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The Ultimate Guide to Mojave Road

The Ultimate Guide to Mojave Road

Almost entirely unchanged, the famous Mojave Road is in nearly the exact same condition as the American pioneers found it in the 1800s.


6 min read

May 29, 2021

A few places in California remain completely unadulterated by civilization, and the Mojave Road is one of them. Unpaved, untouched, and almost entirely unchanged, the famous Mojave Road is in nearly the exact same condition as the American pioneers found it in the 1800s.

Are you ready for the ultimate desert road trip? Get your 4x4 vehicle ready. If you're covering the entirety of this road, you’re going to need three days, lots of fuel, remote camping essentials, and all the tips and tricks for the ultimate Mojave Road guide.

The Mojave Road was a traditional thoroughfare of desert-dwelling Native Americans, and later served Spanish missionaries and foreign colonizers.

A Brief History of Mojave Road Trail

The Mojave Road Trail gets its name from the Mohave (or Mojave) people, who were the Native Americans indigenous to the lands the road travels through. Initially, the Mojave Road was a trade route used by Native Americans to transport goods from villages along the Colorado River to settlements in Southern California, and vice versa. Later, the road was used by Spanish missionaries and foreign colonizers to travel across the desert, stopping at watering holes found at intervals of about 60 miles.

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During the Mexican period in California's history, traders established routes known today as the Old Spanish Trade Routes, which intercepted with the Mohave Trail. During this period, the trail was under Mexico’s control. However, this didn’t last very long—American settlers took over the road after the Mexican-American war in 1848.

Then, the Mojave Road served as the main wagon route for several years. But with the arrival of railroads, easier transportation to the south subdued the road’s popularity. Even during the Westward Expansion to California, the Mojave Road remained comparatively less used as people opted to travel through Donner Pass or the Colorado Desert.

Today, over a century later, the Mojave Road is experiencing its most popular days due to its significant history and unpaved conditions. People primarily hit the road to take advantage of the off-roading opportunities here and experience some of the best things to do in the California deserts.

A four-wheel drive vehicle is required for all but a few short stretches of the Mojave Road, which is unmaintained and essentially untouched.

Mojave Road Conditions

Cruising along the Mojave Road is not recommended for those looking for an easy-breezy getaway. To cover the majority of the route, plan a two- or three-day excursion, mostly along unpaved roads.

The trip begins at the edge of the Colorado River, north of Needles, and heads westward towards Wilmington. Avoid traveling during winter because you can hit a snowstorm. The summer heat—reaching up to 120 degrees—also makes the Mojave Road unbearably hot. Not to mention, thunderstorms, heavy rain, hail, and lightning during peak summer months takes the Mojave Road's difficulty up a notch.

As mentioned earlier, four-wheelers and convoys are recommended to cover the unpaved sections of the road (which are the majority). It’s important to note that your weekend-long adventure is off the grid in the truest sense of the phrase. Think no service, no stores, no hotels, and probably not even a single person along the way. So, make sure you pack everything you need to face the Mojave Road conditions without running into unforeseen challenges.

Under optimal conditions, the Mojave Road's full length of 133 miles from Beale's Crossing to Manix Wash can be traveled in two to three days.

Safety tips:

  • Make sure your vehicle is in good condition. Check your tires and engine oil, and carry a spare for everything you can
  • Have a printed map on hand. When cell service cuts and you can’t connect to GPS, navigating the Mojave Road can get difficult
  • Try to travel with two or more cars. The road rarely ever gets busy—having another car to keep you company not only makes you feel safer, but it can also help you out when your vehicle gets stuck or has a problem
  • Stay on the road. Following the Mojave Road ensures you won’t get lost anywhere along the way and will also keep the desert plants and wildlife safe from accidents
The eastern end of the Mojave Road begins at the edge of the Colorado River. The western terminus lies beyond the Rasor Off-Highway Vehicle Area.

Mojave Road Landmarks

You’ll come across plenty of cool landmarks while traveling down the Mojave Road. From East to West, these are the attractions you should mark on your map to check out along the way.

The Colorado River - Mile 0

This is the starting point of your adventure through the desert. The trail officially begins near Beale’s Crossing and is obviously an important marker on your journey.

Piute Creek - Mile 23

A desert oasis will greet you in the Piute Range, where the natural Piute Spring feeds the plants and trees year-round.

Indian Well - Mile 40

At the foot of the southernmost slope of Lanfair Buttes is Indian Well. Near the old well, you’ll find Native American petroglyphs indicating it used to be a water source for an indigenous tribe centuries ago.

Rock Spring - Mile 49

Rock Spring is the biggest watering hole along the Mojave Road, flowing down huge boulders.

Cedar Canyon - Mile 56

At Cedar Canyon, you’ll reach the highest point along your Mojave road trip—hello, 5,000 feet in elevation.

Drive as far as your eyes can see and you'll arrive at the Mojave Road Mail Box. Sign your name at this solitary flagpole and continue on.

Mojave Road Mailbox - Mile 74

This is a solitary mailbox serving nobody—people stop here to sign their names in the notebook left out for travelers passing by.

Soda Lake - Mile 97

While water can be found beneath the surface of this large lake, Soda Lake near Zzyzx (formally Soda Springs) is usually dry. 

Travelers Monument - Mile 100

Marking the 100th mile of the trip, Travelers Monument is a must-see on your road trip. People who make it this far throw a rock to the already existing pile of easily noticeable rocks. Make sure to pick up a rock along the way to leave your mark as well.

Rasor Off-Highway Vehicle Use Area - Mile 103

Off-roading fans rejoice—this public use area is the perfect spot to take your OHV vehicle for a spin.

Manix Wash - Mile 133

Manix Wash is the exit point of the Mojave Road. Congrats, you made it all the way!

There are opportunities for undeveloped camping along the Mojave Road route with no registration fee. All campsites are first come first serve.

Mojave Road Camping

In true Mojave Road fashion, camping overnight is also fairly primitive along the way. In other words, desert glamping isn’t a possibility here. However, some of the best remote desert camping spots are found in the Mojave Preserve. The key is to make sure you have all the necessities you need to power through the extremely dry weather with zero amenities in sight for miles.

Developed Campsites

Hole-in-the-Wall Campground

Camp at 4,400 feet in elevation surrounded by sculptured volcanic rock walls at one of the only two available developed campgrounds along the Mojave Road. Here, you’ll find toilets, trash receptacles, fire rings, and picnic tables available for tired travelers. There are 35 campsites accommodating RVs and tents, and two walk-in sites are also available—all on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Mid Hills Campground offers 26 primitive campsites, extreme solitude, and amazing stargazing opportunities in the Mojave Desert National Preserve.

Mid Hills Campground

At 5,600 feet in elevation, Mid Hills is relatively cooler than Hole-in-the-Wall. This Mojave Road camping site boasts all the same amenities as the previous one, but it isn’t recommended for motorhomes or trailers. Don’t forget to bring your own water as well—Mid Hills provides no water, whatsoever. 

Undeveloped Campsites

Several undeveloped campsites can be found along the road and throughout the Mojave Preserve. While no official indicator marks the undeveloped campgrounds, camping is still only allowed on previously used or disturbed sites. Look out for metal or rock fire rings to figure out where you can camp.

Several primitive campgrounds can be found along Kelbaker Road, Kelso Dunes Road, Cima Road, and Black Canyons Road. The best part? Reserving in advance isn’t required for any of the Mojave Road camping sites, so you can pack your bags and go anytime.

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