Ryan Ranch Trail: An Easy Historic Joshua Tree Hike


Ryan Ranch Trail

Date Hiked: February 22, 2013
Best Season: Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Joshua Tree NP Park HQ 760-367-5502
Notes: Dogs are not permitted on park trails.
  • Distance: 1.10 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 80 feet
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Trail Type: Dirt (old ranch road)
  • Difficulty: Easy

Situated in Queen Valley, in the northwest section of Joshua Tree National Park, lies the site of a former cattle ranch spread — Ryan Ranch — and the most successful gold mine in the Joshua Tree area, the Lost Horse Mine. While we didn’t have time to visit the mine (this was the final hike of our Presidents’ Day weekend visit to the park), we did make a brief stop on our way out to the ranch ruins.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

Interpretive sign at trailhead.

An interpretive sign right at the trailhead tells pretty much all anybody knows about the Ryan Ranch. The ranch was homesteaded in 1896 by brothers Jepp and Tom Ryan to secure a former natural spring located there, which was needed to pump water to and operate the nearby Lost Horse Mine that they owned with third brother Matt and a local prospector named Johnny Lang. The ranch ran cattle until Joshua Tree became a national monument (1936), when grazing was stopped.

What remains of the ranch are the ruins of two adobe structures, build circa 1890 according to the National Register of Historic Places, as well as a couple more modern structures, the remnants of an old gate and fencing, some old rusted machinery, miscellaneous artifacts, and supposedly a pioneer grave site (which we never found). What was once a six-room home (I assume this is the larger of the two adobe ruins) that was initially built using adobe and then enlarged and reinforced with timber, concrete, and metal, burned down in 1978. The Ryan Ranch Home was nominated in 1975 for designation as a National Historic Landmark, but as of yet, it has not been granted NHL status. I wonder if NHL status might have been awarded if the majority of the home were still standing.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

A distant view of the structure ruins, at the foot of Ryan Mountain.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

Not sure if this was an old watering hole or the foundation of an old structure.

The Ryan Ranch Trailhead is located off what the national park calls Park Boulevard (see park map), but what Google Maps calls Loop Road. It is about half a mile east of Ryan Campground. The Joshua Tree entrance is the nearest park entrance. Pit toilets and a handful of designated roadside parking spaces are available.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

Although we forgot to snap a photo of the trail heading toward the ruins (this is hiking back), the view is identical. Long, straight, and flat — just looking at different hills and mountains. Lots of Joshua Trees along the trail.

The hiking trail is an old ranch road, a long straight flat easy dirt road that extends back a half mile to a junction that heads immediately to the ruins (on your left) or veers right for a short walk to the campground. You’ll see an interpretive sign at the junction talking about the park’s early Native American inhabitants. From the junction, just head left up a slight incline — the trail quickly disappears — towards whatever structure or artifact catches your attention.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

View from the trail junction. Note, there’s no longer an actual “trail”. You simply choose your own path to the ruins.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

A better look at the cool jagged rock formation just east of the ruins.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

The first, and larger, adobe structure.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

Some of the more modern abandoned structures.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

Life here had to be rough and rugged, but with gorgeous views.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

The smaller adobe, surrounded by rusty old artifacts.

We opted not to return to the trail junction to follow the old ranch road back to the trailhead. Instead we spotted what looks like a kind-of sort-of rock-lined unofficial path leading away from the larger adobe to a mid-way spot along the ranch road. This rock-lined path quickly ended, requiring us to once again choose our own way meandering through a blanket of desert shrubs until we joined up with the trail.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

The rock-lined alternative trail that we took back to meet up with the official trail.

Ryan Ranch House in Joshua Tree

Hiking back to the trailhead and our truck.

While not the most exciting hike in the park — the area doesn’t have as many of those popular big boulders for scampering around on — this little one mile trail is flat and easy enough for people who physically can’t do much hiking. And it’s short enough, with some cool old artifacts at the end, to keep the attention of even the youngest hikers. The views are beautiful, and the destination provides some of the only abandoned structures in the park through which visitors can walk.

Ryan Ranch Trail Elevation Profile

Trail elevation profile. Click on the image for a larger view.

View Ryan Ranch Joshua Tree.kml in a larger map


  1. says

    I haven’t been to Joshua Tree yet. I was never very enamored with the desert until I did some camping and hiking in Anza Borrego a couple years back. It really can be wonderful!

    Thanks for the nudge—I’ll have to plan a trip out there soon.

    • says

      Jeff: We always felt the same…just didn’t feel too inspired to visit Joshua Tree, particularly since there are not a lot of mid/long hikes (aside from really long barren ones). But, we did feel it deserved at least one visit. It’s quite pretty — but I don’t elevate it to the “most awesome place ever” status that I hear from a lot of friends. We probably won’t go back until we own a 4wd and can tackle some of the killer remote 4wd-only roads.

      Anza Borrego IS one of our favorite spots though. We’ve camped and hiked there a couple times the last four years, and IMO it has nicer hikes.


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