Mojave Road

Baker, California (SanBernardino County)

Last Updated: 07/31/2022
4.9 / 5 ( 37 reviews )
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Highlights

Highlight: Mojave Road
Filled with oddities, scenic beauty, history, and a sense of adventure it is no wonder that the Mojave Road has such an iconic stature. Formed as an early Native American trade route then an east-west passage for settlers, the road has a long history. Passing through the Mojave Desert Preserve and the Lanfair Valley you are remote and far from civilization. Today it is one of the more famous overland routes in the southwest. Although the road is not at all technical, the sense of adventure you get by being so deep in the desert is what makes it worth the trip.

Video

Route Information

Advanced Rating System

Recommended Vehicle:
Stock SUV with High Clearance and 4 Low
Concerns:
Summary:
With a stock high clearance SUV or any vehicle, the only real concern for this trail is if it's wet. There will be areas where high clearance and gearing is required.

Technical Rating

MANDATORY
3
MODERATE
OPTIONAL
3
MODERATE
Typically, more rock or undulated road surface. Potential rocks and/or tree stumps less than 12" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 12" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 24" inches. Tire placement becomes more difficult. Can be steep.
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Community Consensus

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Description

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. Caution: 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". Permits 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. Services: 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. Guide Notes: 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. Video: Day 1 - https://youtu.be/_DsrihLzy2U Day 2 - https://youtu.be/MtySEtT9vc0 Day 3 - https://youtu.be/gzc3tEOt4FM
Impassable when wet.

Waypoints

1. Needles Highway Trailhead (3.5 mi)
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 (5.2 mi)
Turn north out of the wash where there is an unmarked road leading northwest to the mountains.
3. Right/North (5.5 mi)
Stay generally right/north. There are tire tracks all over and the area looks confusing, but follow the most prominent tracks.
4. Obstacle (6.2 mi)
Drive up the hill. There is minor undulation to the surface, but any higher clearance vehicle can get up.
5. Obstacle (6.3 mi)
Another fun hill to climb over.
6. Left/Southwest (6.5 mi)
At the sign marker, turn hard left/southwest.
7. Wash (6.8 mi)
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 (10 mi)
Continue straight/north to follow the Mojave Road. Turn left/west to reach Balancing Rock Campground.
9. Fork Left (11.2 mi)
Fork left/west at the sign markers.
10. Obstacle (11.3 mi)
Most vehicles will drive over this obstacle with ease. Longer wheelbase vehicles, or those pulling overland trailers may drag.
11. 103 Intersection (11.9 mi)
Stay straight at the intersection of NN 103. Roughly at this point, you enter the Piute Valley.
12. US 95 (14.4 mi)
Cross over US 95.
13. NN 28 - Straight (15.3 mi)
Straight at the intersection of NN 28.
14. Wash (16.7 mi)
Cross over the minor tributary of The Piute Wash.
15. Wash (16.9 mi)
Enter and cross The Piute Wash.
16. 108 Intersection (17.1 mi)
Continue straight on the Mojave Road.
17. NN 043 (18.2 mi)
Continue straight at the intersection of NN 043.
18. Scenic (19.2 mi)
View of Homer Mountain to the south, and the Piute Range to the west.
19. NN 049 Intersection (20.6 mi)
Continue straight at the intersection of NN 049.
20. Pole Line Road and Fort Piute (21.7 mi)
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 (23.5 mi)
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 (26.6 mi)
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.
23. Straight (33.4 mi)
Continue straight at Fort Piute Road. You are now in the Lanfair Valley.
24. Straight (34.3 mi)
Continue straight at unknown road.
25. Lower Fork (35.9 mi)
Take the lower fork at Cable Road intersection.
26. Into Wash (36.5 mi)
Drop into and cross the deep wash.
27. Old Bus (37.1 mi)
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.
28. Right/North (37.9 mi)
At the well defined crossroad, turn right/north.
29. Left/West (38.1 mi)
At the fenced area, turn left/west to continue.
30. Take North Fork (39.1 mi)
Take the right/north fork at Cedar Canyon Road.
31. Straight (40.4 mi)
Continue straight where the road to Indian Hill and well goes north.
32. Penny Can Tree (41.2 mi)
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 (41.7 mi)
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 (43.5 mi)
Continue straight at the intersection of Grotto Hills Road.
35. Carruthers Canyon Road (45.6 mi)
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 ( mi)
Look, but do not take or destroy any of this property.
37. Camp Phallus ( mi)
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 (48.4 mi)
Drop into and cross the wash/cable road.
39. Follow Northwest On Cedar Canyon Road (48.8 mi)
Follow the wide graded Cedar Canyon Road a short distance to the northwest .4 miles to a faint turnoff.
40. Left/West (49 mi)
Turn left/west at the cairn/rock stack marker.
41. Watson Wash Drop In (49.2 mi)
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 (50.3 mi)
Turn left/south.
43. Go Left/Southwest (50.5 mi)
Turn left/southwest.
44. Bert G Smith Homestead ( mi)
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 (50.6 mi)
Continue straight.
46. Government Holes (52 mi)
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 (61.9 mi)
Continue straight. Roughly after this point, you encounter a 10-mile stretch of whoop-dee-doos that never seem to end.
48. Straight (66.5 mi)
Continue straight.
49. Left/South (67.2 mi)
Turn left/south.
50. Mojave Camp (68.1 mi)
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 (70.2 mi)
Go straight for Marl Springs.
52. Marl Springs ( mi)
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 (73.4 mi)
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 ( mi)
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!
55. Dunes ( mi)
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 (96.5 mi)
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 (100 mi)
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 (108 mi)
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 (116 mi)
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 (117 mi)
The first of many railroad bridges you will encounter.
61. Train Car ( mi)
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 (118 mi)
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 (121 mi)
Continue straight. Intermittently, water can be found here.
64. Water Crossing - Afton - Mojave River (122 mi)
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 (122.1 mi)
Vault toilets, water, and picnic tables can be found here with 22 designated camp locations.
66. Railroad Bridge (123 mi)
Continue straight.
67. Triangles (131 mi)
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 (136 mi)
Continue straight.
69. End (139 mi)
Turn right to hit the old Route 66 and travel south to town.

