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Mojave National Preserve Guide — Camping, Visitor Centers, and More

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Mojave National Preserve spreads over a million acres of canyons, caverns, sand dunes, ancient lava forms, and forests. This preserve has countless opportunities for adventure and recreation, including hiking trails, exploring historic buildings, wildlife viewing, and camping. Each year, nearly 900,000 visitors come to this national preserve to discover the natural beauty and wonder within its boundaries. 

How To Get to Mojave National Preserve

Where Is Mojave National Preserve?

Mojave National Preserve is in southeastern California in the Mojave Desert of San Bernadino County. This preserve stretches over 1.6 million acres and features mountains, canyons, sand dunes, and forests. Las Vegas is one of the closest major cities to this park and is about 60 miles away.

Mojave National Preserve Opening Hours and Seasons

Mojave National Preserve is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor centers have regular hours of operation, but all outdoor areas are open daily throughout the year. It’s wise to check with the park for temporary closures

Nearest Airports to Mojave National Preserve

Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) is the best airport option for flying to Mojave National Preserve. This airport is 60 miles northeast of the preserve in Las Vegas. 

LAS offers countless flights to and from major hubs worldwide, including Atlanta, Boston, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, and many others. Airlines serviced by this airport include Allegiant, British Airways, Delta, Southwest, Spirit, and United.

Once you arrive at the airport, you are just a short hour’s drive from the preserve. Rental car kiosks and friendly customer service representatives can help you make the last leg of your journey to the preserve. 

Driving to Mojave National Preserve

The preserve can be accessed in several different ways, depending on where you are coming from and where you are going. To arrive at the main entrance, visitors can use I-15 or I-40. You may take a different route if you plan to arrive at a campground or visitor center. 

Taking the Train or Bus to Mojave National Preserve

There is no direct train or bus service to this national preserve. Amtrak has a train line to Barstow, an hour from the park. Once arriving at the station, visitors must arrange a ride or rental to complete the last leg of the journey.

Getting Around Mojave National Preserve

The best way to get around the preserve is by private vehicle. This preserve is expansive, and driving is necessary to get to the different highlights of the park. The National Park Service offers interactive and printable maps to help plan your outings. 

What To See and Do in Mojave National Preserve

This massive preserve has 1.6 million acres with fascinating sites to explore. With mesmerizing forests of unique trees, historic train stations, hiking trails, and exploring sand dunes, there’s no shortage of adventure in Mojave National Preserve. Take a look at some of the top sights and activities in the preserve. 

Hiking

Sheep Corral
Image Credit: NPS

Hiking is one of the preserve’s most popular outdoor recreation activities. There are approximately 25 miles of established hiking trails with additional backcountry routes throughout the preserve.

Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the rugged beauty of this preserve. Some popular hikes include the Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail, Rock Springs Trail, and Kelso Dunes. These hikes range from half-mile leisurely strolls to 8-mile strenuous hikes. Along these hikes, you can see the beautiful sand dunes, forests of Joshua trees, and underground wonders throughout the desert vegetation.

Hot Tip:

If you plan to hike at this preserve, come prepared with lots of water, sunscreen, food, and protection from the sun.

Hunting

Many visitors take advantage of the opportunity to hunt when visiting this preserve. Deer, quail, rabbit, and bighorn sheep are some of the animals that can be hunted in Mojave.

If you plan to hunt during your visit, all hunters must have a license and abide by the National Park Service and California Department of Fish & Wildlife regulations, as well as the San Bernardino County ordinances. October is a popular month for hunting at this park, especially early in the month when the preserve hosts a youth quail hunt. 

Joshua Tree Forest

Joshua Trees on Cima Dome
Image Credit: SIerra Willoughby via NPS

Along Cima Road, visitors will find an area that winds through the heart of the Joshua Tree Forest. These intriguing plants resemble something right out of a Dr. Seuss book and are from the yucca family.

