Bouldering in Joshua Tree National Park is like playing in a giant’s playground. Huge rocks are strewn across the land and Dr. Seuss-style cacti and succulents make up the rest of the landscape. All of this is topped off with the famed Joshua Trees reaching up out of the ground everywhere you look.
Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California right in the middle of California’s coast and Arizona border. Also, most of Joshua Tree is made up of the Mojave Desert (ever heard of it?!).
The park is full of huge boulders thrown across the land that look like they belong in a giant’s playground.
And, these huge boulders make Joshua Tree a climbing mecca. Anytime you visit the park, you will see multiple groups of climbers camped out with their crash pads figuring out boulder problems or climbing routes. On a busy weekend, the park says they are hosts to hundreds of climbers and boulderers!
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So…what is bouldering?
Bouldering generally refers to a type of climbing that is protected by pads rather than ropes/harness. This means routes are usually no taller than 15 feet. So, you can still safely fall (if you know what you are doing).
Our climbing/bouldering background
My husband and I have rock climbed in gyms off and on over many years. He really enjoys bouldering but I am more of a top-rope gal.
We had been to Joshua Tree National park before. But, that time was for hiking. However, we couldn’t stop watching the people bouldering! Something about the chill and cool vibes the climbers gave off made me left feeling so interested (and a little intimidated).
So, fast-forward a few years, and we summoned up the courage to boulder and headed to Joshua Tree again. But, this time we brought one of our climbing buddies who had some experience bouldering outdoors.
Before this trip, I was bouldering V1s and my husband was bouldering V3s (beginner-intermediate levels). Neither of us had bouldered outside before but we really wanted to have this experience in Joshua Tree (and you can have this experience too!)!
We camped at Jumbo Rocks campground (it’s so dreamy). Then, we headed out for a full day of Joshua Tree bouldering.
This post will give you tips to experience bouldering in Joshua Tree National Park (even if you are still at a beginner level!). It will also give tips for bouldering in Joshua Tree if you do not have gear or are flying in and can’t bring your personal gear.
Top tips to experience bouldering in Joshua Tree:
1. When bouldering in Joshua Tree, steer clear of summer travel
The peak season for bouldering in Joshua Tree is October-April. And, for good reason!
We bouldered in Joshua Tree in May and it was already pretty toasty! In July and August, temps can reach over 100°F/38°C!
You can check out the annual temperature averages here. Remember, if you are camping in the winter, temperatures can get to freezing or below at night.
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2. Bring a proper Joshua Tree bouldering field guide or join an excursion group
Since we had never bouldered outdoors before, we were sure to bring our friend who had experience bouldering outdoors. Also, we researched boulder routes beforehand using Mountain Project (it’s an app and a website).
However, we had a hard time finding the routes in Joshua Tree we were looking for. By that, I mean we only found a few routes we were sure of and one we were 100% positive about (insert facepalm). But that one was amazing!
A LOT of our time was spent walking around in the hot desert sun wondering if we were headed in the right direction. We will for sure do it differently next time!
Guidebooks I will use next time:
**If you have never bouldered before, for safety reasons, I highly recommend joining a guided climbing excursion.**
There are many climbing excursions to choose from: half-day excursions, full-day excursions, rappelling excursions, and even climbing excursions for families. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any tours that offer specifically bouldering excursions, but climbing with ropes on bigger walls in Joshua Tree would also be amazing!
PRO TIP: Joshua Tree holds a ‘climbers coffee’ at Hidden Vally Campground each Saturday and Sunday morning from, 8 am-10 am from mid-October through April. Climbers Coffee is a way to meet the park’s climbing ranger and ask questions (and meet other climbers). Bring your own mug and they provide coffee, tea, or cocoa!
3. Bring or rent climbing shoes and crashpads
Obviously, for a bouldering trip, you’ll need to have bouldering gear! The good news is, if you don’t have your own gear or you can’t bring it with you. You’ve still got options!
Gear we brought:
- Climbing shoes: He wears Five Ten Anasazis. I wear La Sportiva.
- Crash Pad
- Chalk, chalk ball and chalk bag
Where to rent in Joshua Tree:
We were living in LA when we road tripped to Joshua Tree so we brought our own climbing shoes, chalk, and one crash pad. However, we wanted one more crash pad so we swung by Joshua Tree Outfitters. I definitely recommend having at least two crashpads, if not more. 15 feet feels a lot higher at the top than it does at the bottom!
Their website doesn’t look like much, but they’ve got all the gear you’ll need and super friendly and helpful staff! You can see their gear and price list here. I recommend contacting them beforehand in case you need to reserve any items.
PRO TIP: If you will be traveling with babies or other littles, Joshua Tree Outfitters has the gear for you too! They rent child carriers and sunshades! Just be sure to have enough adults on hand to have designated spotters and child-wranglers 🙂
4. Pack two gallons of water per person per day
Remember, Joshua Tree is in the MOJAVE DESERT. Think of any movie you have ever seen set in the desert…what are the people always looking for? Water!
The park’s website recommends having on hand two gallons of water per person per day when participating in any activity in the park. This means, take the water with you… don’t leave it in the car.
We brought one-gallon water bottles like this with us. You can usually find these at any grocery store around. However, if you are looking for something more eco-friendly, check out this Coleman insulated jug or this BUZIO vacuum insulated jug.
PRO TIP: Water is not readily available within the park. You can only refill at a few locations at the very edges of the park. Therefore, you may want to bring along a larger water cooler like this to refill your bottles.
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5. Plan on bouldering easier routes in Joshua Tree than in the gym
The term ‘sandbag‘ became very familiar to us while bouldering in Joshua Tree. A sandbagged route is a route that is deceptively more difficult than what is advertised.
Usually, when transitioning from indoor to outdoor climbing, you should expect to start on routes 1-2 grades easier than the gym. However, our experience at Joshua Tree was we were bouldering routes 2-4 grades easier than the gym! (Some hardcore boulderers may disagree with this, but this was our beginner experience 🙂 ).
Even with one of us climbing V4s in the gym, many of the Joshua Tree V0s were quite difficult. Now, this is probably because of a mix of many reasons. But, if you are a beginner-intermediate boulderer, like us, you may have a similar experience. It’s good to go into it with proper expectations!
6. Plan your descent route before you start climbing
Before you start any route, you need to plan your descent! This is important! You do NOT want to get to the top of a boulder 10-15 feet high and realize you have no way down.
Check the back, sides, and any other alternate routes on the boulder to see if it will be possible to get back on the ground safely.
7. Boulder whatever rocks look fun to you
The biggest regret of our bouldering trip is that we spent so much time looking for specific routes when there were beautiful rocks to boulder all around us.
If you are finding your planned routes too difficult to climb or to hard find, choose something else! There are over 2,000 bouldering problems in Joshua Tree. So, chances are, you’re probably on a recorded route anyway! 🙂
Or, if you’re not feeling confident during your transition from indoor to outdoor, try some rock scrambling instead! Either way, have fun and enjoy your time soaking in the desert sun of Joshua Tree National Park.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about bouldering in Joshua Tree and I’ll be sure to answer! I’m a real person who loves to talk travel 🙂