Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Mojave National Preserve

  • Published 2022/08/07

Deserts mostly feature bitterly cold nights, sweltering days, and precious little water.

Add the dangerous reptiles wandering the area, and you have one of the most daunting regions in the world.

However, for courageous explorers, it is the ultimate paradise and playground.

In the San Bernardino County of California lies the magnificent Mojave National Preserve.

With an area of 1,542,776 acres, the vast terrain preserves many ecological habitats for various animal species.

In October 1994, the US Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act to preserve and maintain the place.

It has more natural wonders and wildlife to offer than just a vast expanse of barren land.

Prepare for an exciting trip as you discover the best things to do in the Mojave National Preserve.

Marvel at the Cluster of Joshua Trees

View of Joshua Trees along Cima road

Steve Lagreca /

When you think of a desert, you can say it’s dry with no water.

Without water, there couldn’t possibly be any trees growing around.

However, the Mojave National Preserve is the oasis of more Joshua trees than any other place in the world.

Despite its name, the Joshua tree is a tall spiny plant that merely resembles a tree’s growth and size.

The best area to find a lot of Joshua trees is along Cima Road, near the Teutonia Peak hiking trail.

Trail lined with Joshua Trees at Mojave National Preserve

picchu productions /

A large portion of Joshua trees used to stand around the Cima Dome and Cima Road, but a fire burned them down.

You can still find their charred remains in the area.

Go ahead and snap a photo with this unique plant.

Cluster of Joshua Trees

trekandshoot /

Explore the Popular Teutonia Peak Trail

View from Teutonia Peak Trail window

Steve Lagreca /

Exploring trails within the desert are just as fun as exploring trails in the forest.

The famous Teutonia Peak Trail is a must-visit place along the Cima Road in the Mojave National Preserve.

Extending 5.1 kilometers, the Teutonia Peak Trail is an out-and-back trail and involves rock scrambling with a good view of rock boulders.

Starting on the easy and flat trail, you get to see the remnants of burnt Joshua Trees.

A beautiful butterfly in Teutonia Peak Trail

Wildnerdpix /

However, a beautiful patch of green lies near the base of the mountains, with wildflowers and cacti in full bloom.

The Teutonia Mines are worth seeing with their few remaining artifacts and sealed-up mine entrances.

As you reach the peak of the mountain, it will reward you with panoramic views of the preserve.

Daytime view of Teutonia Peak Trail

Wildnerdpix /

Uncover the History of Kelso Depot Visitor Center

View of Kelso Depot Visitor Center from the railway

JHVEPhoto /

If you’re looking for a break in the Mojave National Preserve, head on to the Kelso Depot Visitor Center.

Located on Kelso Cima Road, it opened as a train station in 1924.

Its former dormitory rooms now contain different cultural exhibits and the natural history of the desert.

Front view of Kelso Depot Visitor Center

EWY Media /

It includes an eclectic collection of souvenirs, a big cage from a historic jail, and a 20-minute orientation film that teaches you about its past.

The Kelso Depot Visitor Center is a must-to-go first stop because they have a good map of the Mojave National Preserve.

Set up Your Cozy Camp at Mid Hills Campground

After a day of hot trips within the vastness of Mojave National Reserve, you deserve a good rest.

The Mid Hills Campground is a good site to relax and set up your tents.

With an elevation of 5,600 feet, you’ll feel a cooler breeze compared to the lower fields.

You’ll see juniper and pinyon pine trees, providing a shadier environment as a shelter from the scorching sun.

The twenty-six primitive campsites have potable water, pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings.

You can try fun activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, and hunting.

As you take your beauty rest, check out stunning panoramic scenery, gaze at the shining stars, and experience extreme solitude.

Pay Respects at the Mojave Memorial Cross

Marker of Mojave Memorial Cross

greenPea /

The Mojave desert has held a deep history and connection with people since ancient times.

On Cima Road near Teutonia Peak Trail, you will see the Mojave Memorial Cross atop Sunrise Rock.

Officially known as the White Cross World War 1 Memorial, the cross stood in 1934 to honor the soldiers killed in the war.

Daytime view of the Mojave Memorial Cross

Alizada Studios /

The cross stands on the hill along with the plaque containing the history of the cross and the memorial.

You can relax at the picnic tables in the area.