Visitors can drive or explore this area on foot. In 2020, nearly a third of the trees of this forest were burned, but there are still many more remaining. The best route to explore this forest is the Teutonia Peak Trail. This trail will give you the best views of the trees, even those impacted by the 2020 fire.

Kelso Dunes

The Kelso Dunes are some of the largest sand dunes in the U.S. This area of the preserve was formed over thousands of years as the wind carried sand from the Mojave River sink and carried it to the mountains. As the wind would hit against the Providence and Granite Mountain ranges, it would deposit sand, and over time, dunes that rise to nearly 600 feet tall developed.

Visitors who want the full experience of the Kelso Dunes can hike a 3-mile round-trip trail to the top of the dunes to get a spectacular view of the windswept formations. Some visitors can hear the dunes sing, which sounds and feels like a low-pitched booming sound.

Hot Tip:

Lots of wildlife can be found in the preserve, such as sidewinder snakes and Mojave fringe-toed lizards.

Lava Tube

Lava Tube
Image Credit: B Michel via NPS

One of the most exciting highlights of the park is the Lava Tube. This attraction is in the northwest part of the preserve and is accessed from the Lava Tube Trail.

Visitors can enter the lava tube and enjoy cooler temperatures and an incredible opportunity to capture photos of this natural wonder. This tube was formed by scorching molten lava that oozed across the desert floor approximately 27,000 years ago. If you visit this site during the summer, go at midday to see a light beam that shines down into the tube. 

Visitor Centers

Kelso Depot was once a train station beginning in 1924. This train station was transformed into a visitor center and museum for Mojave National Preserve in 2005. Today, visitors can tour the 2 floors and explore the exhibits that teach about the natural and cultural history of the area.

As you tour the Kelso Depot, you will get glimpses of what it was like in the early 1900s. You will walk through former dormitory rooms, the baggage room, and the ticket office. There is also a film, an art gallery, a park store, and rangers who are eager to answer any questions and help you plan your adventures.

Hot Tip:

Kelso Depot is closed through January 2024 due to Climate Control System Failure. Its restrooms and parking lot are also closed due to renovation.

Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center is a secondary staffed visitor center that offers park brochures, drinking water, and passport stamps. It is open Fridays to Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wildflower Viewing

When most people think of Mojave National Preserve, they don’t think they will have opportunities to see the stunning sights of wildflowers that carpet the hillsides and along the canyons. The wildflowers in the preserve are spectacular. The best times to see the wildflowers in bloom are in March and April at elevations under 3,000 feet.

Some of the best areas to spot these gorgeous blooms include Cima Cinder Cones, High Peaks, Hole-in-the-Wall, and the Kelso Dunes. Desert marigolds, Wallace daisies, dune primrose, Canterbury bells, and hoary aster are just some of the flower species you will see throughout the park. 

Best Times To Visit Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve is a fantastic place to visit, no matter the time of year. There are better times than others to plan a trip if you are hoping to see or participate in something specific.

Best Time To Visit Mojave National Preserve To See the Wildflowers

Wildflowers near Cinder Cones
Image Credit: NPS

Seeing the wildflowers at Mojave is a true sight to behold. April is the best month to see the stunning flowers covering the hillsides and sides of the canyon. The flowers will be fully bloomed and ready for you to enjoy. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the vibrant colors throughout the preserve. 

Best Time To Visit Mojave National Preserve To Avoid the Crowds

Exploring the preserve without crowds is the ultimate way to experience this amazing place. The least busy month is November. Another benefit of coming in November is that the temperatures are cool and comfortable, which is perfect for hiking and exploring the land and sites. 

Best Time To Visit Mojave National Preserve for Ideal Weather

Weather can make or break a trip, so it’s best to research and plan for a time when the weather is ideal. April is the best month to visit Mojave for ideal weather. The temperature ranges from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, and there’s hardly a chance of rain. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Mojave National Preserve

Saving money while traveling is possible with proper planning. The cheapest time to visit this national preserve is in November. This is the least busy time during the year and the least expensive time to visit. Flights and accommodations are typically reduced in November, which can save you hundreds of dollars in travel expenses. 