Directions to Trailhead

Starting Point: Laughlin, Nevada

To drive the trail in its historical entirety, start from Laughlin, Nevada at the Avi Casino & Resort. Turn to the north out of the casino parking lot onto Aha Macav Parkway. Drive 2.7 miles north on the paved highway to reach a dirt road on your right. Continue .8 miles to reach the Colorado River and the start of the Mojave Road. An alternate starting point, described in this guide as Waypoint 1, is also from Laughlin, Nevada, but directly off of the Needles Highway: Turn left on Aha Macav Parkway out of the Avi Resort & Casino parking lot and go 1.6 miles to Needles Highway. Turn right/north towards Laughlin. In 2.5 miles you will cross the state line and enter Nevada. .7 miles from the border crossing you will see a washy area on the left, this is the alternate start of the Mojave Road

Camping

Dispersed
Designated
There are dispersed camping opportunities along this route for small groups. In addition, there are several designated areas. Camp Phallus at waypoint 37 and Mojave Camp at waypoint 50 are worthy designated locations to spend the night. General Rules: Camping in the area: Reuse of existing campsites is required for four-wheel drive trips. Do not make camp in a dry wash—flash floods develop quickly in the desert. Camping is limited to a maximum of 14 consecutive days per visit/stay and 30 total days per year. Campsites must be more than 200 yards from any water source. Camping is not permitted: within 1/4 mile of any paved road or the Zzyzx Road; within 1/2 mile of Fort Piute or Kelso Depot; within 1 mile north (i.e., the crest of the dunes) or 1/4 mile south of the Kelso Dunes access road. Dispose of Waste Properly: Store all food and garbage in a manner that will prevent access by wildlife. Carry plastic bags and pack out all trash. Bury human waste in catholes 6-8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Don't bury toilet paper or hygiene products - carry a plastic bag and pack it out. Pet excrement must be collected and disposed of in garbage receptacles. Minimize Campfire Impacts: Campfires are allowed in established fire rings only, or with use of a portable firepan (be sure to pack out ashes). Do not leave fires smoldering or unattended. Cutting or collecting any wood, including downed wood, is prohibited. All firewood must be brought into the preserve.
Camping: Mojave Road

