The entire 135 miles is made up of mostly a dirt and sand road, miles of whoop-de-doos, or sand moguls, with some rocky areas. The only major obstacle is the Watson Wash drop-in which can be rutted and washed out. In 2016 there was a washout south of Fort Piute, which currently requires you to use a bypass.
Time on trail:
. Allow a full three days to take in all the desert scenery, the side excursions and pick that perfect camp. If you are short on time, you can drive some sections fairly quickly and make it in two days.
Wet weather could make this overland trail a real nightmare. You cross several washes which pose issues in wet weather, but the true problem in wet weather is the Dry Soda Lake Bed.
Staying on course:
Various roads intertwine through the entire route. To ensure you are on the correct Mojave Road, always look for the stone cairns.
If you are traveling from east to west, the most common route, the cairns will be on the right side of the road. Typically, your base map of your GPS unit will show the Mojave Road as "Government Road".
Any groups with 7 or more vehicles (15 or more people) must obtain a special use permit which includes a $69 non-refundable processing fee (at the time of this writing). Permits can be found here.
Know your vehicle's range first and foremost. Provisions and fuel purchased in Laughlin, Nevada will be much less expensive than in Needles. Right on the Needles Highway and not far from the trailhead is the:
South Pointe Market
Address: 3675 Needles Hwy, Laughlin, NV 89029
Other pre-trip gas stations can be found here.
If for whatever reason you find yourself needing fuel half-way through you can detour to Baker, California.
There are volumes written on the Mojave Road. The trailsoffroad.com guide is meant to be the cliff notes, and get you out on the trail so you can enjoy your overland adventure. For a detailed history of the trail, we recommend the The Mojave Road Guide by Dennis Casebier.
The Mojave Road track for download is complete with extra waypoints which may not be depicted here.
Mileage is approximated. Total miles will vary depending on the side trips you take. Some sources list the Mojave Road as different mileages. Mileage shown here is directly from the GPS track.
Day 1 - https://youtu.be/_DsrihLzy2U
Day 2 - https://youtu.be/MtySEtT9vc0
Day 3 - https://youtu.be/gzc3tEOt4FM
Impassable when wet.
1. Needles Highway Trailhead
This is a popular starting point for the trail. Enter the sandy wash and follow the cairns. The area can be confusing but generally follow the wash and stay to the north side for the next turn out of the wash.
The Dead Mountains Wilderness Area will be in view to your west and southwest.
2. Out of Wash
Turn north out of the wash where there is an unmarked road leading northwest to the mountains.
Stay generally right/north. There are tire tracks all over and the area looks confusing, but follow the most prominent tracks.
Drive up the hill. There is minor undulation to the surface, but any higher clearance vehicle can get up.
Another fun hill to climb over.
At the sign marker, turn hard left/southwest.
Turn hard right/northwest into a wide and flat wash. This will follow along with the Nevada and California border for a short distance before you finally enter California.
8. Straight Left/West to Balancing Rock
Continue straight/north to follow the Mojave Road. Turn left/west to reach Balancing Rock Campground.
9. Fork Left
Fork left/west at the sign markers.
Most vehicles will drive over this obstacle with ease. Longer wheelbase vehicles, or those pulling overland trailers may drag.
11. 103 Intersection
Stay straight at the intersection of NN 103. Roughly at this point, you enter the Piute Valley.
12. US 95
Cross over US 95.
13. NN 28 - Straight
Straight at the intersection of NN 28.
Cross over the minor tributary of The Piute Wash.
Enter and cross The Piute Wash.
16. 108 Intersection
Continue straight on the Mojave Road.
17. NN 043
Continue straight at the intersection of NN 043.
View of Homer Mountain to the south, and the Piute Range to the west.
19. NN 049 Intersection
Continue straight at the intersection of NN 049.
20. Pole Line Road and Fort Piute
Turn left/south onto Metropolitan Water District Road to follow the Mojave Road. Cross the road with a slight jog south to visit Fort Piute, cross the road and follow the rocky road up into the Piute Range. At this point, you cross over into the Mojave National Preserve (note: specific camping regulations are listed in the camping section of this guide).
