crack-climbing fans love the wrinkled east face of this rock, especially since it has enough routes spread across its wide surface to keep anyone from having to wait in line for a decent climb. White Lightning (5.7) is a good place to start. Then mix it up with a combination face/crack climb at Sow Sickle (5.11d).

Indian Rock
When icy winter winds make the higher-elevation climbing areas too crisp for comfort, Indian Rock offers a comfy retreat. This is the easiest climbing area to access from nearby towns, so you'll have to do some hiking to find any solitude. Morbid Mound, down a short path from the Indian Cove Campground, offers a good mix for novice climbers.

There's no shortage of books on climbing J-Tree. A great one to start with is So Cal Select, which details enough routes to keep you busy for quite some time. For bouldering, try Joshua Tree Bouldering or Southern California Bouldering Guide. An excellent option for sport climbers is Joshua Tree Sport Climbs.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »