Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Mojave Desert

  • Published 2022/12/07

Named after the indigenous Mojave peoples, the enormous Mojave Desert straddles at least four states.

These are California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. California sits at the desert’s southeastern portion, while Nevada is at the southwest.

Meanwhile, little sections of the desert stretch into Arizona and Utah.

Today, the Mojave Desert has become one of North America’s most popular tourist attractions.

People who visit this part of the United States make it a point to visit this majestic desert at least once.

Likewise, its proximity to Las Vegas has boosted its popularity among tourists—go straight to a casino after exploring the desert.

Tourists also love the Mojave Desert because of its bounty of scenery.

You can visit several gorgeous desert attractions or join various outdoor activities.

Do you want to know more about the Mojave Desert?

Here’s a list of the best things to do there:

Start Your Adventure at Joshua Tree National Park

Stunning night sky over Joshua Tree National Park

Arthur Cauty /

The 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park remains one of the world’s most amazing natural desert attractions.

Its size and splendor, dotted with staggering rock formations and granite monoliths, continue to boost its appeal.

Even if you were just halfway curious about the Mojave Desert, you’d still enjoy exploring this national park on the desert’s California side.

Beautiful sunset at Joshua Tree National Park

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For example, you can spot native wildlife and see how they manage to live despite harsh desert conditions.

Then, you can check out the majestic Joshua Tree, the centerpiece of the vast desert.

Besides nature, the park offers plenty of hiking opportunities. It has numerous hiking trails to satisfy hikers of all skill levels.

Cholla cactus garden in Joshua Tree National Park

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You can also try rock climbing on the boulder outcroppings.

Likewise, you can pitch a tent and camp out under the starlit sky.

The Joshua Tree is also an International Dark Sky Park, which means you can see the billions of stars in the night sky at their fullest glory, unspoiled by light pollution.

An RV ready to camp at Joshua Tree National Park

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Discover Desert Beauty at the Mojave National Preserve

Name sign of Mojave National Preserve

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If you’re visiting the Mojave Desert from California, stop by the Mojave National Preserve.

The land might look unappealing because it lacks obvious features, but it’s one of the desert’s unmissable attractions.

You’ll find various natural wonders here, such as ancient lava streams, limestone caverns, water-formed canyons, and giant dunes, among many others.

Likewise, you can admire the thick Joshua Tree forests that stretch to the distant horizon.

Details of a canyon at Mojave National Preserve

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What else can you do at the Mojave National Preserve?

You can gaze at the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets at the Kelso Dunes, California’s second-largest dune system.

Besides sunset-watching, you can also join a guided tour inside the Mitchell Caverns, where you can check out the cave system’s dagger-like rock formations.

Just bring plenty of water.

Scenic sand dunes of Mojave National Preserve

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Explore the Desert at the Death Valley National Park

Name sign of Death Valley National Park

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The Death Valley National Park’s scary name shouldn’t deter you from soaking in the beauty of the Mojave Desert.

This national park sits in the desert’s Nevada section.

You’ll find miles of giant dunes dotted with colorful rocks and canyons and teeming with local wildlife.

Likewise, the park offers breathtaking peaks rising to 11,000 feet off the ground.

What makes the Death Valley National Park special?

Sand dunes of Death Valley National Park

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It’s the driest, lowest, and hottest place in North America.

These harsh conditions have earned the place its name.

However, the park does provide tremendous historical value to tourists as well.

You can see how the Native Americans and early settlers lived despite harsh conditions.

Find the metal ore mines, ghost towns, petroglyphs, charcoal kilns, and the ancient foot trails of the Shoshone.

Flat sand dunes of Death Valley National Park

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Enjoy the Waters of Lake Mohave

View of Lake Mohave from the road

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This time, go to Arizona for some thrilling water sports adventure at Lake Mohave.

You can find this lake less than 50 miles away from Kingman, at the border of Nevada and Arizona.

Besides water sports, you can also fish at the lake while taking in the perfect sunny weather.

You can also just look out at the glorious scenery and admire the lake’s surrounding mountains.

Look up and see the mountains looming over the canyons where the lake sits.

Sunny day at Lake Mohave

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If you look closely at the rocks, you can also see the petroglyphs the Mohave Indians etched into the rocks and cliff faces more than 3,000 years ago.

Explore the lake by swimming or boating.

You can even try water skiing, tubing, or wakeboarding.

If you choose to fish, you can catch largemouth or striped bass.

The lakeshore also provides trails for off-road adventures.

Otherwise, just enjoy a nice hot picnic with family or friends.

Scenic daytime view of Lake Mohave

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Visit North America’s Lowest Point at Badwater Basin

Name sign of Badwater Basin

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This otherworldly desert spot is located on the Mojave Desert’s California side.

