The Mojave Desert is an adventurer’s playground, vast and untamed. Imagine cruising through a landscape dotted with Joshua Trees, where solitude is your companion. It’s a place of authenticity, where the rawness of nature invites exploration. The adventure possibilities are as boundless as the horizon. You can explore off-road trails, visit ghost towns, and gaze at a night sky so clear it sparks storytelling among astronomers. The Mojave offers not only silence and space but also a challenge to the spirit, a vast open book of natural wonders waiting to be explored.
This guide is a treasure trove of firsthand experiences and hidden gems. It’s all about avoiding tourist crowds and immersing yourself in the heart of the desert. Here, every grain of sand holds a story, and every whispering wind carries the echoes of the past.
So, pack your essentials and your curiosity, and get ready for an adventure off the beaten path. Whether it’s the excitement of hiking through canyons, the tranquility of a solitary sunrise, or the mystery of landscapes that have endured through time, the Mojave is your canvas. Let’s embark on an adventure that’s truly your own. To help you make the most out of your next trip, here are my top 12 things to see and do in the Mojave Desert.
Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in the Mojave Desert? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this mystical vacation spot in California. So keep reading to discover all these unique Mojave Desert places to visit.
Are you looking to try off-roading, go hiking and explore historic ghost towns scattered across the expansive sands? Or would you prefer to go camping under star-filled skies and experience desert spelunking? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in the Mojave Desert can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in the Mojave Desert that you should know about.
When you step into the Mojave Desert, the Kelso Dunes are a must-visit. These aren’t your average sand hills; they’re a natural marvel that towers over the landscape, offering a unique desert experience. Hiking to the top might be a bit of a workout, but the panoramic views are worth every step. And if you’re lucky, you might even hear the famous ‘singing sands’ as the wind shifts the dunes.
One of the best things to do in the Mojave Desert is to tackle the Kelso Dunes at sunrise or sunset. The colors of the sky play off the sand, creating a spectacle that’s hard to find anywhere else. It’s a perfect spot for photographers or anyone looking to enjoy a moment of desert magic.
After the climb, take a moment to enjoy the silence. It’s a rare commodity these days, and the Mojave offers it in abundance. Just sit and watch as the desert life goes about its day. The Kelso Dunes aren’t just a destination; they’re an experience that encapsulates the spirit of the Mojave.
The Amboy Crater, a 6,000-year-old cinder cone volcano, offers a straightforward hike that’s big on views and rich in geology. It’s a straightforward 3-mile trek to the rim, where you can look down into the dormant crater. The path takes you through old lava flows and jagged basalt, giving you a firsthand look at the desert’s volcanic past.
This hike is a great way to spend a morning or an afternoon. The crater’s distinct shape is visible for miles and becomes more impressive as you get closer. Once at the top, the crater’s interior opens up, a vast bowl that’s a testament to the Earth’s inner workings.
For those who love the night sky, Amboy Crater is also a stargazing hotspot. The absence of city lights means you get a clear, unobstructed view of the stars. It’s the perfect way to cap off your day in the Mojave.
Remember to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat—the desert sun is intense, and there’s little shade. And if you stay for the stars, bring a jacket; the desert gets cool quickly after sunset. This hike is a must-do for anyone wanting to experience the Mojave’s unique landscape.
Rhyolite, in the Mojave Desert, is a ghost town that tells a real story of the gold rush’s fleeting glory. Here, history isn’t just found in books; it’s standing right in front of you in the form of weathered buildings and dusty streets. The Bottle House and other structures are tangible remnants of a once hopeful community, now a playground for the curious.
It’s not every day you get to walk through a real-life history lesson. You can check out the old train depot and look into the bank where miners once dreamed of striking it rich. And let’s talk about the sunsets – they’re epic. The way the light hits the decaying walls, casting long shadows, is a photographer’s dream.
It’s super quiet, which is great for some introspection. Just you, the past, and the vast desert sky. But remember, it’s still a desert. Bring water, wear good shoes, and get ready to step into a piece of the past that feels like it’s just for you. Rhyolite isn’t just another tourist spot; it’s a slice of the American dream, frozen in time, waiting for you to visit.