Annual Events in Mojave National Preserve

There aren’t many events that occur regularly or annually at Mojave National Preserve, but Earth Day is a major annual event that’s brought in visitors and locals for decades.

Earth Day and Park Clean-Up

Each year in April, visitors are invited to spend Earth Day weekend camping and cleaning up the park. This event features volunteers and partners from well-known supporters, including Patagonia, The North Face, and the Yosemite Climbing Association. Partners and visitors work together to remove trash and restore damaged public lands.

Several activities are held this weekend, including a night sky program, junior ranger programs, and karaoke. Volunteers are rewarded with a fun event called Moop-A-Palooza in Circus Town in nearby Nipton, California. This event provides hot dogs, drinks, and entertainment. 

Where To Stay in Mojave National Preserve

One of the first priorities when planning any trip is to secure accommodations. When visiting the preserve, there are plenty of options for a place to make a home away from home. Check out the many options both in and near the park to see which works best for your vacation needs. 

Inside the Park

Camping in Mojave National Preserve
Image Credit: NPS

The only lodging option in this national preserve is camping in the great outdoors. There are 3 developed campgrounds at Mojave. Let’s look at each campground to see which will work for you. 

Black Canyon Group and Equestrian Campground

Black Canyon Group and Equestrian Campground are located across from the Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center. This year-round campground is available to groups of 15 to 50 people and must be reserved in advance. This is the ideal location for visitors traveling in groups. Still, it is important to note there aren’t many amenities other than trash collection and potable water. 

Hole-in-the-Wall Campground

Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is located at 4,400 feet in elevation and is surrounded by sculptured volcanic rock walls.

This campground offers 35 sites for both RVs and tents, along with 2 walk-in sites. The amenities at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground include trash receptacles, picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets. There are no utility hookups. These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and the fees are $12 per night. 

Mid-Hills Campground

Mid-Hills Campground is nested in the pinyon pine and juniper trees at 5,600 feet in elevation. The 26 campsites are perfect for tent camping. Amenities at this campground include trash receptacles, picnic tables, pit toilets, and fire rings.

Reservations are not required at this campground; guests are charged $12 a night to stay here. The campground is at 5,600 feet in elevation, so expect cooler temperatures than the desert floor below. 

Towns Near Mojave National Preserve

Visitors who want to set up a base camp near the park are in luck, as there are many towns and communities just down the road. These towns make the perfect basecamp during your Mojave National Preserve adventure.

Barstow, California

Barstow is about an hour from Mojave National Preserve. This town is popular with tourists looking for a base camp near the park. Various lodging options include hotels, Route 66 motels, campgrounds, and private rentals. 

Foodies are in for a treat as this town has several options for when hunger strikes. This town has no shortage of places to try, from locally owned diners and breweries to burger joints with hand-dipped ice cream treats. 

Recreation opportunities abound in Barstow. From exploring old ghost towns to visiting museums and performing art centers, there’s something every visitor will enjoy in this town. For those who love the outdoors, Rainbow Basin Natural Area is a wonderful place to visit for hiking and backpacking.

Bottom Line:

When looking for a great town for a home away from home, look no further than Barstow. This town has everything you could need or want for an incredible stay.

Ludlow, California

Ludlow is approximately 29 miles from Mojave National Preserve. This town is considered a ghost town and has only 10 residents who call it home. This tiny town may not have all the glitz and glam of a big city, but it does make a great base camp for those wanting to stay near the park. Staying in this town is like stepping back in time to when life was simple and sweet.

This town only has a couple of options for lodging, including a motel and an RV park. There are 2 options for dining, one being a chain burger and ice cream joint and the other a local diner. It may seem that Ludlow doesn’t have much to offer travelers. Still, it is a unique experience with many adventure and excitement opportunities.