What makes Badwater Basin unique?

Visit this huge salt flat to find the lowest elevation in the entire continent of North America, measuring at a whopping -282 feet below sea level.

Boardwalk of Badwater Basin

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During the summer, you’ll need to stay inside your vehicle because of the searing heat outside.

However, you can step foot on the basin when the months cool.

Once you reach the salt flats, you can also hike for another 400 meters to reach Death Valley’s iconic salt polygons.

These salt formations—shaped like large polygons—stretch as far as your eyes can see, forming an almost alien landscape.

Sunset at Badwater Basin's salt flats

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See the Poppies at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve

A trail lined with flowers at Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve

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Visit Lancaster, California, during springtime to catch a whole field of poppies (California’s state flower) in full bloom.

This breathtaking show takes place inside the Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve.

Likewise, Lancaster’s climate provides perfect conditions for the California poppy to thrive, unleashing a brilliant display of orange petals blossoming in the sunlight.

Vibrant poppy field at Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve

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Try to visit the poppy fields on a sunny day, preferably mid-morning. Poppies need warm air to fully open.

During your visit, try not to damage any foliage.

You’re there to look, not touch.

The preserve also contains eight miles of trace, which means you can still catch your exercise while looking at the flowers.

Sunlight illuminating poppies at Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve

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Check Out Rainbow-Colored Rocks at Red Rock Canyon State Park

The gorgeous Red Rock Canyon State Park

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During the heyday of cowboy movies, the Red Rock Canyon State Park in California served as a popular setting and filming location.

This place became a terrific backdrop for the Western because of its natural formations, such as desert cliffs, rugged outcroppings, and buttes.

Years of erosion from wind and water have carved the land into brilliant layers of pink, red, and white.

The colorful land has attracted photographers and tourists to the area.

Likewise, the land carries the fossils of prehistoric animals, like saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses, and prehistoric alligator lizards.

Closeup details of Red Rock Canyon State Park

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The 27,000-acre park also hosts various hiking trails, just short enough for all tourists to enjoy.

If you’re a first-timer, you should visit the rock formations in Hagen and Red Rock Canyon.

You can also spend the night at the park and see the stars in their full splendor because there’s no major town nearby.

Let the stars brighten your campsite at the Ricardo Campground.

This campground also has telescopes scattered onsite, so you can see the stars up close.

Red rock of Red Rock Canyon State Park

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Learn Local History at the Calico Ghost Town

Name sign of Calico Ghost Town

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There’s no better place to learn about history than visiting an actual historic place.

During your visit to the Mojave Desert, check out the town of Yermo, California, for the Calico Ghost Town Regional Park.

The town of Calico used to be a prosperous mining town in the Old West, founded in 1881.

For a few years, the town thrived on its silver mines.

Wooden houses of Calico Ghost Town

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However, silver lost its value during the mid-1890s, causing its citizens to pack up and move elsewhere.

The town became a ghost town immediately afterward.

When Walter Knott bought Calico in the 1950s, he restored nearly all of the buildings to their original 19th-century appearance.

The town also inspired Knott to build his popular Knott’s Berry Farm.

Streets of Calico Ghost Town

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Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also declared Calico as the state’s Silver Rush Ghost Town in 2005.

Today, the town belongs to the San Bernardino County Regional Parks system.

Its historic buildings draw scores of visitors from around the world.

Likewise, the town offers many stores and restaurants to tourists, along with off-roading, camping, and hiking adventures.

Fill Your Camera Roll at the Rainbow Basin Natural Area

Scenic daytime view of Rainbow Basin Natural Area

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The Bureau of Land Management operates and supervises the Rainbow Basin Natural Area, an Area of Critical Environmental Concern just north of Barstow, California.

The region boasts spectacular desert views, along with unique geological formations.

You can also check out its paleontological features during your visit.

Likewise, most tourists prefer to travel the basin’s canyons to take in the scenery or take photos of the colorful rock formations.

Besides its geology, the park also hosts native wildlife, like the desert tortoise.

Closer details of Rainbow Basin Natural Area

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You also have a list of activities to choose from, such as photography, camping, hiking, and even horseback riding.

If you want to go off-roading, go to the Fossil Canyon Loop Road.

It’s a one-way dirt road that’s best suited for four-wheel-drive vehicles.

From time to time, get out of your car and soak in the majestic scenery unfolding before you.

However, trailered vehicles or RVs should not try this loop.

Experience the Paranormal with Calico Ghost Tours

Stay in Calico and experience the spooky side of its history.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you’ll still enjoy the Calico Ghost Tours because of its interesting real histories and tales of the supernatural.

During the hour-long tour, your guide will tell you about the popular historic sites on Main Street with an added paranormal story that happened there.

After that, you’ll enter Maggie Mine in the dark, a unique experience not a lot of people have had.