The Mojave National Preserve is a lesser-known gem where the Mojave River Bed Walk leads you through a chapter of desert history written in stone and sand. This isn’t your typical nature walk; it’s a journey along a riverbed that rarely sees water, yet life persists. The trail is easy to follow and offers a unique perspective on how water—or the lack of it—shapes the environment.
As you traverse the riverbed, keep an eye out for wildlife. Desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, and a variety of birds call this arid river home. It’s a reminder that even in the driest places, life finds a way.
The Mojave River Bed Walk is a great way to experience the quiet majesty of the desert. It’s a place where you can clear your head, stretch your legs, and enjoy the solitude. The preserve boasts wide-open spaces. The distant mountains provide a backdrop that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a vast, open-air gallery.
Make sure to pack water, sun protection, and maybe a good hat. The desert sun can be relentless, even in the cooler months. This walk is an opportunity to see a side of the Mojave that many miss, one of resilience and stark beauty.
The Goffs Cultural Center is a hidden treasure for history enthusiasts and one of the unique things to do in the Mojave Desert. This educational outpost offers a deep dive into the region’s past. Its exhibits range from Native American artifacts to relics from the area’s mining days. The center is a spot that doesn’t just showcase history; it immerses you in it.
You’ll find a collection of historical buildings, including a schoolhouse that’s been restored to its 1914 condition, complete with period-appropriate furnishings. It’s not just a look back in time; it’s a step into the daily lives of those who shaped the Mojave’s history.
The center also features a research library. This library is filled with maps, photographs, and documents for those who wish to dig deeper into the desert’s history. It’s a resource that’s as valuable as it is fascinating.
Visiting the Goffs Cultural Center is one of the unique things to do in the Mojave Desert. It’s a place where the stories of the Mojave are preserved and shared. Visitors have the opportunity to connect with the desert in a way that goes beyond the landscape. Whether you’re a history buff or just curious about the desert’s cultural tapestry, Goffs provides a compelling and educational experience.
For a slice of Americana mixed with a dash of the eclectic, the Route 66 Mother Road Museum is a pit stop that’s as quirky as it is informative. Located in the historic town of Barstow, the museum celebrates the iconic Route 66. It offers a nostalgic journey with vintage signs, classic cars, and memorabilia that tell the story of America’s famous highway.
The museum isn’t just about looking; it’s about experiencing. You can sit in a classic diner booth at the museum. Spin some vintage records and get a feel for the era when Route 66 was the main artery of travel across the country. It’s a hands-on history lesson that’s fun for all ages.
The staff are as knowledgeable as they are passionate, ready to share tales of the Mother Road. If you’re lucky, your visit might coincide with one of their classic car rallies or cultural events. These events bring the spirit of Route 66 to life.
The Route 66 Mother Road Museum is a colorful stop in the Mojave that offers a break from the desert’s solitude. The museum is a celebration of the road trip and Americana. It harks back to a time when the journey was just as important as the destination. It’s a must-visit for anyone cruising through the Mojave with a love for the open road.
The Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Loop Trail is a hands-on Mojave Desert adventure. This 1.5-mile loop is a moderate hike, well-known for its unique features. Metal rings are bolted into the canyon walls to help you navigate the more challenging sections. It’s a bit like a playground for adults, where you can scramble and climb your way through the volcanic rock landscape.
This trail is a must for your Mojave Desert to-do list. It’s not just a walk; it’s a chance to actively engage with the desert environment. The rings add an element of fun and are a great way to mix up your hiking routine.
At the trail’s high points, you’re treated to panoramic views of the surrounding desert. It’s a stark, beautiful scene that captures the essence of the Mojave’s rugged terrain.
Pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and wear sturdy shoes. Gloves can also come in handy for gripping the rings. The trail provides a bit of adventure. It also offers a fresh way to appreciate the desert’s beauty, making it an ideal stop for those seeking excitement in their Mojave exploration.