Trail Reviews (37)

Questions & Answers (10)

Q: Any updates on the Mojave River crossing currently (November 2021)? I know the UPRR had filled it in with ballast for their work trucks and machines to cross for various rail and signal rehab projects in Afton Canyon. Wondering if it's still filled in or was removed. I'm planning a trip for in December 2021 or January 2022 so any input would be appreciated.
–AL (11/09/2021)
A: Hi LA. I just got back from running Mojave Road last weekend (11/11 - 11/14 2021). The river crossing was still filled in and was maybe 12 inches deep. The train trestle just beyond that though was full and about 22 inches deep on the south side. I think it's deeper on the north side.
–Steve Conte (11/15/2021)
A: Hi LA, it was still filled in a few weeks ago. No time frame that we know of to have it back to normal.
–Todd (11/12/2021)
Q: Hey guys! 2016 4Runner 2WD on 33 inch aggressive all terrains and a 3” lift. Just wanted to get your input on doing this in my RWD Rig! :) thanks in advance
–Matt Johnson (08/24/2020)
A: Hi Matt!! When I ran it, I went into 4wd very few times, but I could see where I would have not wanted to be out there without it. I would recommend 4wd as good practice due to the sand, if you are going up Watson Wash Drop in, and of course the water crossing. As always, If the trail is wet or rain is forecasted absolutely do not attempt it. If you do go, make sure you go with a group that are equipped with winches and recovery gear. Always have extra supplies with you and plenty of water. I hope that helps!
–Todd (08/25/2020)
Q: I am a father of one of the participants for this event taking place at the moment. I received a call from him yesterday, letting me know the engine of his friend's Jeep completely shut down due to going under water. Does anyone know where or who to contact to get information regarding their safety and welfare. Yesterday we experienced really bad weather and just concerned. Would like to get some peace of mind. I can be reached at 909 762-4654 - Carlos My son's name is Adam and is driving a White Jeep Wrangler license plate #8ATJ986.
–Adam Lopez (03/20/2020)
A: It is likely this spot you are talking about is in Afton Canyon at the river crossings, which is near the west end of the trail. There is plenty of high ground there and they should be fine. In fact the only low ground is in the water crossings. You can reach out to the Barstow Field office to see if anyone is going out there. Phone: (760) 252-6000 . I would also go on facebook and see if anyone is going out there. FYI - you can get a 2wd to the water crossings on a normal day if you exit at Afton Canyon on the 15 Freeway.
–Josh Noesser (03/20/2020)
Q: Hi guys - i clicked the link "permit required" - its super confusing, one site says $91, the next is $302! Is it required to drive thru? sorry for the noob q but its real hard getting solid info-tx!
–Francois Brand (01/15/2020)
A: Hey Francois, They don't make it easy do they? As long as you are out there for recreational purposes only and less than 7 vehicles in your group, you don't need a permit. If you have a larger group, give them a call at: (760) 252-6107 to square up your permits.
–Todd (01/16/2020)
Q: Can you do this in reverse?
–Michael (11/28/2019)
A: Hey Michael, you sure can! Many people run it that way. Be cautious at the water crossing with the recent rains.
–Todd (11/28/2019)
Q: Still, wondering about the water crossing section. Does anyone know if a Subaru Forester can drive pass the river? Watched lots of answers, I'm still a bit confused about the depth of the river (Some said 18" and some said over 2 1/2 ft). Also, if I bypass the river crossing section using BL9470 ( https://www.trailsoffroad.com/trails/2186-bl9470-hidden-valley-wash ), where exactly is the route (or exit) to go from this trail to the BL9470?
–Ryan L (10/14/2019)
A: As of late October 2020 the water crossing has been filled in by a crew working on the RR tracks. Maybe 4" deep now.
–Paul Berglund (01/27/2021)
A: Hi Ryan, thanks for the question! For the water crossing, I spoke with our internal team here and they stated all of the last times they have driven it this year, the water crossing has been 30" plus deep. Although now it is late in the year and may end up being more shallow, they are thinking a "no go" on the Subaru. Be sure to test the depth before attempting it! For the BL9470 bypass: From WP 60, head east on the road at the south side of the train tracks. Continue parallel to the tracks ( on the south side ) for 8 miles to Crucero Road (just past the stoplight on the tracks). Go south on Crucero fo 6 miles to WP7 of BL9470 It's a long bypass.