Beware of clammy hands reaching out to you in the dark!

If you make a special request, you can also visit the town’s schoolhouse.

Your guide will tell you about the children’s spirits residing in the vicinity.

Likewise, you’ll spend roughly 20 minutes inside the schoolhouse room for photos and possible ghostly encounters.

Even kids can join the tour, so don’t worry if you’re easily spooked.

You can even bring your dog.

Explore a Saltwater Lake at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area

Aerial view of the Salton Sea State Recreation Area

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Intrepid campers should pay a visit to the Salton Sea Recreation Area, a 14-mile stretch of the northeastern shore of the Salton Sea.

Visitors continue to flock to the area because it offers terrific boating and camping adventures.

Likewise, you can enjoy kayaking, bird-watching, and kayaking on the saltwater lake.

Migratory birds stop by the area before flying to their destinations.

Salton Sea used to be a thriving tourist hotspot during its heyday in the 1950s. It was even one of California’s busiest parks.

However, the saltwater lake’s formation from agricultural runoff made it saltier than the Pacific Ocean.

Sand shore and waters of Salton Sea State Recreation Area

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During the 1970s, the lake suffered extreme flooding.

Then, in the 1990s, the lake’s high salt levels killed millions of fish and birds.

Salton Sea’s tourism boom days were numbered.

Today, Salton Sea still draws tourists, mostly out of curiosity. Its many stops, like Bombay Beach, carry the remains of abandoned homes, boats, and vehicles.

However, the area remains important because it’s one of California’s last standing wetlands.

Check the roadsides for fruit stands that sell fresh dates, too.

These fruits come at extremely low prices, making them a delicious snack during your stay.

Satisfy Your Curiosity at the Mojave Lava Tube

Light peeking through the holes of Mojave Lava Tube

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Tucked deep below the Mojave National Preserve is the Lava Tube, an underground path that crosses deep-black rocks and ends at a lava tube.

The tube is a tunnel made from cooled molten lava, which you can access through metal steps.

Holes in the ceiling allow light to pierce the darkness in the cavern.

Inside the lava tube, you can touch the molten lava walls surrounding you.

Steps leading down to Mojave Lava Tube

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This cooled lava has hardened over the years to form the tunnel.

How did this lava tube form?

Molten basaltic lava flowed across the area after an eruption, which spread outward.

Over the years, the lava on the surface cooled and hardened, although the underground lava kept flowing.

This lava flow carved out tunnels.

The empty Mojave Lava Tube

Kit Leong /

When the eruption finished, the lava flowed out of the tunnel, leaving behind a hole.

The Mojave National Preserve is also not a stranger to volcanic activity.

About 7.6 million years ago, cinder cones exploded upwards from the Earth’s crust.

The lava continued to flow, without end, until only 10,000 years ago.

Check Out the Petrified Dunes at the Snow Canyon State Park

White rocks amphitheater in Snow Canyon State Park

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This time, bring your family to the Mojave Desert’s Utah section to reach the Snow Canyon, State Park.

Right in the heart of this park lie the Petrified Dunes, the park’s centerpiece.

You’ll love hiking along these amazing hills of petrified Navajo sandstone, rolling down a slope.

A tortoise at Snow Canyon State Park

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The trail also offers plenty of vantage points to admire the scenery even if you get sidetracked.

Likewise, the Petrified Dunes gives you the best views in the park, so don’t forget your camera.

Its incredible views have turned the dunes into the most photographed places in the region.

Pine valley mountains view from Snow Canyon State Park

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Enjoy the Water at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Aerial view of Lake Mead National Recreation Area

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The Nevada Section of the Mojave Desert joins other massive deserts in the United States at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

This space draws tourists because of its excellent water recreation options, from boating to fishing and swimming.

Likewise, the area hosts a network of exciting hiking trails that show you excellent views of the enfolding desert.

You can also join tours of Hoover Dam, which is also one of the recreation area’s top attractions.

Sunset view at Lake Mead National Recreation Area

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If you’re curious, you can also check out the ghost town of St. Thomas, Nevada.

The entire town sits inside the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, too.

Many years ago, the town was once totally submerged under Lake Mead.

Today, you can walk along its two-mile loop trail, complete with interpretive signs.

The clear waters of Lake Mead National Recreation Area

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Learn US History at Fort Piute

The Mojave Desert is not a stranger to the United States Army. You can find traces of the military in the desert, such as Fort Piute.

This fort, named after the Paiute tribe of Native Americans, is one of the first military outposts in the American West.

Today, the ruins of the old fort stand on Old Mojave Road.

From 1859 to 1868, the fort was active as a defense for travelers on the Mojave Road.

The army built the fort after Col. William Hoffman, and 60 soldiers killed 20 Native Americans in 1859 during a stop for water.

