Mojave National Preserve – Visit Planning


What? : Large sand dunes, cinder cone volcanoes, the largest Joshua tree forest in the world, long-abandoned mines, and endless desert wilderness landscape can be found within this 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve.

Additional Related Blogs:
Joshua Tree National Park – Visit planning

Mojave National Preserve – Cow Cove Petroglyphs

Located in eastern California, North of Joshua Tree and south of Death Valley, Mojave National Preserve is the heart of the much larger Mojave Desert.

Here you will be able to find interesting sites to visit while keeping away from the crowded roads and get the feeling that the desert is all yours.


Where? : located east of Barstow CA to the Arizona border, between Highway I-15 on the north to Highway I-40 on it south side.

Google Map Link


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.


Due note 2: Drive with enough fuel, no gas station in Mojave National Preserve


Due note 3: 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 4: The Kelso Depot main park Visitor Center is currently close. Reopening anticipated Spring 2023. Visitor services are available at Hole-In-The-Wall Information Center Friday to Monday 10am to 4 pm


My thoughts: Every time I visit here, I’m telling myself that I must visit here more.

Unlike similar parks like Joshua Tree NP and Death Valley NP that are “famous” but can be overcrowded, here you see a lot less people and you get the feeling that it is only you in the vast desert.

There are many things to see and do here, remote 4x4 off-road trails, deserted mines, Petroglyphs, and probably the best sand dunes experience in the Mojave desert of southeast California.



Plan Your Visit:


The Desert Protection Act created the 1.4-million-acre Mojave National Preserve in the heart of the Mojave Desert. This act transferred the lands known as the East Mojave National Scenic Area to the National Park Service.


The desert in the Mojave National Preserve ranges in elevation from less than 1000 feet to almost 8000 feet.

Summer temperatures are in the triple digits, making November through early May the best time to visit the park.


Mojave National Preserve has a larger dune field than Death Valley NP, has more Joshua trees than in Joshua Tree NP, wildlife is abundant, and you can find here over 300 different species of animals.


Situated in southeastern part of California, north of Joshua Tree and south of Death Valley. Mojave National Preserve resembles a bit of both. Since it is not a national park it is relatively short on facilities and has much less visitors, but this absence creates the opportunity for a more intimate desert visit.


Few important aspects you need to be aware of when you are planning your visit here: Temperatures, Driving and gas, accommodation options (hotels or campsites), off-road driving.



Summers are hot, and temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit are typical. In cold winter day, around freezing temperatures at night with some time rain and snow in the mountains.

Annual precipitation ranges from 3.5 inches at lower elevations to nearly 10 inches in the mountains. Most rain falls between November and April, summer thunderstorms may bring sudden, heavy rainfall.



Gas stations:

You do not want to get stack without gas at the Mojave Desert!


There are no gas stations within Mojave National Preserve, make sure you fill your gas tank:

·       When leaving Barstow or on the main highways (I-15 or I-40)

·       When driving east on I-15 there are several exits with gas stations, the last one is at Baker (exit 245)

·       When driving east on I-40 you can fill up gas at Ludlow (exit 50)

·       When driving from/to Joshua Tree National Park you can fill up gas at Amboy (old Route 66)

·       When coming from Arizona on I-40 fill your gas at Needles.



Where to sleep near the Preserve:


When coming from the west the main place to sleep near Mojave National Preserve is at the city of Barstow, here you can find many options for night stay.


When coming from Las Vegas Nevada on Highway I-15 you can spend the night at the border Nevada/California at Primm Nevada.


When coming from the east and Arizona on Highway I-40 Needles is the only choice to have proper hotel for the night


Nipton: Located on the northeastern border of Mojave National Preserve, approximately 12 miles southeast of Primm, Nevada. You can find here few options for non-commercialized night accommodations and enjoy the desert art statues.



Developed campgrounds

Although the preserve is huge in size there are only two developed campgrounds in Mojave National Preserve.

Thy are both available year-round, equipped with toilets, trash receptacles, fire rings and picnic tables.

Each campsite can accommodate up to 8 people per site. Groups larger than 14 people will need to make reservations for the group campground at Black Canyon. All individual developed campgrounds are first-come, first-served.


Hole-in-the-Wall Campground

At 4,400 feet in elevation, Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is surrounded by sculptured volcanic rock walls and makes a great basecamp for hikers. 35 campsites accommodate RVs and tents; two walk-in sites are also available.

Facilities: Pit toilets, trash receptacles, fire rings, picnic tables; no utility hookups.

Fees: $12 per site per night, campground fees are payable by self-registration with cash or check at the entrance kiosk. There is no change available. If using cash as payment, please bring exact change.