If you’re looking to delve into the Mojave’s past, the Mitchell Caverns are a subterranean wonder that shouldn’t be missed. Part of the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, these limestone caves are a natural wonder. They offer a cool respite from the desert heat and the opportunity to see stunning stalactites and stalagmites up close.
Tours of the caverns are guided, providing insights into the geology and history of this underground world. You’ll learn about the caverns’ formation, the unique ecosystem within, and the stories of early explorers who mapped these hidden depths.
Mitchell Caverns are a real highlight for anyone interested in geology or spelunking. The tour isn’t overly strenuous, but it does involve some climbing and narrow passages, so it’s a bit of an adventure. It’s also a chance to see a different side of the Mojave, one that lies beneath the surface.
Be sure to book your tour in advance, as they can fill up quickly, especially during peak tourist seasons. Bring a light jacket, as the caverns remain cool throughout the year. This underground excursion provides a fascinating break from the typical desert activities. It offers a glimpse into the natural artistry that has been sculpting the Mojave for millennia.
At the heart of the Mojave Desert, the Black Canyon Equestrian & Group Campground becomes the stage for an astronomical ballet during the Star Parties. This specific spot within the Mojave National Preserve is renowned for its dark skies. It is an ideal location for stargazers to gather. Here, away from the city’s glow, the heavens unveil their nightly performance with a clarity that can take your breath away.
The Star Parties here are a communal affair. Telescopes dot the landscape, and enthusiasts share their knowledge and equipment with anyone eager to look up. You’ll find yourself among a friendly community, all gathered for the shared purpose of celestial observation.
These events are typically scheduled around the new moon to ensure the darkest skies. As you peer through the telescopes, don’t be surprised to catch a shooting star or a passing satellite. It’s an immersive experience that connects you with the cosmic dance overhead.
To join in, be sure to pack some warm layers. The desert temperature drops after sunset, and it’s essential to stay comfortable. Use a red light to navigate to avoid disrupting the stargazing conditions. This helps preserve the darkness needed for the best astronomical viewing. Whether you’re an avid astronomer or a curious novice, the Star Parties at Black Canyon are welcoming. They offer a night of discovery under the Mojave’s expansive starlit canopy.
One of the coolest things to do in the Mojave Desert is to explore the ghost town of Calico. This former mining town, once bustling with prospectors and pioneers, now stands as a monument to the Wild West era. Restored to preserve its 1880s appearance, Calico is a historical treasure. It offers a tangible link to the past with its weathered wooden buildings and dusty streets.
Visiting Calico isn’t just a historical outing; it’s a step back in time. You can wander through the old schoolhouse, peer into the mercantile, and even explore the mines that once made this town thrive. Actors and staff in period costume add to the immersive experience, and you might even witness a staged gunfight.
For the adventurous, the area around Calico is a playground. There are off-road vehicle trails nearby, and the town’s surrounding hills are laced with hiking paths that offer stunning views of the desert landscape. Calico hosts a variety of events throughout the year. From holiday celebrations to music festivals, these events add a lively dimension to the town’s silent history.
Whether you’re a history buff, an adventure seeker, or just in search of a unique day trip, Calico is a standout destination. It’s a gem in the Mojave that provides a perfect blend of education and entertainment. Calico is a place where the stories of the Old West are not just told; they’re experienced.
For a slice of aviation history and a touch of adventure, the Mojave Air and Space Port is a must-visit. It’s not your typical tourist spot; it’s a working airport and test facility where the future of aerospace takes shape. But for those interested in the skyward aspirations of humanity, it’s a fascinating place to explore.
The public is welcome to visit the Voyager Restaurant. It offers not only a good meal but also a view of the runway where test flights and landings occur. If you time it right, you might see experimental aircraft or even a commercial space vehicle in action.
The spaceport is also home to an impressive boneyard of retired commercial airplanes. It’s an eerie sight, these giant metal birds grounded in neat rows, slowly being reclaimed by the desert. For photographers and aviation enthusiasts, it’s a gold mine.
