Last week I snuck away for my annual pilgrimage to Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park. It's my fix of desert sun on my skin, sticky rock beneath my shoes, and a landscape of plants in bloom. My toes wiggle happy and free in sandals on the way to the crag. Nights descend crisp and clear, full of stars.
Joshua Tree is a climber's hub, with more than 8,000 rock routes in the area. There's a little bit of everything: bouldering, bolted sport climbs, and some multi-pitch walls that require placing your own protection. Hulking slabs of granite rise above the desert, and climbers focus on precise footwork. After climbing, head to one of the park's two small towns, Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree, for an end of the day microbrew.
Located in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree is an easy drive from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas. National Park Service campsites fill up on holiday weekends, so arrive early. (And bring your own water.) If you're new to the area or climbing, Joshua Tree Guides (joshuatreeguides.com) offers a climbing school and guide service. —Charlotte Austin
Free entry: April 21–29 is National Park Week, during which 397 parks around the country offer complimentary visits. That'll save you $15 per person at Joshua Tree next week. joshua.tree.national-park.com