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Joshua Tree Climbing: The 10 Highest Peaks in the Park

Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park can mean two different things: mountain climbing or rock climbing. While I have done some rock climbing with ropes and safety harnesses in my younger days, I'm just a mountain climber now. Joshua Tree bouldering and single-pitch rock climbing are world-famous and a great way to enjoy the California desert year-round.

Taking a break from Joshua Tree climbing
Taking a rest on the summit

But, the park also has ten peaks over 5,000 feet (1,600 meters) in elevation, and only one has a trail to the top. Most tourists who visit Joshua Tree National Park in California never get into the wilderness areas, let alone set foot on distant peaks, which require a four-wheel-drive vehicle, off-trail navigation, scrambling over rough terrain, and careful avoidance of dangerous plants and wildlife.

Turning 55
Turning 55

Climbing all ten peaks in Joshua Tree was a big goal for me and CT, my climbing partner. In completing all ten ascents, she and I not only reached our objective but also spent countless hours alone in some of the most serene and wild places on Earth. All ten Joshua Tree peaks we climbed are part of the Sierra Club's Hundred Peaks Section list for Southern California.

Joshua Tree Mountain Peaks

Ryan Mountain5,457 feetFebruary 12, 2016
Queen Mountain5,680 feetFebruary 13, 2016Queen Benchmark
Mount Inspiration5,560 feetFebruary 13, 2016
Mount Minerva Hoyt5,405 feetFebruary 14, 2016Lang Mine Peak
Warren Point5,103 feet February 18, 2017
Lost Horse Mountain5,313 feetFebruary 19, 2017
Quail Mountain5,813 feetFebruary 19, 2017
Bernard Peak5,430 feetFebruary 20, 2017
Little Berdoo Peak5,440 feet February 20, 2017
Eureka Peak5,518 feetApril 21, 2018

Although both of us had been to Joshua Tree National Park several times, the quest to climb all ten 5,000-foot peaks took us three dedicated trips over 26 months.

Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain's summit is best climbed at sunset
Ryan Mountain's summit is best at sunset

The first peak we climbed was Ryan Mountain. This mountain is the easiest to park your car on and find the route, with the least risk of injury or getting lost. It's a tourist peak but fun nonetheless.

Climb Ryan Mountain before sunset and enjoy one of the best experiences in the park. The Ryan Mountain trail is marked with a big sign and an oversized parking lot. The path is wide and well-manicured. The other nine mountains have trails that are only part of the way or no trail at all.

Eureka Peak

Nearing Eureka Peak
Nearing Eureka Peak

The last mountain we climbed at Joshua Tree National Park was Eureka Peak. It was the only one left on our list, and we made a special trip to the park during our birthday week. CT and I were born a few days apart, so we always celebrate our birthdays for a week.

Enjoying the view from the top
Enjoying the view from the top

Like most of the mountains in the Joshua Tree wilderness, it's a no-trail, find-your-own-way undertaking to the top. Few things bring me more satisfaction than climbing a rarely summited peak with no trail or route and no other people for miles around it. Sitting on top and enjoying the spectacular view is worth the effort.

A GPX route
A GPX route

We use sites like and to help us get there. Plus, it is easy to download a route to your GPS device to guide the way. We consider these downloads significant in our successful climbs and safe returns.

Queen Mountain

The heat is on climbing in Joshua Tree National Park
The heat is on in Joshua Tree
Near the summit of Queen Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park
Near the summit of Queen Mountain

After enjoying the sunset on Ryan Mountain, we climbed Queen Mountain and Queen Benchmark the following day. These twin peaks are just a few hundred yards apart, and this climb was tough.

As there was no trail, we made our way to the summits by hiking up a drainage area, which is dry most of the time. While there was no water in the drainage, there were plenty of cactus, yucca, and other sharp and needle-filled plants that would mess you up.

The peak is in sight
The peak is in sight.

Queen Mountain is the second-highest point in Joshua Tree National Park. Its location, centered in the middle of the main attractions and paved roads, gives the climber a great overhead view of the area. Not only was the path to the top of Queen Mountain filled with sharp plants and loose footing, but the last 15 minutes of “hiking” included some difficult and risky moves called Class 3 or 4 climbing.

