Keys Ranch Tour

#9 in Best Things To Do in Joshua Tree National Park
Keys Ranch Tour picture
David H. Carriere/Getty Images

Key Info


Hiking, Sightseeing, Tours Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend


  • 3.5Value
  • 0.0Food Scene
  • 3.5Atmosphere

This National Historic Register Site is located in a remote canyon and is restricted to ranger-guided walking tours only. The ranger will describe the story of the 60 years William and Frances Keys spent working and raising their five children in such a remote location. In the early 1900s, Bill Keys was hired to run the Desert Queen Mine, but when it closed in 1917, he decided to stay and homestead with his family. Over more than five decades, he dug for gold and gypsum, operated a stamp mill and crushed ore for other miners in the area. The family raised goats, chickens and cattle, had a fruit orchard and vegetable garden, and dug wells for water. They also built windmills and dammed up the rocky canyons surrounding the ranch to create a lake.

Today, the ranch house, schoolhouse, store and workshop still stand. Tours are a half-mile in length and last 90 minutes. Group size is limited to 25 people. Recent visitors give high praise to the informative rangers, love the time capsule aspect of the ranch and highly recommend a visit. They also note it is important to bring water and wear hats, as there is little to no shade.

Ranger-led 90-minute walking tours (on hiatus during summer) visit preserved ranch buildings, abandoned mining equipment and other relics of the Keys' remarkable life in this desert enclave. Tours are generally offered from October through May and must be reserved in advance online. Tickets, which your park admission does not include, cost $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 11. To get to the ranch, pass the entrance to Hidden Valley Campground, turn left at the Y intersection, follow the road approximately 2 miles to the locked gate. Your guide will meet you there.

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Time to Spend
#1 Rock Climbing

Climbers flock to Joshua Tree from around the world to tackle the literally thousands of routes open to them. There are challenges for all ability levels, with more than 8,000 climbing routes, 2,000 boulder problems and hundreds of natural gaps to choose from. Because Joshua Tree has its own particular set of safety issues, from high temperatures to remote climbing spots, it pays to do your homework first. If you're unfamiliar with the park, you'll want to purchase a climbing guide and hiking map, which are available at park visitor centers and online.

Certified guides can also lead you on climbs and provide a great way to explore in safety. If you do hire a climbing guide, make sure that they are permitted to work in Joshua Tree National Park. Each guide is required to have rock guiding certifications through the Professional Climbing Guides Institute, the American Mountain Guides Association or similar organizations. They are also required to be certified in Wilderness First Aid and CPR and must carry insurance.

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