Overview: Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree is an otherworldly, Dr. Suess land, seemingly designed by the universe as a playground for climbers. Some say it looks like Mars, others feel like it’s a land before time.
The park is home to a lifetime’s worth of climbing, offering near-unlimited opportunities for both boulderers and trad climbers. Despite its long history as one of America’s first climbing destinations, there is still vast development potential within the park.
Situated 2.5 hours east of Los Angeles where the Colorado and Mojave Deserts converge, the landscapes change drastically dependent upon your elevation. Most of the park’s climbing is in the higher-elevated (3,000ft+) Mojave Desert portion, where temperatures stay slightly cooler.
Many climbers have a love/hate relationship with Joshua Tree, as it’s style is very distinctive and can be frustrating for the new visitor.
Specific description of climbing style
Joshua Tree is known for its single-pitch trad climbing, although there’s also extensive bouldering. Some sport climbing exists, but it’s a very small portion of the climbing by comparison.
Climbing in Joshua Tree is can be both burly and technical, offering brilliant cracks, thin faces, and heart-skipping slabs. It’s a place that’s notorious for being tough, frequently “spicy,” and incredibly beautiful, too.
Be aware that many bolted climbs are bolted in a traditional sense, often requiring a piece or two of gear with quite a bit of space between bolts. Don’t let the low number grades fool you: even 5.7’s in the park can be very dangerous for the new leader.
Winter is prime, although much of the spring and fall can be climbed as well. April and October are hit-or-miss, and all summer months will be an oven. Locals, however, do climb throughout the summer on shaded routes in the early mornings and evenings.
Climbing grade range
Everything from 4th class to 5.14; VB to V13. If you’re not used to the style at Joshua Tree, things will feel hard for their grade.
Best local spots
Situated right on the corner of Park Boulevard in downtown Joshua Tree, this is your spot for tape, chalk, gear, beta, guidebooks, and friendly folks. Don’t miss the restroom—it’s filled with climbing history and autographs. Website.
Showers (about $4), water-fill-ups (donations accepted), and nifty gifts (V-cheap to V-pricey) can be found at Coyote Corner, just opposite Nomad Ventures on Park Boulevard. The staff is friendly and the discount clothing bin will have you climbing in style. Website.
Joshua Tree Saloon
Good food (check out their burgers), good beer, fun locals, and live music can be found a Joshua Tree Saloon. They have free Wi-Fi, as well. Website.
Yummy hippy food and free Wi-Fi. Website.
Pie for the People
This place is awesome. Right in the heart of Joshua Tree, their pizzas are cooked fresh with high-quality ingredients. It’s the type of pizza you won’t feel bad about indulging in! Pair with a beer after a long day on the rocks and you may just hang around JTree for another few days, weeks, months … Free Wi-Fi, too. Website.
Joshua Tree Coffee Company
An excellent coffee shop tucked behind the downtown yoga studio and Pie For The People. Get a well-crafted beverage and enjoy free Wi-Fi. Seating is outdoors only. Website.
Classic country cooking, known for their breakfast. This food probably won’t have you feeling light on the rocks, but it will surely make you feel happy on the inside. Lack of website.
Natural Sisters Cafe
Amazing, healthy food and awesome smoothies. Try the Rock Climber’s Revenge after a day of climbing: packed with cashews, dates, soy milk, and banana in one tasty cold treat. Website.
Top climbs in area
Depends on your style and grade, as there are literally tens of thousands of established climbs here. Here are some favorites:
- The Eye (5.3)
- The Chief (5.5)
- Southwest Corner (5.6)
- Toe Jam (5.7)
- Double Cross (5.7)
- Sail Away (5.8)
- Dappled Mare (5.8, 3 pitches)
- Overseer (5.9)
- Bird of Fire (5.10a)
- Taxman (5.10a)
- Bird on a Wire (5.10a, 3 pitches)
- Illusion Dweller (5.10b)
- Too Secret to Find (5.10b)
- Rubicon (5.10c)
- O’Kelly’s Crack (5.10c)
- Clean and Jerk (5.10c)
- Heart of Darkness (5.11a)
- Course and Buggy (5.11b)
- Hot Rocks (5.11c)
- Wangerbanger (5.11c)
- Leave it to Beaver (5.12a)
- Equinox (5.12c)
- False Up 20 (.9)
- False Hueco (V1)
- The Chube (V2)
- Fry Problem (V2)
- White Rastafarian (V2 R)
- Gunsmoke (V3)
- Slashface (V3 R)
- LHMFP (V4)
- Pigpen (V4)
- Stem Gem (V4)
- JBMFP (V5)
- Big Bob’s Big Wedge (V5)
- So High (V5 R)
- Streetcar Named Desire (V6)
- Planet X (V6 R)
- Caveman (V7)
- Thin Lizzie (V8)
- Relic (V9)
Best kept secret
There’s a windless cave big enough for cooking and camping in behind a Hidden Valley loop site. Don’t miss the Space Station, Kings Bench, or Chasm of Doom. If you can’t find a camping site, there’s also a little something around Onaga Road.
Also, check out the hot springs in the town of Desert Hot Springs for a cheap rest day activity.
How stiff is the grading?
It’s a classic destination mostly put up by bold hardmen in the early days of climbing … The grades are stiff!
Where to stay?
There are a handful of campgrounds in the park, all offering first-come, first-served camping at $15 per night. There’s no running water in the park but restrooms throughout.
Hidden Valley is the top campground for climbers, but also the most crowded. Your best best is to arrive mid-week or salvage a site in the morning as parties are clearing out. It’s a great dirtbag scene with a lot of history and classic climbs (Stem Gem, Toe Jam, etc.) literally start within campsites.
The second best climbing campground is Ryan Campground, which also offers great climbing. Various other campgrounds exist and if you’re arriving during peak time, you may have to stay at the BLM land outside the park. To access the BLM land, drive 3.8mi east of Joshua Tree on CA-62 and then take a left on Sunfair Rd. Take this for 2mi and then a right on Broadway. Stay on Broadway until it turns into a dirt road and opens into a large desolate desert area. Additional details can be found through the National Park Service.
Now to you
These destination guides are only made possible through the feedback from climbers like yourself. Are we missing some beta? Have anything extra to share? Leave your feedback in the comments below.
Additional contributions have been made to this article by: Sander DiAngelis
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Photos in this posts have been sourced from Flickr, with usage under Creative Commons.