If you ever wonder where all our electricity comes from, the lines above you carry electrical power generated at the Hoover Dam.
Continuing on to Fort Piute, you will pass building remains on the south side of the road. These remains are what is left of the George Irwin Ranch. Visible are the foundations of the home and turkey pens.
21. Fort Piute
There is plenty of parking for a large group to stop and take in the sites. The area near the spring is dense and much cooler than the temperature you have been driving in. The foundations of the old buildings are worth exploring. You can see where the Mojave Road used to continue up the streambed, but today is closed to motor vehicle travel and you must return the way you came in, and turn south on Metropolitan Water District Road.
The fort, actually a sub-post of Camp Cady, was one of a chain of military stations erected to protect the travel route from San Bernardino across the Mojave Desert to Fort Mojave. While the Piute post was misnomered a "fort," all the others were designated either "redoubt" or "camp," and all were strategically situated near sources of water. During the years of the Civil War, the posts were garrisoned by elements of the California Volunteers and evacuated at the end of the war. But local protests, stressing the critical need for the travel route and increasing mining activity in western Arizona, compelled the reoccupation of the posts in 1866. Upon reoccupation, the post was renamed Fort Piute or Fort Piute Hill and was usually garrisoned by troops from Camp Cady. Fort Piute was abandoned sometime in 1868.
22. West to Follow Mojave Road/South to Bypass
Turn right/west onto The Old Underground Telephone Road.
This portion of the road is closed due to washout as of 2016 and may or may not be reopened in 2017. An alternate route can be found here.
Current Mojave Road Conditions.
Continue straight at Fort Piute Road. You are now in the Lanfair Valley.
Continue straight at unknown road.
25. Lower Fork
Take the lower fork at Cable Road intersection.
26. Into Wash
Drop into and cross the deep wash.
27. Old Bus
Things change on this trail all the time and the once-famous old school bus pictured above is no longer a stop along this trail. It has been removed. The story of the old bus was as unknown as its whereabouts today. There are residents in the area, so be respectful of the their reclusive nature.
At the well defined crossroad, turn right/north.
At the fenced area, turn left/west to continue.
30. Take North Fork
Take the right/north fork at Cedar Canyon Road.
Continue straight where the road to Indian Hill and well goes north.
32. Penny Can Tree
If you look up into the tree, you will see a small 12 ounce can hanging. Tradition is, leave a penny and continue on. There is a large space here for camping that has been pre-disturbed.
33. Lanfair Road - Straight
Continue straight across Ivanpah-Lanfair Road. This is what is left of the roadbed of the old Nevada Southern Railway that was built in 1893. From this point, the trail becomes highly vegetated with Joshua tree, yucca, and cholla.
Turn south to explore the old ghost town of Lanfair.
34. Grotto Hills Road
Continue straight at the intersection of Grotto Hills Road.
35. Carruthers Canyon Road
Continue straight to follow the Mojave Road or turn right to inspect the old homestead and or continue north up Carruthers Canyon for camping and exploring.
36. Old Building
Look, but do not take or destroy any of this property.
37. Camp Phallus
A quick diversion from the main Mojave Road takes you to one of the more beautiful designated camps along the road.
38. Drop Into Wash
Drop into and cross the wash/cable road.
39. Follow Northwest On Cedar Canyon Road
Follow the wide graded Cedar Canyon Road a short distance to the northwest .4 miles to a faint turnoff.
Turn left/west at the cairn/rock stack marker.
41. Watson Wash Drop In
This is the most technical part of the Mojave Road. Wet weather could make this impassable for some vehicles.
42. New York Mountain Road Go Left/South
43. Go Left/Southwest
44. Bert G Smith Homestead
Who is Bert G. Smith? Bert George Smith was a WWI veteran suffering from the effects of poisonous gas. He was certified as totally disabled by the Bureau of Veterans Affairs. He homesteaded here in 1929 with the hope he might live a little longer in the high desert climate.
