Ryan Ranch Trail: An Easy Historic Joshua Tree Hike
- 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
- Parking: Road-side spots. $15 park pass.
- Locality: Joshua Tree National Park
- Nearest City: Joshua Tree, CA
- Kid-Friendly: Yes
- Dog-Friendly: No
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. As always, we checked out our route at Sams Out Doors and this time made sure that we took a Sat Nav Unit to help us drive to the right location and starting point.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.