With its wild landscape of massive rocks and twisted trees, a pervasive rock climbing culture, and generally laid-back demeanor, rock climbing in Joshua Tree is a can’t miss adventure! There are thousands of climbing pitches scattered throughout the national park, perfect for climbers of any experience or skill level. As one of the best climbing destinations in the world, there is no better place to throw on your harness, clip in and belay on. In the article below, we have outlined everything you need to know to plan for the perfect day of rock climbing in Joshua Tree!
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
This article is packed with all the details you need to know to plan your rock climbing adventure in Joshua Tree. You can use the links below to navigate through the page:
- Is rock climbing for me?
- Is rock climbing safe?
- How difficult is rock climbing in Joshua Tree?
- Is rock climbing scary?
- Rock climbing companies in Joshua Tree
- When to go rock climbing in Joshua Tree
- Rock climbing packing list
About Joshua Tree National Park
Located in the high desert of southern California, Joshua Tree, or “JTree” as it is commonly known, is 800,000 acres of martian rock formations, burnt-orange sand, and of course, the famous Joshua Trees, with their arms twisting like contortionists in every direction. Joshua Tree National Park is about two hours from Los Angeles and three hours from San Diego, making it a perfect weekend get-away for those seeking time with nature.
Besides rock climbing, Joshua Tree has plenty of other recreational options such as hiking, backpacking, camping and horse-back riding. We spent a weekend in Joshua Tree and loved exploring the different areas of the park, hiking, backpacking and searching for many unique and popular rock formations.
Overview: Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree
Total Time | 1/2 to full day
Price | $150 – $300 per person
Epic-ness rating | 9
Difficulty | easy – challenging (choose your own adventure!)
There are roughly 9,000 climbing routes scattered across Joshua Tree National Park, making it one of the premier climbing destinations in the world. In fact, many of the world’s best climbers spend their winters in Joshua Tree before heading to Yosemite for the summer. Whether you are new to the sport or experienced, Joshua Tree has innumerable route options and there is undoubtedly a pitch that is perfect for your skill level.
While a guided full or half day climb in Joshua Tree will come at a cost, this once in a lifetime experience is worth every penny!
Is rock climbing for me?
There is more to say about rock climbing than could fit in this post, but the main thing to know is that it is absolutely awesome! More importantly, any one can give it a try! Kids, adults, adventurous types, more timid folk – rock climbing is for everyone.
While those with a fear of heights might not enjoy it, we found the sport to be the perfect mix of adrenaline, exercise and fun. Most importantly, we felt very safe the entire time! Whether you are looking for an outdoor activity that is perfect for the family, you are more of a thrill-seeker, or you fall somewhere in between, rock climbing is for you!
Is rock climbing safe?
Like any adventure sport, there is always some element of risk involved in rock climbing. However, you’ll be securely clipped in and attached to a rope with your guide on belay the entire time. If you happened to fall, you’d drop only a few feet before the ropes would catch you.
As long as you remain alert and cautious and appropriate safety measures are taken, rock climbing is perfectly safe.
How difficult is rock climbing in Joshua Tree?
One of our biggest hesitations before climbing was how difficult it was going to be. Having never climbed before, would we only be doing some short, easy pitches? Would we be able to tackle anything that really tested our abilities?
The good news is that your rock climbing excursion will be completely customized to fit your abilities and desires. A few days before our excursion, our guide company, Cliff Hanger Guides, e-mailed us with a questionnaire asking about our experience rock climbing, general fitness level and expectations for the day.
We let them know that he had never climbed, were fairly fit and definitely wanted to push it as far as we could. Based on that feedback, our guide perfectly tailored the day to our expectations. We didn’t waste time on little bunny rocks and definitely tested our abilities with the last few pitches. With so many different pitches throughout the park, your guide will be able to tailor your day to meet your needs.
The point is: rock-climbing in Joshua Tree can be as easy or difficult as you’d like it to be!
Is rock climbing scary?
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Okay, that all sounds great, but what if I am afraid of heights?”
Well, that is a tough question and really depends on your own limitations. Sarah has a fear of heights in certain situations – when there is a sharp drop, steep elevation, and loose ground – but she had no problem rock climbing.
It is definitely a little intimidating at first, but once you get the feel for it, you won’t be scared at all. Unless of course, you are deathly afraid of heights. In that case, climbing up 200 foot rock faces might not be for you.
The experience: a day rock climbing in Joshua Tree
Prior to the day of your reservation, you will make arrangements with your guide on a time and place to meet. This could be either somewhere inside or outside the park depending on where you are coming from.
On the day of our reservation, we met up with our guide around 9 AM at the Boyscout trailhead parking lot inside the park. He then led us to our climbing spot just a short drive down the road.
How do I get started?
