Mojave National Preserve – Cow Cove Petroglyphs


What? : The Mojave National Preserve has many locations with Native American Petroglyphs rock art. The Cow Cove Petroglyphs site contains many well-preserve petroglyphs scattered across a basalt boulder field. You need a 4x4 car to get to the trailhead of the 3 miles out and back hike.


Related blogs:

Mojave National Preserve – Lava Tube

Mojave National Preserve – Aiken Mine Road (4x4 drive)

Mojave National Preserve – Cima Dome & Joshua Tree Forest

Mojave National Preserve – visit planning, 2 days trip itinerary

Mojave National Preserve – Visit Planning


Where? : The trailhead is located on one of the side-roads along Aiken Mine Road (see my detailed blog about the Aiken Mine Road drive). Parking is at mile 17.57 if taking the south to north ride (8 miles if you are starting at Cima Rd, I-15 Exit 272). You need 4x4 car to get here.

Google Map Link

Exact petroglyph location


When? : Late fall, winter and spring is the preferred time to visit the Mojave desert, summer is just too hot.


Due note 1: Water - Always take more than what you think you need, this is desert and temperature can be hot, in summer this is extremely hot environment. This is only 3 miles hike (out and back) but the days can be very hot.


Due note 2: Few notes about off-road driving:

For any long off-road driving activity, you must plan a head and know what you are doing!

Understand you’re driving abilities and your car limitations and analyze the driving conditions all the time. Think what if I need to turn around, can I make it back out.

Do not think “if I can pass it?” but rather “what I will do if I get stack?”.

Things can “just” happen, you may have flat tire or other car malfunction, you can get stack in “simple” to pass places, in mud, deep sand or river bad, the road can be un-passable, or you may even lose your way in the desert.

It is not about pride, if the road gets too rough for you, turn around!

In the event of an emergency, for un-trained people, staying with your car is probably the most important thing you can do.

Make sure you have a proper map and that you know how to navigate.

Know how to use your gear, change flat tire or how to drive in deep sand or mud conditions.

Garmin satellite phone is always good to have with you for emergency and map.

Do not travel cross-country or create new routes. This rule is strictly enforced; violators will receive citations. Driving in washes is not permitted.

In Mojave National Preserve, Groups of more than 7 vehicles or 25+ people require a Special Use Permit.


Important Notice: ATVs and UTVs Not Permitted in Mojave National Preserve at all!


Due note 3: Drive with enough fuel, no gas station in Mojave National Preserve


Due note 4: No cellular reception in Mojave National Preserve (you may have receptions near the main Highways). If you are using cellular map with GPS make sure you download the map in advance where you have cell reception (Wi-Fi connectivity is preferred).


Due note 5: Only few paved roads cross the Mojave Desert, most main dirt roads are in good conditions, but some may be impossible to pass after heavy rain. There are many off-road, 4x4 only trails, make sure you know what you are doing and what your car can handle safely.


Due note 6: There are no bathrooms, no pit toilets, and no trash cans. Please pack everything out.


Due note 7: During winter month, bring with you few warm cloths, you may get warm during the day and the hike, but you will need them once the sun is going down in a cold evening.


My thoughts: I enjoyed this 2-hour hike, stretching my legs on an all-driving day-trip. The Petroglyphs are nice and interesting and relatively easy to spot on the black rocks. The nice thing is that the chance you will be here along are very high, you will have the place all for yourself to explore… during my half day long-weekend drive I saw only one other car…


The visit:


Important note:

The petroglyphs of Cow Cove are highly protected and that tampering with, destroying, or removing any petroglyph at such a historical Native American site is a federal crime.

Please do not touch or walk on any petroglyphs.

Follow the rules of: Leave nothing behind, make only memories and take only pictures.


What is a petroglyph:

A petroglyph is an image created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art. We do know that people were living in the California Desert 10,000 to 12,000 years ago and this is the dating of the old petroglyph.


This site is rich with patterns and designs that were etched onto the volcanic rocks by a primitive Native American people.


The hike:

From the trailhead parking (see above description) the hike to the petroglyphs of Cow Cove is easy with only a slight downhill grade to the ridge where the petroglyphs are. Overall, this is 3 miles hike out and back on a sandy trail, you do need to easy climb on boulder to see the petroglyphs up-close.


After parking your vehicle off the road, walk past the “gate” and follow the old, abandoned but clear dirt road as it heads towards a series of short ridges in the distance below. 

As you progress you can identify your destination as darker color old lava flows hills.

As you get closer to the lava ridges the trail turn left and start to get less visible to nonexistent. At some point I lose the trail, but the destination was nearby and clear.

At this point you'll reach the low spot along you route, and you will cross a dry riverbed where the rocky black hills and cliffs are just on the other side and to the left.


Once you reach the rocky ridge and boulders you may see signs indicating that this is preserve area.

The petroglyphs are easy to spot on the black rocks, head west (to your left) and keep looking for more drawing. The drawings are spared on 500 feet stretch along this bluff. Most of the Native American rock art images are abstract, though some looks like actual items.


After 30 min of discovering petroglyphs and climbing the boulders, I decided to hike back to my car and continue with my trip.

Overall, hiking out and back took me 1.5-hour (3 miles), but you can stay longer if you set a lunch breaks near the petroglyphs or invest more time with finding additional drawings.

I really enjoy this place during my winter visit but at hot summer day the expose to sun hike can be tough (make sure you have enough water with you).