Joshua Tree National Park is a high desert climbing destination located in the south eastern portion of California. With the latest count being over 8000 routes and a warm winter climbing season, the area attracts climbers from all over the world. The rock in Joshua Tree is an unusually coarse granite, known as quartz monzonite, and offers a surface that is incredibly climbable. With the high friction coefficient, one will be amazed at the purchase on steep faces and thin vertical routes. Many of the rock formations in Joshua Tree are rounded or dome-like in structure and offer a wide variety of climbing: off-width, flared, split, and clean cracks; moderate, steep, and crimpy faces; crystalline dikes and long traverses; over-hanging, juggy walls; and everything in between. It is primarily a 1-2 pitch trad climbing area, but you will still find a considerable number of bolted routes. Sandbagged ratings and dangerously long run-outs are common. This is the nature of Joshua Tree climbing, but if one is fortunate enough to escape the cold and spend a few days in this awesome National Park, they will surely leave with many great climbs under their belt and a great appreciation for this beautiful desert landscape.
Joshua Tree offers an often warm and sunny climate while most other climbing areas are covered in snow, rainy, or just plain cold.
The climbing season starts in early to mid-October and extends to late April or early May. It is said that the most ideal months for climbing are late October to early December and March through April. However, nothing is absolute when it comes to Joshua Tree weather.
Winter: 60° by day to below freezing at night
Spring and fall: 85° by day to 50° at night
Summers: often over 100° by day, dropping to 75° at night
These links are helpful in determining what to expect of the weather in Joshua Tree NP. However, I have found weather websites to be a bit inaccurate and often your best bet is to simply call a local business in the town of Joshua Tree and ask how the weather is.
Current Weather and Forecast info: Accuweather
Data from the Lost Horse weather station: Weather Data
Joshua Tree Web Cam: Web Cam
You may ask yourself, "With over 8000 routes to choose from, where do I start?" Below is a short list of some of my favorites, many 3 or 4 star routes. Better yet, Todd Gordon's website has a great list with descriptions that is compiled of the highest rated climbs from the guide books. This includes Randy Vogel’s ***** routes
(his maximum star rating) and Al Bartlett’s *** routes
(his maximum star rating): Joshua Tree Best Climbs
~ Overhand Bypass, Hidden Valley CG - a short, fun, overhanging traverse
~ Double Cross, Hidden Valley CG - a JTree classic crack with perfect jams
~ Mental Physics, Wonderland - fun, perfect crack
~ Stichter Quits, Echo Rock - great intro to JTree slab climbing
~ Walk on the Wild Side, Sheep Pass - three pitches of run-out slab climbing, with an adventurous walk off
~ Sail Away, Real Hidden Valley - another classic JTree crack, with a fun, steep finish
~ Cryptic, Sheep Pass - everybody has to climb this once, with it's great views and exposure
~ Alice in Wonderjam, Comic Book - great crack with some face climbing
~ Popes Crack, Echo Rock - yet another fun crack
~ Sphincter Quits, Real Hidden Valley - thin and challenging
~ Solid Gold, (.10a) Wonderland - face climb with a multitude of perfect edges
~ Heart and Sole, (.10a) Echo Rock - thin start, fun moves around a small roof
~ Poodles Are People Too, (.10b) Lost Horse - challenging steep face
~ Run For Your Life, (.10b) Real Hidden Valley - face climb with great moves that make you think
~ EBGB's, (.10c) Echo Rock - nerve wracking exposure from the very start
~ The Decompensator of Lhasa, (.10d) Hidden Valley CG - first part finger crack, second part super thin face</
~ Such a Savage, (.11a) Wonderland of Rocks - a classic, steep face climb, with a scary runout to the first bolt
~ Swept Away, (.11a) Echo Rock - improbably thin at times, steep smearing and balancy moves
Joshua Tree National Park is located in the high desert of eastern southern California and can be found approximately 35 miles northeast of Palm Springs and 140 east of Los Angeles. It takes approximately 8 hours to get there from the Bay Area and 2-3 hours from the major metropolitan areas of southern California. Those who wish to fly can do so via the international airport in Los Angeles, CA or the closest airport in Palm Springs, CA.
Camping is on a first come first serve basis at the campgrounds that are preferable to climbers. These include Hidden Valley, Ryan, Jumbo, and Belle. All of which are in close proximity to great climbing. There is a 30 day limit per year, 14 day maximum during the months of Oct - May, and it is wise to show up early if you intend on a weekend stay. However, if you wish to reserve a site reservations may be made up to six months in advance for sites at Black Rock, Indian Cove, and all group sites by calling 1-877-444-6777 or online.
Current camping fees can be found here: NPS
Campsites are limited to six people, three tents, and two cars. Group sites accommodate 10 to 60 people. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire grate. Water and flush toilets are available in Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds.
Water is also available at the Oasis Visitor Center, Indian Cove Ranger Station, West Entrance, and Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds.
Joshua Tree National Park started charging camping fees at Hidden Valley, Ryan, Jumbo Rocks, Belle and White Tank as of February 17, 2004. The new camping fees were $5 per campsite per night. In a "Nothing in life is for free" world, it was a rare pleasure for many years to camp in this beautiful desert landscape without fees. This was the end of an era.
Entrance fees for Joshua Tree NP are $15 for a 7 day pass with vehicle, $5 for a 7 day pass on foot or bike, or $30 for an annual pass, with discounted senior fees also available.
Water and firewood are hot commodities within the Park. There is no running water in most of the Park and no wood nor other vegetation shall be gathered from the desert landscape for burning. The later, upsets the delicate balance of the desert ecology. Be sure to bring enough water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, and wood if you so desire a warm night fire.
After a few days of climbing, you can find showers in the town of Joshua Tree at Coyote Corner, located on the corner of Park Blvd and 29 Palms Hwy (Hwy 62). Two separate showers are available that run on tokens, at the price of $3.00 for 7.5 minutes. Tokens and keys can be obtained at the counter, with $3 usually sufficient.
Sad Update: Crossroads Cafe is no longer. The owner, Bonnie, sold to a couple of San Francisco restaurateurs who will be turning it into a more formal eating establishment...not the type of place you can go all dirty and dusty after climbing. This is yet another end of an era.
Where to eat? Joshua Tree is not a place for fine dining, however, you can find a fresh, healthy, and tasty meal at The Crossroads Cafe & Tavern at 61715 29 Palms Hwy (just down the street from Coyote Corner). They have a wonderful selection of healthy fare with generous portions. I highly recommend the Grilled Coyote!
Nomad Ventures, a friendly gear shop, is located at 61795 29 Palms Hwy (across the street from Coyote Corner). They offer a good selection of outdoor equipment, climbing gear, guide books, etc. Shoe resole service is available as well.