What to do in Joshua Tree National Park During the Summer

Held favorably in the hearts of many Southern Californian residents for its vastness, playfully iconic Joshua trees, and funky high bohemian desert vibes, it’s no wonder this place is on many a traveler’s to-do list.

Plus there’s a certain allure to Joshua Tree National Park in the summertime. It’s the soft, colorful sunrises, the warm breeze that hits you on an evening hike, or the relaxed, at-ease locals looking to share a cool drink or a nice, long conversation under the shade of a tree with you, that makes the summer season worth the heat.

While high temperatures mean not every activity is accessible at this park in summer, there’s still plenty to see and do. Also, a less crowded Joshua Tree opens up more activities you might not have had the ability to do before, including night photography, sunrise/sunset hikes, and rock climbing high above the valley with not another human being in sight for miles.

Read along as I share my best tips for navigating Joshua Tree during the summer season.

1. Sunrise Hike at Ryan Mountain

What to Expect

Length: heavily trafficked 3-mile roundtrip hike
Height: 5,456-foot-high 
Elevation gain: 1,069 feet
Rating: easy to moderate (there’s an incline in the beginning but if you’re in average shape you will be fine)
What to bring: water, a camera, light sweater
Entrance: Off Park Blvd (put trail name into Google maps) in the parking lot to the left of the restrooms

A sunrise hike up to Ryan Mountain should be on everyone’s must-do list in Joshua Tree. The soft, light pink hues and vibrant blues and purples light up the sky around you as you ascend illuminating panoramic views of Queen Valley, Pinto Basin, Lost Horse Valley, and Pleasant Valley below.

I went with a group of friends in mid-July and recommend setting out on the trail around 530 a.m. PST. The trail starts off on an incline right away so be aware of that if you’re a little sleepy as you step on the path. From there it weaves in and around the mountain gifting you with a full 360 degree view of the valley beneath you at the summit. There’s a sign waiting for you at the top, which is how you know you’ve made it.

2. Sunrise/Sunset Climbing

Joshua Tree is famous for its climbing routes. In fact, many people travel far distances to try out its world-class crack, slab, and high, steep face climbing. That being said, climbing here is HARD. I’ve been climbing for four years now and got shut down on a lot of bouldering problems and sport routes, so be prepared to climb hard.

If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend going out with a climbing school such as Uprising Adventure Guides. If you consider yourself a little bit more intermediate, then I have just the route for you!

Sport/Trad Climbing: Loose Lady

5. 10a Loose Lady

A short walk from the Hidden Valley picnic area this 5.10a route seems do-able a first, but with the crux hitting you down low, you will have to work hard to get to the middle of the route. This style of climbing requires you to use a lot of friction and carefully crafted foot placement to navigate to the top. You have to, have to, have to trust your feet on this one or it will be ridiculously difficult.

This route got its name for loose flakes that used to fly off it when it was first climbed, allegedly. Aim to climb this face towards 5 p.m. PST when the sun isn’t so high up in the valley.

You can learn more about the specifics of this route and what to bring on Mountain Project here. There is a bolted anchor at the top of this climb

Note: This is a very popular route and can get rather crowded, but if you’re here in the summer you might find you and your buddies are the only ones around!

Fun fact: Joshua Tree boasts more than 8,000 climbing routes!

Bouldering: Outback Boulders

Located north of the Hidden Valley Campground, the Outback boasts bouldering problems of all levels. Here are some of the most popular bouldering problems from Mountain Project:

I recommend starting off on Hobbit Hole Offwidth, an easy warm-up and then tackling the False Hueco problems. There’s another great V1 I found that I named Honeycomb located in the middle of the Outback north of White Rastafarian.

V1, Honeycomb

If you’re feeling brave afterwards, have crash pads and two or more spotters, go for the R rated V2 boulder White Rastafarian. Do be careful though as this problem is pretty high and does contain a pretty sketchy move that requires full commitment towards the very top.

V2 R, White Rastafarian

3. Night Photography

Perhaps the best part of the summer season in Joshua Tree is taking night photographs in the evening while the air is still warm. Depending on the time of the year you can get a pretty decent view of the Milky Way considering how dark the park is in the evenings. It has even been honored with Dark Park Sky status by the International Dark-Sky Association.

There are plenty of stops along the main road in the national park to visit where you can get a clear shot of the stars, however, my favorite is the Indian Cove Boy Scout Trail. Here are a few other popular spots to go star gazing or take night photographs:

Skull rock
-The Ocotillo Patch
-Cap Rock

Pro tip: the Milky Way is best seen during the summertime. I loved the juxtaposition of the headlights lighting up the Joshua trees against the backdrop of our galaxy.

There’s still plenty to see and do during the summer season in Joshua Tree. With its stunning vistas, world-class climbing, and exciting hikes it’s no question this desert wonderland is full of magic.

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Poet and writer with a penchant for travel.

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