Hungry for a spring climbing adventure? Look no further. Joshua Tree National Park is a high desert monzogranite mecca, famous for traditional-style crack, slab, and steep-face climbing. With more than 400 climbing formations and 8,000 climbing routes, Joshua Tree offers challenging climbs for all levels of climbing ability. Long popular as a winter destination for pro climbers, the park’s appeal has grown throughout the years due to its mild temperatures, ultra-grippy rock, and surreal landscape. Bring a stereo and your favorite album, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an adventure in the desert.
Joshua Tree National Park is located in San Bernardino County—140 miles east of Los Angeles, 175 miles northeast of San Diego, and 215 miles southwest of Las Vegas. The closest airport is Palm Springs, but some visitors choose to fly into either Los Angeles or Las Vegas, where there are more options for flights and rental cars. Bonus: if you fly into Las Vegas, the drive to Joshua Tree will take you directly across the Mojave desert, so you’ll get to take gorgeous winding back roads instead of interstates.
Once you’re close to the park, there are three entrances. The west entrance leads visitors in through the tiny town of Joshua Tree, and is closest to the most popular climbing campgrounds (Hidden Valley and Ryan Campground.) The north entrance is through the Twentynine Palms (which is near the Indian Cove Campground and crag), and the south entrance is at Cottonwood Spring. You’ll want to reserve a campsite in advance, or be prepared to bivy on BLM land (which is free).
If you need to pick up gear, your best bet is to head to the park’s west entrance and visit Nomad Ventures, the local climbing store—they have knowledgeable staff, a good selection of technical gear, and the latest guidebooks. They also sell stove fuel, which can be helpful if you’ve flown in (as more airlines don’t allow fuel.) Note that there’s no water available inside the park, so fill up in town or at the park entrance.
Bouldering and Climbing
The Hall of Horrors has great bouldering, despite the name. Indian Cove also has decent bouldering, and can be a good option when it’s cold or windy because it’s at lower elevation than the rest of the park.
For roped climbing, head to the Real Hidden Valley, the Lost Horse Wall, or the Gunsmoke Area. Classics include Illusion Dweller (5.10b, 100’), Walk on the Wild Side (5.8, 250’), and Equinox (5.12c, 80’). While some climbs are bolted, there’s much more trad climbing than sport in the park, so be sure to bring a full rack to give yourself the most options. Some climbs require climbers to build their own gear anchors, so make sure you’re comfortable placing protection.
For route guidance and more information about climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, check out MountainProject.com, or invest in one of the local guidebooks: A Complete Bouldering Guide to Joshua Tree National Park by Robert Miramontes, Rock Climbing Joshua Tree, Second Edition by Randy Vogel, and The Trad Guide To Joshua Tree: 60 Favorite Climbs from 5.5 to 5.9 by Charlie and Diane Winger.