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  >  Destinations  >  United States  >  Southwest Roadtrip (Part IV): Joshua Tree National Park

Our last leg of the trip was all about rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, a world renowned climbing destination.

While it was only a three hour drive between Vegas and Joshua Tree, it felt like a long journey. We broke up the trip with a short hike at Kelso Dunes in the Mohave Desert.  The sand dunes made it so each step forward caused us to take two steps back and on top of it, our shoes were filled with sand.  Needless to say, we were envious of the people with sandboards who would reap the benefits of a fun downhill journey after the painful approach, but we were grateful to get in a little experience along the drive.

Entering California from Nevada during COVID was a strange experience.  All of the campgrounds, hotels and restaurants were closed so we were staying in an Airbnb and had planned to cook, order take out and basically just experience the great outdoors.

Climbing Joshua Tree

What JTree lacks in vertical height it makes up for in exposure, adventure and interesting climbing. First of all, entering the park felt like going into a Flintstones movie set.  In between the Joshua Trees, a rare type of yucca tree with spiky leaves, were blocky mounds of rock, which looked like boulders stacked on top of one another.

The climbing was a mixture of crack, slab and steep face climbing, which was very different from our Gunks experience.  We were grateful to have Nate from Mohave Guides spend three days with us, which not only helped us navigate the difficult-to-find scrambles and routes, but he also gave us guidance on the technique for crack and slab climbing. The sandpaper-like texture of the granite made it is so our feet could just stick to the rock and even the smallest amount of texture went a long way. It was more mental for me to trust that my feet would hold and that I didn’t need the big hand holds to be able to walk up the slab.  In terms of crack climbing, we were focused on the technique to jam a hand or foot in the crack and leverage that to make our way up the rock.  Generally though, the grading was significantly easier than the Gunks but the style of climbing was different enough that we certainly needed to adapt and learn the technique for this specific rock type.

Climbing the Headstone

We had a fantastic three days of climbing and hit the following routes:

  • Playhouse Rock: The Playright 5.6, Dress Rehearsal 5.7
  • Solarium: Tim’s Valentine 5.7, Remembering Marina 5.10a
  • Cathouse: Nine Lives 5.8, Healthcliff 5.6
  • Tang Rock: Astronaut’s Drink 5.6
  • AFPA Rock: Andromeda Strain 5.7, Zsa Zsa Goes to Jail 5.7
  • Echo Cove: Bucket Brigade 5.7, Fun Stuff 5.8+
  • Headstone: Southwest Corner 5.6, Cryptic 5.8
  • Dairy Queen Wall: Leap Year Flake 5.7, Snake Oil 5.6, Norm 5.9
  • Thin Wall: Count on Your Fingers 5.9, No Calculators Allowed 5.10a, Conservative Policies 5.8 with a 5.9 start, Child’s Play 5.10d
  • Saavy Dome: Savwafare 1st Everywhere 5.8+
  • Cyclops Rock: The Eye 5.4

All three days were fantastic.  If I had to pick, I really enjoyed climbing the headstone since it was so unique and exposed and I also really found the climb on Saavy Dome to be super fun and challenging.  Each day ended right at sunset and ending the day with the beautiful pink and purple skies were awesome.

JTree Nature

During our rest days, we decided to get check out some hikes and take the scenic views. We visited Ryan Mountain, Rattlesnake Canyon, Cholla Cactus Garden, Keys View and Skull Rock.  While the hiking was fine, the highlight of JTree was really the climbing so it overshadowed all of these spots.

Hiking Rattlesnake Canyon

JTree Attractions

We visited the nearby Pioneer Town, the World famous croquet museum and one local restaurant, Kitchen in the Desert. None of it was noteworthy to us though – we would have rather been climbing.


Given we needed to fly out of LAX, we stopped at Solstice Canyon on our final day for one last hike before heading home. It was nice to get a warm hike in with views of the ocean and a chance to stretch our legs between the drive from Joshua Tree and the flight home.