If you’ve visited Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park and want to experience more of California’s beautiful desert landscapes, consider exploring the Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument. The southern region of the Preserve is just three hours from Greater Palm Springs, and with camping, hiking and wildlife watching, it’s an outdoor lover’s dream come true. 

Between the Preserve and the National Monument, there are three main developed campgrounds, and while dispersed camping is allowed, visitors must stick to established sites and respect wilderness and habitat restoration boundaries. Visitors are also encouraged to familiarize themselves with Leave No Trace Principles, which help minimize the impact on sensitive desert environments.

Hole-in-the-Wall Campground (Mojave National Preserve)

An RV parked at a campsite at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground in the Mojave National Preserve

Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is the most accessible and popular campground in the Mojave National Preserve, and it fills up quickly on weekends during peak season (generally November through March). The campground has 35 sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis, with pit toilets, water pumps and plenty of flat space to accommodate larger rigs. Campers are treated to views of buttes and rock formations in all directions, and the sites with the most privacy are at the end of the loop. A quarter-mile dirt road also connects the campground to the Rings Loop Trail and Barber Peak Trail, which are next to the Information Center. If you’re coming from Interstate 40, Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is accessed via Black Canyon Road, which is paved right up to the campground. Campsites are $12 per night, with a maximum of two vehicles and eight individuals per site.

Mid Hills Campground (Mojave National Preserve)

A tent pitched at a campsite at Mid Hills Campground in the Mojave National Preserve

You have to rattle down a bumpy dirt road for about half an hour, but Mid Hills Campground is worth the trek, especially for folks seeking privacy and solitude. The campground has 26 sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis, with pit toilets and several spots suitable for smaller mobile homes and truck campers. There is no water available at the campground. When the Hackberry Complex Fire swept through the campground in 2005, it burned a handful of trees at the start of the loop, but most of the sites at the end of the loop escaped the blaze, and several have unobstructed views of the mountains. Mid Hills Campground sits off of Wild Horse Canyon Road, which is a single-lane, washboard dirt road, accessed by Cedar Canyon Road on the Cima side, or Black Canyon Road if you’re coming from Interstate 40. Though mostly unpaved, the aforementioned routes are fine for low-clearance and 2WD vehicles as long as drivers take it slow and the weather is favorable. Campsites are $12 per night, and a maximum of two vehicles and eight individuals are allowed per site.

Kelso Dunes (Mojave National Preserve)

A woman sits by a campfire while camping at the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve

While the Kelso Dunes are home to a handful of undeveloped campsites, this area feels more like a developed campground. About a half of a mile from the Kelso Dunes Trailhead, the road ends and you will find half a dozen established campsites with metal fire pits and two pit toilets. There are plenty of boundary markers to ensure motorists stay on designated spurs from the main road, and OHVs are not allowed on or around the sand dunes. All sites have wonderful views of the dunes, but with sparse desert vegetation, there is not much privacy. Camping is free and available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and visitors must pack out all trash. The nearly four-mile drive down Kelso Dunes Dunes Road from Kelbaker Road isn’t exactly paved (it’s a mix of dirt, potholes and some pavement), but a 4x4 vehicle is not necessary to access this area.

Afton Canyon Campground (Mojave Trails National Monument)

Campsite at Afton Canyon Campground in Mojave Trails National Monument

Afton Canyon Campground has 22 campsites available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and it’s just a few miles off Interstate 15 between Barstow and Baker. All sites have picnic tables and fire pits, along with access to several pit toilets. The campground, which is actually in the Mojave Trails National Monument, is run by the Bureau of Land Management, which requires all visitors to obtain free campfire permits online via www.preventwildfireca.org prior to their stay. Afton Canyon runs along the Mojave River, which flows year-round. While there is OHV access nearby, fortunately river crossings are not required to access the campground. While the gravel road is washboarded in some spots, 4x4 is not required. Campsites are $6 per night, with a maximum stay limit of 14 days.

Black Canyon Equestrian and Group Campground (Mojave National Preserve)

Shaded Picnic Tables at Black Canyon Campground in the Mojave National Preserve

The Black Canyon Equestrian and Group Campground is available by reservation only, and as the name indicates, it’s for campers with horses and large groups (15-50 people, per the NPS website). The equestrian sites have multiple corals, several water troughs and ample parking, and the group site is up the hill from the corals, with half a dozen covered picnic tables, a large fire pit, parking, and an open space that can accommodate over a dozen tents. Pit toilets are available in both areas, along with trash receptacles. Black Canyon Campground is across the road from the Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center. Camping fees are $25 per group per night, reservations can be made by calling 760-252-6100.

Dispersed Camping

A woman camping at a dispersed campsite in the Mojave National Preserve

While dispersed camping is allowed in the Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument, it is essential for visitors to come prepared and take the necessary steps to minimize their impact on the land. 

Visitors must stick to campsites that have clear signs of previous use, and while many have fire pits or fire rings, some may not. However, visitors are not permitted to construct new fire rings, and all firewood must be brought into the Preserve, as cutting or collecting wood is prohibited. Visitors must pack out all trash and dispose of human waste properly, either by digging a six to eight-inch cat hole 200 feet from camp and water sources, or by using a WAG bag or portable toilet to pack out waste. (For more information, Leave No Trace Center has an entire section on their website with details on the proper disposal of human waste.)

A number of major dirt roads in the Preserve and National Monument are well-maintained, but many are not, and therefore not suitable for low-clearance or 2WD vehicles. Only a handful of roads are marked with signs like “4x4 only,” so it is important to pay attention, know your vehicle’s limitations and have the necessary recovery gear in case you get stuck. Deep sand is common throughout the Mojave, and during monsoon season, flash floods can wipe out entire sections of road, and vehicles along with it. 

Nearby RV Parks

For travelers in large motor homes who don’t want to push their luck on narrow, rutted dirt roads, there are several RV parks around the Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument. RV Park Baker is the best option off Interstate 15, while Newberry Mountain RV Park sits along the east side of Mojave Trails National Monument near Barstow along Interstate 40.