Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree: a Guide to California’s Premier Climbing Area

Marina ParraSeptember 20, 2019

Lying at the intersection of the Mojave and the Colorado deserts, at only 2.5 hours from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park boasts one of the most otherworldly landscapes you can find in the United States. This arid land in southeastern California spans 790,636 acres (3,199.6 km²) and gets its name from a rare type of yucca with spiky leaves that only grows in this area. But besides the iconic Joshua Trees, the clear skies perfect for stargazing, and the beautiful wildflowers that can be appreciated during spring time, this national park is home to impressive rock formations that make it one of the top destinations for rock climbing in the U.S.


Check out all our list of the best rock climbing spots in the US


“With over 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 boulder problems, the opportunities for rock climbing here are endless!”, says Erik Kramer, an AMGA-certified rock instructor who has made Joshua Tree his home and has been working as a climbing guide in the area for the past 20 years.

Erik knows this deserted land like the back of his hand, and still remains fascinated by its unique beauty and fantastic climbing. In this article, he shares some of his favorite spots, as well as some useful tips that can help you start planning your next climbing trip to Joshua Tree. 

 

3 Reasons Why Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree is Amazing

 

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing
Photo courtesy of Erik Kramer.

1. There are literally thousands of routes to explore here! Over 10,000 climbing routes in Quartz Monzonite granite ―ranging from easy routes for beginners to extreme ones for the most seasoned climbers― make Joshua Tree a world famous mecca for rock climbing. Trad climbing is the star here, although you can also find sport climbing routes and bouldering problems. “You can easily get away from the crowds simply by walking a short distance, even on busy holidays”, says Erik.  

2. The variety of moves and techniques required to climb in Joshua. Tree-laybacks, dynos, smearing, edging, hand jamming, body wedging, heel hooking, overhanging, slabby, vertical–everything type of move you can imagine. It’s all here!”.

3. The environment is incredible! “Everywhere you look could be a photograph from a magazine”, says Erik. “Strange plants grow alongside the bizarre boulders and rock piles of this unique part of the Mojave and Sonoran desert. Lizards, coyotes, bighorn sheep, road runners, rabbits and bobcats all co-exist in this fragile environment”. 

Rock Climbing Lessons with a Guide at Joshua Tree

 

Whether you want to try rock climbing for the first time, or hone your skills in some of the many routes available in Joshua Tree, joining a certified guide is always a great idea. A guide will not only take you to the most suitable routes for your level, but also ensure your safety throughout the whole journey.

 

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing
Photo courtesy of Erik Kramer.

Those visiting Joshua Tree with limited time can join Erik for a half-day rock climbing trip, while those who want to live this experience to the fullest can opt for an eight-hour trip with a private guide.

“The main skills we teach are efficiency of movement and proper technique on the rock, incorporating safe climbing habits into every aspect of our climbing and descents, and caring for the environment by practicing Leave No Trace ethics”, explains Erik. “We also offer classes in crack climbing, anchors, lead climbing, rescue, and multi pitch climbing”.   

Where to Go? Best Routes for Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree

 

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing
Photo courtesy of Erik Kramer.

For Beginners

 

“Joshua Tree is the best place to learn how to climb in the world”, Erik says. “There are fantastic beginner climbs of all types sprinkled throughout the national park: climbs in the sun, climbs in the shade, climbs all to yourself, climbs facing east, climbs facing south, climbs facing north, climbs sheltered from the wind, climbs of insane beauty, climbs you will never forget”. 

So if you are searching for a destination to take your first steps in rock climbing, you should know: it can’t get much better than Joshua Tree.

According to Erik, these spots feature some of the best climbing routes for beginners in Joshua Tree: 

  • Intersection Rock
  • Quail Springs Rock 
  • Atlantis Wall 
  • Thin Wall.

 

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing
Photo courtesy of Erik Kramer.

For Advanced Climbers

 

For seasoned climbers, Joshua Tree offers many classic routes to choose from. Here are some of Erik’s favorite challenges:  

  • Overhanging face climbing like Big Moe 5.11a.  
  • Steep crack climbing such as Clean and Jerk 5.10c and Wangerbanger 5.11c.
  • Vertical face climbing on thin edges, such as Loose Lady 5.10a or Possessed By Elvis 5.10d.  
  • Multi-pitch climbing up to 4 pitches, (115 meters) on Lost Horse Wall and Saddle Rock.  

Also, he points out that “the grades are stout in Joshua Tree, so many climbers that come here find the ratings to be harder than other climbing areas”.

When is the Best Time to go Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree?

 

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing
Photo courtesy of Erik Kramer.

Climbing in Joshua Tree is good all year long. However, the best conditions are found between October-November and March-April. 

“Winter climbing is also very popular here. Even though it’s a bit chilly for camping, the climbing is quite comfortable in the day”. 

Surprisingly, the summer months can also be suitable for climbing. “In the summer you beat the heat by climbing in the early morning (before 11am) and evening (after 3pm), which is surprisingly comfortable in the shade”, explains Erik.     

Renting Equipment in Joshua Tree

 

“For rental of tents, sleeping bags, stoves, cook kits, guidebooks, crash pads, and more, go to Joshua Tree Outfitters.  Longtime locals and owners Gary and Celeste know just about everything about this area!”, recommends Erik.  

What Else Can You Do in Joshua Tree?

 

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing

 

Joshua Tree is an amazing place to explore on a hiking trip. Some of the most popular hikes in the area include Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Barker Dam, Cholla Cactus Valley, and Lost Palms Oasis Trail. This Californian park is also a haven for those who enjoy photography and star-gazing.

If you are around the area, here are some experiences recommended by Erik that you shouldn’t miss:

  • Experience a “sound bath” at the Integratron, a building in Landers (very close to Joshua Tree) that seems to have been designed by aliens!
  • Hear some great music at the Uber-popular Pappy and Harriets, in Pioneertown.
  • Visit the Noah Purifoy art exhibit or one of the many art galleries in Joshua Tree, 29 Palms, and Yucca Valley.  The local arts and music scene is quite vibrant.

How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park?

 

 

The best way of getting to Joshua Tree National Park is by car. The park is located in San Bernardino County, at a short driving distance from Los Angeles (131 miles / 210 km), San Diego (164 miles / 263 km) and Las Vegas (186 miles / 299 km).

The closest airports are Palm Springs International (45 min from the park’s entrance) and Ontario International (1.5 h). You can also fly into Los Angeles or Las Vegas airports.

The park has several entrances: the west entrance from the town of Joshua Tree is the most popular.

Where to Stay in Joshua Tree?

 

There are nine campgrounds inside Joshua Tree NP and a few others near the park. However, they can get very busy during peak climbing season, specially on the weekends. “The campgrounds fill up early but there are many vacation rentals in the area which are quite nice”, recommends Erik.

 

***

 

The surreal deserted landscape and fabulous rock formations make rock climbing in Joshua Tree a must if you are traveling to California.

Already planning your next holiday? Check all the options available and join a certified guide for a unique climbing experience in Joshua Tree! 

 

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