Your rock climbing adventure will start off with a quick safety talk and learning the basics. Your guide will get you fitted into a harness, teach you how to tie a rope (it’s harder than you may think!) and make sure you are clipped in securely.
To start the climb, your guide will “take the first pitch.” This means that he/she will climb up the rock first to secure the rope to the clip at the top before dropping back down. Once all the ropes are set and you’re ready to go, you’ll clip in and make your way up the rock face using the natural cracks and crevices while your guide belays from below.
With no rock climbing experience, we assumed we’d start on a little baby route to get ourselves acquainted. However, our guide basically clipped us in and told us to have at it! We were definitely a little nervous during each of our first climbs but quickly got the hang of it (relatively speaking, of course – it’s not like we are on our way to climb El Cap…)!
So how much will I actually climb?
How much you are able to climb depends on how long you will be climbing (half day vs full day), the number of climbers in your group, and how long you take to climb the different pitches.
During our half day trip with just the two of us, each of us put down five different pitches. We did some of them more than once.
Our first route of the day was the easiest. We progressed to more advanced climbs and maneuvers as the morning went on. Each new route was a unique experience and posed a different set of challenges that kept it interesting.
All of the routes were on different sections of the same rock formation. This meant that we were able to spend all of our time climbing and did not waste time driving to different areas to find new pitches.
Wrapping up the day
After a full morning of climbing, we sat down to a gourmet picnic lunch of cold cuts, cheese, hummus, and fresh veggies. It was the perfect way to end the perfect morning!
After starting the morning with absolutely zero climbing experience, we ended up feeling super accomplished and are already trying to figure out how we can climb more!
Planning your rock climbing adventure
There are some logistical and cost considerations when planning your rock climbing adventure. Keep on reading to learn more!
Rock climbing companies in Joshua Tree
There are a multitude of local businesses that offer guided rock climbing experiences in Joshua Tree.
We chose Cliffhanger Guides and cannot recommend them enough. A few reasons we’d highly recommend Cliffhanger Guides are:
- We were able to choose where in the park we met up with our guide.
- They customized our trip to suit our skill level and goals for the day.
- Our guide was super enthusiastic, knowledgeable and patient as we struggled up some of the pitches. Plus, he gave us tons of great advice on things to do throughout the remainder of our travels.
- The company is locally owned and has been in business for years.
That being said there are a number of other rock climbing companies with similar rock climbing options at comparable rates (although we can’t speak to the experience itself). Below is a list of the different companies that offer rock climbing in Joshua Tree:
- Cliffhanger Guides (our recommendation)
- Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School
- Joshua Tree Guides
- Mojave Guides
- Stone Adventures
When to go rock climbing in Joshua Tree
Remember that Joshua Tree is in the desert and it gets brutally hot during the summer months (late May through September). While the park is open year round, most guide companies close during the scorching summer months.
It can also be cold during winter (December to February) with temperatures in the low sixties during the day and down to freezing at night.
The best times to visit Joshua Tree are from October-November or March-May. The springtime is particularly nice as the desert flowers are in bloom from February through April.
Rock climbing packing list
For a sport known for the excessive amount of ropes and gear, the good news is you won’t need to bring much. Your guide should provide rock climbing shoes, a helmet, a harness and belay, as well as all ropes and other miscellaneous equipment. Our package included a delightful lunch, but other tours may not come with food.
Here is what you should pack yourself for your rock climbing adventure:
- Weather appropriate clothing: Remember that it can be a little windier at the top of the rocks or you may be sitting in either the sun or the shade while others in your party are climbing. It is always better to bring some layers.
- Pants (not shorts): To protect your knees and shins from any accidental scrapes, make sure you wear pants instead of shorts.
- Plenty of water: While you aren’t running a marathon, rock climbing does entail some legit physical exertion. Make sure you bring plenty of water to stay hydrated in the desert heat.
- Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. will help you battle the intense desert sun.
- Food: If your guide company does not provide lunch, make sure you bring some food. Joshua Tree has plenty of great places to picnic.
Make sure to check with your specific guide company on anything additional you should bring before heading out.
Other Useful Resources
Planning a trip to Joshua Tree? Be sure to check our our action-packed one day Joshua Tree itinerary for more information on how to spend your time in the park:
If you’re headed to Southern California, we think you may also find these resources helpful:
- Hike to Telescope Peak, the Tallest Point in Death Valley
- 9 Things to Do in Death Valley (& How to Escape the Crowds)
- A Complete Guide to Death Valley: Hiking, Camping & Road Trip Logistics
- Backpacking to the Panamint Sand Dunes in Death Valley
- Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, Badlands & Zabriskie Point Hike
For all things California: California Travel Guide
Questions or comments about rock climbing in Joshua Tree? Comment below!