45. Go Straight
46. Government Holes
Stop and take in the old corral, windmill, and operational wells. The first well was dug in 1859 and this was a common overnight stop for travelers of yesteryear.
47. Kelso Cima Road Crossing
Continue straight. Roughly after this point, you encounter a 10-mile stretch of whoop-dee-doos that never seem to end.
50. Mojave Camp
Mojave Camp is an ideal camp for a large group. Several fire rings surround the rock outcropping and all the ground is flat and perfect for setting up tents.
51. To Marl Springs
Go straight for Marl Springs.
52. Marl Springs
Marl Springs is not named after a person, but rather someone used the term "marly" to describe the soil conditions of the land surrounding the springs. The name stuck as Marl Springs.
53. Mailbox and Frog Shrine
In 1983, the Friends of the Mojave Road erected a mailbox for travelers to sign in. Inside the mailbox, you will find the sign in register, as well as other trinkets left by the those before you.
Just behind the mailbox is the Frog Shrine. This is an odd scene in the desert where travelers have started piling all sorts of frog statues, resembling a shrine.
54. Lava Tubes
Cinder cones stand out in the desert ready for you to explore. There are stairs to descend into the tubes. A single ray of light is the only light available - so bring a flashlight. If you want to create the beam of light for photography, kick-up a little dust and have your camera ready!
To reach the dunes, look for an access road on the north side of the Mojave Road. Otherwise, continue straight for the main Mojave Road.
56. Dry Soda Lake Bed
If it has rained recently, avoid the Dry Lake Bed. While the road may look dry, there could be impassable mud just underneath the top surface. Maintain reasonable vehicle intervals, in case a recovery may be required. If necessary, you can bypass up to Baker by back-tracking to just west of the Sand Dunes and taking the road traveling north to the town of Baker.
Note: The Soda Lake mud is corrosive. If you encounter it, be sure to wash it off when you get to Barstow.
57. Travelers Monument
The custom is to carry a rock with you from the start of the trip to leave here for good luck. There is a plaque hidden in the middle of the cairn.
58. Begin Fun Sandy Stretch
There is a notable terrain change from here on out. Deep sandy fun where you can accelerate the pace before entering Afton Canyon.
59. Borax Mine
Old mining remnants. To reach this area look for the side trail on the north side of the Mojave Road.
60. Union Pacific RR Bridge
The first of many railroad bridges you will encounter.
61. Train Car
Legend has it that this car was a leftover from a train derailment. To reach this, look for the side road going up the hill just southeast of the bridge.
62. Spooky Cave
Spooky Cave is just on the north side of the tracks you are following. This slot canyon-turned-sand-cave is something worth seeing. Just make sure you don't touch the walls or it might cave in. When you get deep into it, it becomes very narrow and if you have a rope you can climb all the way out the top. Make sure to bring flashlights. Here is a video of inside the cave.
63. Middle Railroad Bridge
Continue straight. Intermittently, water can be found here.
64. Water Crossing - Afton - Mojave River
The notorious water crossing has been filled in with cobble as of mid-2020 and is no longer a considerable obstacle, but it may become notorious again in the near future. In the past, this water crossing is long and can be very deep as evidenced in the third photo. If you see the water moving and not standing still, do not cross as the rocks have been removed and the water can be extremely deep.
A note about the current rocks filling in this obstacle: The railroad company is working on the tracks and filled in the water obstacle to allow their equipment to pass through without issue. Apparently, this has happened a few times in the past and when their work is complete, they restore the obstacle back to its original and significant form.
65. Afton Canyon Campground
Vault toilets, water, and picnic tables can be found here with 22 designated camp locations.
66. Railroad Bridge
Behind barricade posts to prevent people from driving over them, are approximately twenty intaglios, or geoglyphs, created by prehistoric people by removing stones from the desert pavement. All of the intaglios at this location are in the shape of triangles.
68. Manix Wash
Turn right to hit the old Route 66 and travel south to town.