Few outdoor destinations can compete with Joshua Tree National Park. Spectacular weather year-round, awe-inspiring scenery, and dozens of activity options make this a prime destination for adventure-seekers from around the world. Perhaps more than any other sport, rock-climbing is what put this park on the map, and for good reason. The granite boulders that erupt from the desert floor, surrounded by rocky hills and mountains, make this a playground for climbers of every experience level.
The park is situated about 98 miles (158km) east of Los Angeles, 40 miles (64km) north of Palm Springs, and encompasses parts of both the Colorado Desert and the cooler, higher-altitude Mojave Desert. The nearly 795,000 acres of this desert wonderland are home to several primitive campgrounds set among massive boulders that glow red and gold in the setting California sun. There are also motels and other services available in the nearby towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms, but for climbers who like to get an early start, it’s hard to beat waking up beneath the very rocks you’ll be climbing after breakfast. Some say the Hidden Valley campsite is the climber’s preferred place to pitch a tent, because it’s close to many great climbs and rangers sometimes show up to offer a friendly “Climber’s Coffee” at 8am and to discuss access issues and answer questions. But a number of other campsites are just as accessible and may be quieter than the active social scene at Hidden Valley.
Though the park was initially a place for rock-climbers to practice during winter months when Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra Nevada were snowed in, the rough granite and lack of vegetation made it popular in its own right. Though most of the boulders are little more than 200 feet (60m) high, they’re easily accessible, which makes it possible to climb several in 1 day. When you’ve had your share of conquering boulders, take in some of the area’s world-class bird-watching (the park is part of the Pacific Flyway migratory route), mountain biking, bouldering, and mountain climbing. —ML
Joshua Tree National Park ( 760/367-5500; www.nps.gov/jotr).
When to Go: Sept–May.
Palm Springs (40 miles/64km).