Climbing Joshua Tree National Park

Four Classic Destinations in the Land of Contrast
By Jonathan Copp

As the last of the thrift shops falls into the rearview mirror and rock-peppered, undulating hillsides begin to surround, the scent of sage wafts through the mazes of quartz monzonite and Joshua trees. Only 140 miles separate Los Angeles from the prehistoric landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. The dichotomy always amazes me.

The climbing in "Josh" can range from slabs where holds need to be imagined to steep cracks where the friction is so good it feels like you're cheating. From a distance the rock formations look like piles of potatoes separated by expanses of vegetated land. (Maybe I don't bring enough food out here.) The best months to be in the high desert of Joshua Tree are from October to December and from March through April.

There are over 4,500 climbing routes within the park. Most of them are between one and two pitches in length. It's very easy to become overwhelmed and lost among the endless formations, so my goal here is to focus on four classic spots, each suited to climbers of a specific ability level. I've chosen destinations by merit of rock quality, potential for sound protection, and beauty of setting. There are a few guidebooks for Joshua Tree, but the most comprehensive at present is Randy Vogel's Rock Climbing Joshua Tree, reprinted by Falcon Press in 1992. (I've earmarked some pages to help you find these spots.)

Published: 28 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 »