The Mojave Memorial Cross is an excellent place to stop by for a couple of pictures.

Circle the Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Trail

View of the unique Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Trail

SveKo /

Have you ever seen a massive Swiss cheese?

However, replace the image in your head with solid rocks and boulders instead of the tasty cheese.

Swiss cheese is the best adjective to describe what surrounds the Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Trail.

The Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Trail is a calorie-burning route that stretches for about 1.5 miles.

It’s a worthwhile place to visit because of the fantastic volcanic rock formations created millions of years ago.

A volcanic eruption in the past filled the area with lava and ash.

Close view of Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Trail

Wildnerdpix /

The uneven cooling formed the “holes” in the rock, which soil erosion enlarged over time.

It resulted in the creation of spectacular caverns that you can explore.

Once you reach the rocks, you’ll see the metal rings that provide footing to climb a steep incline.

Aside from hiking, it is a beautiful spot for camping, with over 35 campsites, picnic tables, and toilets.

It is an enthralling challenge in the Mojave National Preserve you don’t want to miss.

Venture on the Rock Spring Loop Trail

The Rock Spring Loop Trail on Cedar Canyon Road was once the ultimate oasis for travelers because of the titular Rock Spring.

The trail extends for 1.33 miles with a 100-foot elevation change, allowing you to see the stunning scenic views.

As you walk down the Rock Spring Loop Trail, you’ll uncover deep history and beautiful sites.

Check out the old copper mine sites, stone houses, the Rock Spring, and a US Army camp.

In 1929, Bert Smith built the fantastic stone house while recovering from poison gas exposure during World War I.

Despite the doctor’s warning that he didn’t have long to live, he miraculously lived for 25 more years.

Whether it was the desert air or the Rock Springs that prolonged his life, you can judge that for yourself.

Leave Footprints on the Kelso Dunes Trail

Daytime view of Kelso Dunes Trail

Kit Leong /

The perfect desert trip isn’t complete without playing and running in the massive dunes.

The Kelso Dunes Trail on Kelso-Dunes Road is the largest stretch of Aeolian sand deposits.

Spanning about 45 square miles and rising 650 feet above the desert floor, this area is a vast playground and a fantastic backdrop that seems to extend forever.

Multiple trails lead to a similar direction, with the last half mile being the toughest.

Footprints along Kelso Dunes Trail

William Silver /

You’ll encounter steep dunes and shifting sand, making one step forward tricky.

While hiking, you can hear the phenomenon they call “singing sand” or “booming dunes” caused by passing winds or people walking on them.

The vast area is home to multiple rare plant species in their unique and fragile ecosystem.

As you hit the top, you may either go for a run or a thrilling slide on your way down, although people highly recommend sliding.

Slither Your Way through the Lava Tube Trail

Trailhead of Lava Tube Trail

Kit Leong /

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to walk beneath the ground?

Travel underground on the Lava Tube Trail on the unpaved Aiken Mine Road for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As you go down a ladder from the upper ground, you’ll find three lava tubes to explore, which molten lava formed long ago.

The flashlights and headlamps will illuminate the flat and dusty yet rocky wonders below.

Interior of a lava tube at Lava Tube Trail

Kit Leong /

You’ll discover different chambers with low and high hanging ceilings and dark hardened lava walls.

The beautiful tube ends with a dim room exposed by a spotlight of sunlight.

Take those Instagrammable pictures with dramatic lighting at the Lava Tube Trail.

Stairs leading down a lava tube at Lava Tube Trail

Kit Leong /

Visit the Desert Stream of Piute Creek

The scarcity of water defines a desert.

However, a magical stream flows year-round at the Mojave National Preserve, which has become one of its main wildlife habitats.

Piute Creek holds the wonder of a perennial stream with a creek bed amid water-loving cottonwood trees.

Mojave yucca and cholla cactus dominate the creek area.

It is a magnificent site with a gorgeous geological backdrop.

You’ll appreciate the consistent efforts and ingenuity of its early inhabitants.

Archaeological evidence shows they planted crops of corn and melon in the area.

You can also find remnants of the U.S. Army fort, Fort Piute, above the creek with its piles of stones and rubble.

It truly is wonderful to see how people, plants, and wildlife come together with the presence of water.