While there aren’t formal tours, the public areas provide enough vantage points to make a visit worthwhile. Just remember, this is a facility focused on innovation and testing. So, respect the boundaries and enjoy the chance to witness the cutting edge of flight. It’s a reminder that the Mojave’s wide-open spaces are a launchpad for not just terrestrial exploration but cosmic ambitions as well.
In the Mojave Desert, the thrill of off-roading finds its ultimate playground at the Stoddard Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area. With a vast landscape of hills, valleys, and open desert terrain, the Mojave is an off-roader’s dream. It’s a place where enthusiasts can truly push their vehicles to the limit.
The area welcomes all levels of off-road drivers. Beginners can get a taste of the sport, while experts can tackle the more challenging trails. The varied terrain includes sandy washes and rocky roads. It offers a perfect mix for dirt bikes, ATVs, and 4x4s.
Safety is paramount in such an unforgiving environment. Ensure your vehicle is in top condition and that you’re equipped with plenty of water, a map, and a way to call for help if necessary. The freedom of racing across the desert, kicking up clouds of dust, and climbing steep inclines is exhilarating.
As you navigate the rugged landscape, take a moment to appreciate the desert’s stark beauty. And remember, enjoying the Mojave Desert responsibly is one of the coolest things to do. It’s important to preserve the wilderness for future adventurers. Stoddard Valley is more than just an off-road area; it’s a testament to the desert’s untamed spirit.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in the Mojave Desert
Looking for more content on the top things to do in the Mojave Desert? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Mojave Desert:
What are the must-see spots in the Mojave Desert?
In the vast expanse of the Mojave, you can’t miss the surreal landscape of the Joshua Tree National Park, where the iconic trees dot the horizon. This park is one of Southern California’s hidden gems. The Kelso Dunes offer a symphony of shifting sands that sing when you slide down their slopes. For a touch of history, the ghost town of Calico gives a glimpse into the silver mining past. And don’t overlook the Mojave National Preserve for a true desert wilderness experience.
Yes, but preparation is key. The desert is beautiful but unforgiving. Always carry plenty of water, let someone know your itinerary, and check the weather. Be mindful of wildlife and stay on designated trails. If you’re driving, ensure your vehicle is desert-ready. Respect the environment, and remember, safety is part of the adventure in the Mojave.
The Mojave Desert’s springtime is ideal, offering a moderate climate and a bloom of desert wildflowers. Fall also presents pleasant weather, perfect for exploring. Summers are intensely hot; winters can be cold. Always check the weather before your trip, as desert conditions can change rapidly.
The Mojave offers family-friendly adventures with proper planning. Engage children with visits to historical sites like Calico Ghost Town and nature walks to see desert flora and fauna. Prioritize hydration, sun protection, and ensure activities are age-appropriate for a fun and safe family outing.
The Mojave Desert is famed for its Joshua Trees, diverse ecosystems, and geological wonders like the Kelso Dunes. It’s a place of stark beauty and extremes, featuring Death Valley’s record temperatures and a history rich with Native American culture, ghost towns, and significant space exploration milestones.
Absolutely, the Mojave Desert is worth visiting. It boasts a unique landscape with diverse wildlife, historic sites like Route 66, and geological wonders. It’s a haven for outdoor activities such as hiking, stargazing, and off-roading. The desert’s vastness offers tranquility and adventure, making it a memorable destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.
Exploring the Mojave Desert is an adventure that sticks with you. It’s a place where every visit reveals something new, whether it’s a hidden canyon, a historical relic, or a wildlife encounter. The desert’s vastness encourages you to slow down, observe, and connect with the environment in a way that’s both grounding and exhilarating.
The Mojave isn’t just a destination; it’s a journey that challenges and rewards. It’s about the stories you’ll tell of navigating its landscapes and the quiet moments of awe under a canopy of stars. So pack your bags, bring your sense of wonder, and dive into the Mojave. You’ll come back with more than just memories; you’ll return with a new appreciation for the wild, untamed corners of the world.