Mid Hills Campground:

At 5,600 feet in elevation, Mid Hills is much cooler than the desert floor below. The access road is unpaved and but in good condition for regular car, it is not recommended for motorhomes or trailers.

A Fire swept through the area in 2005, burning much of the vegetation, most tress around the camp are dead. The unburned section is located at the back of Mid Hills Campground. There are 26 campsites, last time I visit here (Jan 2022) they are all in excellent condition.

There are pit toilets, fire rings, picnic tables in every campsite.

Mid Hills Campground has no water!

Fees: $12 per site per night, campground fees are payable by self-registration with cash or check at the entrance kiosk. There is no change available. If using cash as payment, please bring exact change.


Detailed information and map on Developed campgrounds:


Kelso Dunes camping:

Camping at the Dunes trailhead is not allowed.

Camping is allowed only at established undeveloped campsites 1 mile from the trailhead. All sites are first come, first serve.


Guidelines for primitive campsites:

Camping in undeveloped campsites is allowed in previously used or disturbed sites outside of the "day-use-only" areas.

In most cases these sites include a rock or metal fire ring; not all sites contain a fire ring. All fires must be in a fire ring or fire pan; new fire rings cannot be constructed. Camping tramples vegetation and disturbs soils.

By reusing existing sites, you help protect the desert from further damage.

Leave primitive campsites better than you found them.

Pack out all waste, including toilet paper. Toilet paper takes a very long time to decompose in the desert, and animals or wind tend to unearth it before it can break down.

Primitive campsites map:



Off-road 4x4 Driving:

Mojave has hundreds of miles of off-pavement trails for 4X4s cars, the most famous one is the 150 miles Mojave Drive Route that crosses the desert all the way from Arizona border to the Sierra mountains.


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 send 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 send or mud conditions.

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

Make sure you have a basic First-Aid kit and that you do know how to use it.

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!



Places to visits and things to do at Mojave National Preserve:

I wrote many separate and detailed blogs on places to visit and things to do in the Preserve.

Two-wheel drive vehicles will not have a problem visiting many of the attractions, campsites, and most locations I stated below, few do need 4x4 high clearance car.


See below links to the specific blog or look at my main blog map for specific location:


Mojave National Preserve – Barstow

Mojave National Preserve – Baker

Mojave Desert – Highway 127 from Death Valley to Baker

Mojave National Preserve – Lava Tube

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

Mojave National Preserve – Cow Cove Petroglyphs (4x4 drive)

Mojave National Preserve – Cima Dome & Joshua Tree Forest

Mojave National Preserve – Drive from Cima Rd to Hole-in-the-Wall

Mojave National Preserve – Hole-in-the-Wall

Mojave National Preserve – Drive from Essex Road to Kelso Dunes (4x4 drive)

Mojave National Preserve – Kelso Dunes

Mojave National Preserve – Kelso Depot

Mojave Desert – Amboy CA, historic Route 66



I also wrote a detailed itinerary blog on my latest 2 days trip to Mojave National Preserve; I visit here in January 2022 and enjoy it very much:

Mojave National Preserve – visit planning, 2 days trip itinerary



Mojave Road 4-Wheel Drive Route (did not drove it)

The Mojave Road is an east-west route, roughly 150 miles long, that traverses the desert between the Colorado River and the Mojave River near Wilmington, Los Angeles, CA. Most of the Mojave Road is within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve. The road enters the park near Piute Spring on the east side and on Soda Dry Lake near Zzyzx on the west. The road is not regularly maintained, and some sections are rough and sandy; 4 x 4 is recommended. If visitors wish to drive the entire length of the road, usually 3 days are required.



Additional places I did not visit yet:

Afton Canyon


Zzyzx and Soda Springs:

The last alphabetically ordered entry for all geographic place. Mineral and Heath Spa, now the Desert Studies Center. There’s a surprisingly large pool with a fountain and lots of ducks, some nice facilities, and a view across the dry Soda Lake.


Camp Rock Spring


Fort Piute Trail


Providence Mountains State Recreation Area and Mitchell Caverns:

Located at the north-western end of Essex Road not so far from Hall-in-the-Wall site. I never visit here but from reading online it looks like it worth the time. Make sure to check prior your visit about opening hours and tour reservations at:



Unincorporated community in San Bernardino County, California, is a nearly empty one-time railroad town at the route's high point in the Mojave Desert. 



Unincorporated community in the Ivanpah Valley with a population of about 15 – 20. Located on the northeastern border of Mojave National Preserve, approximately 12 miles southeast of Primm, Nevada. You can find here few options for night accommodations and see the desert art statues.




I hope that you will find this blog informative and that it helps you plan your next Mojave National Preserve adventure.