–Todd (10/16/2019)
Q: Is it open camping just west of Mojave city along the trail? I am looking for a place to camp on a Friday night not to far outside of town, maybe 3-5 miles in, or just west of the needles highway. Any recommendations? We will have up to 4 vehicles and will be waiting for some late arrivals before we start out on the trial early Saturday morning.
–Evan Cook (05/03/2019)
A: Josh, thanks for the info. I contacted the BLM in Needles and he confirmed it is all BLM land. Waypoints 1-8 are all in Nevada and it is open camping up to that point. Somewhere around waypoint 9 you cross over in to California. We camped near waypoint 7 just after you drop into the wash. We hiked down the canyon and saw the camping area you mentioned. Super cool location to check out.
–Evan Cook (06/10/2019)
A: From last I remember, it is open camping over there. We camped just past waypoint 7 one time. But there is a cool canyon that used to the main trail near waypoint 4 that has rather large dry fall. That area would make for good camping. Check it out on Google Maps Satellite view.
–Josh Noesser (06/03/2019)
Q: Primitive Camping Sites Recommendations: I am looking into traversing this road in three days. What are some primitive campsite to consider?
–JV (09/03/2018)
A: Hi JV, we do not have all the potential locations marked, but they're a bunch of options for you, its really just going to depend on when you are tired or not. The ones mentioned above in the camping section are pretty darn good!
–Todd (09/04/2018)
Q: Can you do this on one full tank of gas? (Jeep JKU)
–Josh Farol (08/28/2018)
A: Without running any AC or other side trips, I did this trail in an 08 JKU and had just under a 1/4 tank left. We did it in 2 days.
–Todd (08/28/2018)
A: Without running any AC or other side trips, I did this trail in an 08 JKU and had just under a 1/4 tank left. We did it in 2 days.
–Todd (08/28/2018)
Q: Is there a bypass for the Afton/Mojave River crossing? Seems deep enough to need a snorkel, and I would not want to risk it.
–Brendan Keegan (01/19/2017)
A: I have never read a single account where the water was too deep for a snorkel-less vehicle. I did the trail in May 2015 and the water was halfway up my 35" tire. See the picture from my trail review below. That said, always approach these crossings with caution. However, if most accounts say the water is not more than 18" deep, that should be easy to test. Bring along your mud boots and walk across the river before venturing out with your vehicles.
–Tom H (07/19/2018)
A: Hey Brenden! I took the video and the angle is a little misleading. The water was only about 1/2 way up my 35" tire.
–Todd (01/19/2017)
A: If you are hoping to bypass the water crossings in Afton Canyon, unfortunately there is no easier way. But you can bypass Afton Canyon in its entirety, either by exiting at Baker, after that is Rasor Road (Rumored it might be closed), then Basin (just before Afton) or you stay to the south as you get close to Afton and take BL9470. I would take BL9470 if it was up to me, plus there are a couple cool sites along that trail. ...................... ( https://www.trailsoffroad.com/trails/2186-bl9470-hidden-valley-wash ) .................. But as far as the water depth, as long as the water isn’t moving and is still, it is usually around 2 ½ feet deep. I would say almost any 4x4 outside of cars can make the crossing. Jeeps, Toyotas, P/U’s, Isuzus, and like vehicles. Just take it slow to keep the wave down and be safe.
–Josh Noesser (01/19/2017)

Writer Information

Todd

Founder

Todd is an avid wheeler who loves to explore new trails whenever and wherever he can. They say necessity is the mother of all invention and that holds true for Todd. His want and desire to find passable trails and new nooks and crannies of the Great American West to explore were his reasons behind starting Trailsoffroad.com. On any given weekend you can find Todd on some obscure 4x4 trail or using his legs to hike to an alpine lake.
For individual use only, not to be shared.