Pass the Piute Creek on your trip to the Mojave National Preserve.

See the Cinder Cones and the Lava Flows

View of a Cinder Cone

T.Schofield /

The Mojave National Preserve has unique cinder cones and lava flows.

You will see these things interrupting the skyline of Cima Dome.

It happened about 7.6 million years ago.

After many eruptions, volcanoes formed these well-preserved black basalt lava flows and volcanic cinder cones.

You can see about 40 cinder cones, and 60 lava flows.

View of a lava bed

Kim M Smith /

The charcoal and dark red terrain gives a different look to the landscape than the Kelso Sand Dunes and the Joshua tree forest.

Around the cinder cones and lava flows, you will discover petrified trees and fossil lava.

Likewise, you will also see works of early humans who carved petroglyphs around the area.

It’s incredible how well-preserved they are despite the millions of years that passed.

Take a Detour to the Zzyzx Road Mineral Springs and Healing Center

Road sign of Zzyzx Road

EWY Media /

Curtis Hower Springer coined the term zzyzx, pronounced as “zi-zix,” aiming to have it listed as the last word in the dictionary.

Springer was a self-proclaimed medical doctor who founded the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Healing Center.

However, Springer’s desert utopia, which sold scheme health products, did not last long.

In 1974, the government shut the center down, leading to its total abandonment.

Abandoned building at Zzyzx Road

trekandshoot /

Upon arriving, you will see the ruins of the decaying resort, such as the old pool house, swing set, and abandoned guest rooms.

In front of the resort is Lake Tuendae, an artificial lake with surrounding picturesque palm trees.

If you love exploring abandoned locations, the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Healing Center is a worthwhile detour.

Let intrigue and curiosity surge through you as you explore a deserted but once bustling location.

Old swing set at Zzyzx Road

Gareth Lowndes /

Find the Botanical Gem of Caruthers Canyon

Quercus chrysolepis in Caruthers Canyon

Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

About 5.5 miles west of Ivanpah Road, you will find the botanically diverse area of Caruthers Canyon.

Filled with fascinating and mysterious rock formations, it is a gorgeous canyon of towering castellated mountains.

The growth of plants within the landscape is quite different than in other areas.

It has earned various other names such as “unusual plant assemblages,” “disjuncts,” and “islands on the land.”

Nearly 300 plant species grow here, including oak, pinyon pine, juniper, white fir, and other chaparral plants.

You will find an old mining road and the balancing rock on a narrow spire along your three-mile hiking trail.

Caruthers Canyon is unique, with diverse growing plants in the center of the hot desert.

Take a Solitary Hike in Quail Spring Basin

If you want to visit a less crowded place, Quail Spring Basin is the right one for you.

The 6.5-mile round trip showcases a striking view of the Kelso Dunes, sharp hills, a profusion of plants, and weathered granite boulders.

Look east across the basin to see a 180-degree view of the Providence mountains and Kelso Dunes.

You’ll also encounter wild eroded rocks that look like ancient alien sculptures.

A small valley of Mojave yucca and juniper trees, along with the lovely flowers, cover the area.

With only a handful of people to run into, you’ll experience solitariness like no other at the Quail Spring Basin.

Other Things to Do Nearby

See the World’s Tallest Thermometer in Bun Boy Restaurant

Road sign of Bun Boy Restaurant

Logan Bush /

Thanks to the scorching heat of the desert, you need to check your temperature regularly.

How about checking your temperature with a gigantic thermometer?

The World’s Tallest Thermometer is a skyscraper of symbolism standing near the Bun Boy Restaurant in Baker, California.

It’s only two minutes from Essex, where the Mojave National Preserve sits.

Standing roughly 134 feet tall, the thermometer displays a maximum temperature of 134 °F.

This reading reflects the record for the highest temperature in Death Valley, captured in 1913.

Likewise, the World’s Tallest Thermometer is an intriguing stopover with nearby fast food restaurants, souvenirs, and gas stations.

Others claim you can fry eggs in the area with an iron skillet.

Do you want to try?

Final Thoughts

The Mojave National Preserve offers an adventure of a lifetime with different kinds of landscapes, wildlife, and rock formations in a single area.

Follow this list of the best things to do in Mojave National Preserve to enjoy a completely new and fantastic experience.

Book your trip today!

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