Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaHun­gry for your next 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 a 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.

Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, California

For route guid­ance and more infor­ma­tion about climb­ing in Joshua Tree Nation­al Park, check out, 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.