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A Beginner's Climbing Guide to Joshua Tree

All the climbs, hikes and camping spot advice you need as a beginner climber getting acquainted with beautiful Joshua Tree.

By: Sarah Horn + Save to a List

Joshua Tree is a place to get lost in and leave feeling sun soaked and renewed, stepping out of the dusty golden tinged landscape. The sunrise and sunset are framed by outlines of the contorted spiky Joshua Trees and boulder studded rock formations. The park isn't all sleeping boulder giants, there's palms and vistas and hidden valleys to explore. And of course, the routes and routes and routes of climbing. This is a post about all of that. Yes, climbing Joshua Tree as a newbie, but also what we've loved seeing most when we're not climbing. First off, where to lay your head in the park.


Hidden ValleyRyan, Belle and Jumbo Rock campgrounds are closest to the climbing, but are first come, first served. The only places you can reserve spots ahead of time are at Indian Cove and Black Rock campgrounds, a good option if you're coming in on Friday. Otherwise, in peak seasons (fall and spring), you might be out of luck (unless you know how to camp for free in Joshua Tree). It's hard to find a bad campsite here. Every trip to Josh includes nights sitting in a camp chair watching the fire light reflect off of the boulders or rock walls while enjoying the starry skies. There are definitely the favorite sites--those that have a few climbs on the rocks they back up to and are east facing so that the sun can coax you out of bed earlier than other climbers. 


Although these climbs are good for beginners, you'll ideally want someone that can lead the route and is experienced building an anchor and placing protection. These are some of my favorites as well as those that I've heard from longtime Josh climbers and the guys at the local climbing shop. I do want to warn climbers that haven't been to the park before that it's heady and can really challenge climbers that think they have a grade nailed. As a pair of Canadians that we recently climbed with after getting rained out of Red Rocks kept saying, "it's really thin, ohhh no, it's really thin." On to the climb suggestions. 

Morbid Mound, above, is a top rope destination near Indian Cove campground. As you'll see in Mountain Project's page for the area, it's nothing spectacular, but it's a great place to start as a beginner. The first outdoor climb I did, right after I had a few indoor climbing sessions under my belt, was Brimstone Stairway. 

Trashcan Rock, hosts a slew of beginner and intermediate routes and can be easily top roped. Walk off the north side of the formation. It'll be busy though so get an early start.

Intersection Rock, destination for two beginner crack climbs: Bat Crack, 5.5 trad, and Upper Right Ski Track, 5.3 trad. The Eye, 5.4 trad (we always fit this climb in when we visit). You start out in a gully with foot and hand holds abound, then transitions into some face climbing and ends near the top in a tunnel that extends through the formation. Walk off the back of the formation. Note: For those that don't climb, you can boulder hop to the top of the formation from the backside. Beautiful views to end the day. 

The Chief, 5.5 trad. Starts in a steep gully with solid feet and hands and then finishes with a few moves stepping out onto the face. It swallows gear, a good potential first lead, or casual solo for those very comfortable with the grade. I love this climb, plus it's a short walk from the parking lot and we've never had to wait long, if at all, to get on it. Robert Miramontes' book, "Joshua Tree Rock Climbs," to pick climbs. Can't climb Josh without a guidebook!


Here's a list of hikes recommended to us or one's we've done. Hoping to do all of them soon! 

  • Boyscout Trail, extends 8 miles from Indian Cove campground
  • California Riding and Hiking Trail, an 11-mile out-and-back hike (22 miles round-trip) that takes you through the heart of the park
  • Ryan Mountain, a short 3 mile out and back 
  • Hidden Valley, a 1 mile loop in a valley surrounded by rock walls. Cattle thieves used to hide their stollen animals here back in the day. 
  • Lost Palms, 7.2 mile out and back 
  • Mastoden Peak, 3 mile loop (can also combine with Lost Palms) 
  • 49 Palms Oasis, 3 miles out and back
  • Lost Horse Mine, 4 mile loop trail

There's so many other trails you can explore in a day, start at this National Park Service page to check the others out.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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