Over the years, the fort saw numerous battles between the US military and the Native Americans who protected their sacred land.

Today, the area brims with remnants of the Native Americans.

You can find various petroglyphs that have existed before Fort Piute, from the plains to the hills.

Likewise, archaeologists have found traces of ancient settlements at Piute Spring.

The US army dammed the spring upon building the fort, which closed off the waters from the Native Americans.

Hike Your Way up to Kelso Dunes

Scenic view of Kelso Dunes

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Kelso Dunes is a Mojave National Preserve protected area located near the Town of Baker.

It’s the largest gravel sand dune field in the Mojave Desert featuring stunning vistas of the majestic San Bernardino Mountain ranges.

The trails are recommended for advanced hikers but the strenuous path is surely worth the trek.

A hiker along Kelso Dunes

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Enjoy hiking the sandhills and reach the highest peak to see one of the best views of the Mojave.

There are also multiple trails you can choose from but you don’t have to worry because they all lead in the same direction.

Enjoy an adventurous hike at Kelso Dunes.

Sunset over Kelso Dunes

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Drop by the Iconic Kelso Depot

The Kelso Depot is located in a remote area right in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve.

It’s the only modern building in the area, welcoming visitors to offer park information, a modern bathroom facility, and exhibit areas about the railroad history and life in the area.

The depot was originally named Kelso Clubhouse built in 1924 as a train station, telegraph office, restaurant, and railroad employee dormitory; it opened in 2005 as a National Park Service Visitor Center operated by the National Park Service.

Step inside the depot and take some time to read the plaques about the area’s history; you’ll also see an old jail cell used in the earlier days and remains of The Beanery restaurant.

You can watch a short movie about the Mojave area and browse through the displays on the second-floor museum to learn interesting facts about Union Pacific expansions in the desert area.

View an area dedicated to the genius behind the famous Zzyzx and get to listen to one of his radio broadcasts.

Likewise, see the exhibits presenting Mojave’s various flora and fauna along with art pieces depicting the park.

You can also explore the area surrounding Kelso Depot like old railroad tracks and old abandoned houses.

See the Picturesque Views at Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve

Scenic view of Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve

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The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve is a state-protected reserve located in the western Mojave Desert.

The park is open all year but is most beautiful during spring, in the months from mid-February to May when abundant vibrant poppies and wildflowers cover the grasslands.

You’ll also enjoy the majestic serene views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

People admiring the blooms of Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve

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Trek the eight-mile walking trails and get immersed in the wonderful nature views; take snapshots of your wonderful experience.

Otherwise, drop by the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center open during the wildflower season, and catch an array of wildlife and flower exhibits; view galleries of Jane’s wildflower paintings and get items from the gift shop.

Have a great nature experience at Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve.

Close view of Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve blooms

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Explore the Spectacular Cave Deposits at Mitchell Caverns

The Mitchell Caverns in Essex, Providence State Park is the only show cave in the Southern California region.

The area was once a property of the Mitchells during the 1930s where they ran the cave and desert resorts and attractions in Route 66 until they sold the property to the state parks system in 1954.

You can access the caves through a two-hour guided tour available twice a week.

The tour lets you explore the caves, learn about the area’s history, and have a fun hiking adventure.

You’ll spot several plants and wildlife found only in the area and hear about the gold mines during their glory days.

Once you get inside the caves, you’ll be awed by the sight of spectacular stalactite and stalagmites columns.

Get inside the cave rooms and see the impressive views and cave shields; you might even spot a packrat along the way.

Your Mitchell Caverns tour ends in a large cave room and you’ll just be glad you had this experience.

Conquer the Heights at Rings Trail

Daytime view of Rings Trail

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Rings Trail is another trail the outdoor enthusiast in you will surely enjoy.

This 1.5-mile trail is known as one of the best trails in the Mojave National Preserve.

Your hike begins at the visitor center near the Hole in the Wall campground area which leads you to a winding trail to the nearby mountains.

You’ll pass through some plains and vast mesa mountain areas.

Climbing rings of Rings Trail

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Stop once in a while to appreciate the beautiful view of the breathtaking mountainside covered in rich foliage.

Spot petroglyphs, then make your way around the mountain until you reach the gigantic limestone cliffs.

You’ll find the rings after a series of cliffs, canyons, and a climb up over a cluster of fallen rocks; the peak gives you a sense of achievement and another stunning view of the Mojave Desert.

Test your strength as you climb the Rings Trail.

Final Thoughts

The Mojave Desert is a uniquely imposing natural wonder in the United States.

Its size means you can approach it from four states, with each state offering signature attractions of its own.

No matter where you access the desert, you’ll experience an unforgettable trip.

Book your trip to the Mojave Desert today!

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