This ghost town has an enthralling history of railways and mining. It features many places to explore, such as an old train maintenance yard, abandoned homes, vintage cars, and a pioneer cemetery. For a unique experience, try this ghost town when planning a visit to Mojave National Preserve. 

Where To Eat in Mojave National Preserve

There aren’t any dining options within the preserve, but countless options are in the nearby towns. No matter what you crave, you can find the solution to your hunger just down the road. Check out some of the top restaurants near Mojave National Preserve.  

DiNapoli’s Firehouse Italian Eatery

DiNapoli’s Firehouse Italian Eatery is a little less than an hour from Mojave National Preserve in Barstow. This family-owned restaurant is one of the top-rated restaurants near the park. It serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.

Made-to-order pizzas, calzones, stromboli, and pasta dishes are just some of the items you will find on the menu at this Italian restaurant. Customers rave about the God Father pizza, the fettuccine with aglio e olio sauce, and the chicken marsala. For a great dinner and unmatched customer service, stop at DiNapoli’s Firehouse Italian Eatery when visiting Mojave National Preserve. 

Los Domingos

Los Domingos is located an hour from the park in Barstow. This restaurant serves a variety of Mexican dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week. 

Burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, and chimichangas are some of the featured dishes at this restaurant. Some of the most popular dishes are the shrimp enchiladas, tequila lime salmon and shrimp, California steak burrito, and the famous margaritas. 

Los Domingos is the perfect place to stop to refuel and relax after a long day of exploring Mojave National Preserve. Don’t forget to beat the desert heat with an icy, refreshing margarita.

Mojave National Preserve Facts

Caruthers Canyon
Image Credit: NPS

1. The Preserve Was Established in 1994

Mojave National Preserve was established on October 31, 1994, by the California Desert Protection Act.

2. Chemehuevi Were the Original People of the Preserve

The first people who lived in the preserve area were the Chemehuevi. This people group relied on prickly pear, roasted agave blooms, and mesquite. They hunted bighorn sheep and deer for meat. Later, the Mojave tribe settled in this area. 

3. You Can Find Petroglyphs in the Preserve

Prehistoric Native American carvings, known as petroglyphs, can be found within the park’s boundaries. These carvings tell stories from the original tribes that made their home in the park. 

4. What’s in a Name?

The Mojave Desert was named after an Indian tribe that lived along the Colorado River. Many of the geographic features in this area were named after this tribe, including the Mojave Valley, Mohave Mountains, and the Mojave Desert. 

5. The Preserve Has an Abundance of Animals

A wide variety of animals call Mojave National Preserve home. Some animals in this desert preserve include bighorn sheep, mountain lions, roadrunners, golden eagles, desert tortoises, snakes, bobcats, Gila monsters, and jackrabbits. Most of the animals in the park are nocturnal, making sightings rare during the daytime. 

Final Thoughts

Mojave National Preserve is a spectacular sight to behold. Brimming with exciting opportunities for everyone to experience, from hunting and camping to museums and hiking massive sand dunes, there’s something every traveler will enjoy. Book your trip to this preserve and discover what brings so many people into this California park each year. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Mojave National Preserve?

There is no fee to enter Mojave National Preserve. There may be fees for different activities within the preserve, but no entrance pass is required.

How much time is recommended for a visit to Mojave National Preserve?

Visitors are recommended to spend 1 to 2 days exploring Mojave National Preserve. This amount of time will allow you to see the highlights of the preserve and take time driving to each site as they are spread out and require much driving.

Is there Wi-Fi available at Mojave National Preserve?

Public Wi-Fi is unavailable at this park, and cellular service is unreliable.

Is there any dangerous wildlife at Mojave National Preserve?

Among the most dangerous animals found in this preserve are rattlesnakes. Several types of rattlesnakes have been spotted in this park. The Mojave Green rattlesnake is a highly venomous species to avoid.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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