Water break on the rocks of Queen Mountain in Joshua Tree
Water break

In these situations, we often wear a climbing helmet in case of a fall. It only takes a short fall onto your head to do some significant damage. While not a long hike from the truck, Queen Mountain took hours due to the dangerous and challenging terrain.

Mount Inspiration

The world-famous San Andreas Fault is visible from Mount Inspiration
The world-famous San Andreas Fault is visible from Mount Inspiration

After a long rest and lunch break, it was time to take the 20-minute drive to the southwestern edge of Joshua Tree to a parking area called Key's View. Mount Inspiration is a short 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometer) round-trip hike from the parking lot. However, there is no trail, and it is steep. Mount Inspiration provides excellent views of Palm Springs, the San Andreas earthquake fault, and the distant Mount San Jacinto.

Mount Minerva Hoyt

For our last hiking day in the park during our 2016 visit, we set out to climb Mount Minerva Hoyt and Quail Mountain, the park's highest peak. It ended up being an interesting day.

We planned the route to go over several miles of open desert, through a valley, and then to Minerva Hoyt first. After hiking in soft sand and around the Joshua Trees and Yucca plants, something strange and manufactured came into view.

Mount Minerva Hoyt
Mount Minerva Hoyt

We were way off any roads and well past anything marked on a map. It was a house and a fenced yard in the middle of nowhere. Frozen in time, it looked like it was abandoned entirely and left “as is” for more than half a century.

We looked into the windows and saw that the home was completely furnished and decorated with 1950s appliances, dial-up telephones, and mid-century furniture. We were utterly stunned. I have since tried to find information on this ghost house but have been unsuccessful in the search.

Later, after hiking more than eight miles, some of it in thick fog, we summited what we thought was Minerva Hoyt. It wasn't. Looking at our GPS device on the peak, we suddenly realized that we did not pay close enough attention when the fog rolled in, and we climbed the wrong mountain.

It was a mountain without a name and not listed on the map. So, we named it Lang Mine Peak and added it to the website. After this silly mistake, we laughed and found Mount Minerva Hoyt later in the day. Lessons are sometimes hard to learn. Since we were exhausted from three days of climbing in Joshua Tree, we gave up on Quail Mountain and hiked out.

Quail Mountain, Finally

Hiking toward a cloud-covered Quail Mountain
Hiking toward a cloud-covered Quail Mountain

More than a year later, we returned to hiking at Joshua Tree National Park. This time, we were determined to climb Quail Mountain. The afternoon we arrived at the park, we climbed Warren Point in a quick 5.6-mile jaunt. The following day, we set out early to get to Quail Mountain by a different route than the year before by using the California Riding and Hiking Route for part of the way.

Off-trail gators for the cactus and yucca needles
Off-trail gators for the cactus and yucca needles

Success! After a 13-mile hike in the fog, rain, and cold, windy weather, we bagged Quail and drove to the other side of the park to get to Lost Horse Mountain and another 7.5 miles done before nightfall. By the end of the day, we climbed three peaks, spanning over 26 miles, in 24 hours. We slept hard.

Bernard and Little Berdoo Peaks

The following day, we set out on an hours-long 4×4 drive on a loose, sandy road to park at the base of Bernard and Little Berdoo Peaks. While this day was only supposed to be a 6-mile round-trip hike, we knew that it would be nearly straight up over rocks and cacti. The wind was blowing steadily at the base of the mountains, but by the time we got to the top, we were getting buffeted around as fall leaves on a breezy day.

It is windy up here on a Joshua Tree mountain peak
It is windy up here

At the end of the long weekend, we felt very accomplished. We climbed five mountains, hiked more than 31 miles, and saw almost no people in a popular national park. This is the way to get in touch with nature! If you like climbing mountains and love places like the wilderness areas of national parks – strap on your boots and find yourself hiking and climbing at Joshua Tree National Park. Ten impressive peaks are waiting for you.

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