The country, as a whole, seemed a vast volcanic desert -- of mountains, canyons, and mesas -- and what it was ever made for, except to excite wonder and astonishment, is a mystery to the passing traveler...Water was found only at distances of ten and twenty miles apart...
J.F. Rusling describes his 1866 trip on the Mojave Road in Across America
About the Road
The Mojave Road is an east-west route, roughly 150 miles long, that traverses the desert between the Colorado River and the Mojave River near Wilmington, Los Angeles, CA. Most of the Mojave Road is within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve. The road enters the park near Piute Spring on the east side and on Soda Dry Lake near Zzyzx on the west. The road is not regularly maintained, and some sections are rough and sandy; 4 x 4 is recommended. If visitors wish to drive the entire length of the road, usually 3 days are required. There are opportunities for undeveloped camping along the route of the Mojave Road. There is no registration fee. All campsites are first come first serve.
Mojave Road History
Used by Indigenous people to transport goods from the southwest to trade with the Chumash and other coastal tribes, this route later assisted American settlers on their westward expansion. Military forts were established along the route to protect key water sources and provide assistance for travelers. It was popularized by Dennis Casebier in the 1980s. The Mojave Road Guide by Dennis Casebier provides mile-by-mile descriptions of the road and is still the best resource for planning a Mojave Road trip.
Traveling on the Mojave Road
Before heading out on the Mojave Road, be sure to check on current road conditions. Seaonal hazards like water on Soda Lake, washouts from summer monsoon floods, and winter snow or ice may render the road impassible. Be prepared for the rigors and hazards of driving in a high clearance, four wheel drive vehicle by visiting the Mojave off-pavement driving guide.
ATVs and UTVs Not Permitted in
Mojave National Preserve
This includes sand rails, dune buggys side-by-sides, Razrs, and other vehicles that are not street legal in the state of California are not permitted within The Preserve. Users of these vehicles are encouraged to visit Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the area.
Rules and Regulations
Groups of more than 7 vehicles or 25+ people require a Special Use Permit. Applications can be found here. Please allow up to a month of processing time.
Do not travel cross-country or create new routes. This rule is strictly enforced; violators will receive citations. Driving in washes is not permitted. Watch for and respect Wilderness Boundary signs; motorized vehicles and bicycles are not allowed in designated wilderness areas.
All vehicles operating within Mojave National Preserve must be street-legal in accordance with California DMV requirements, including current registration and tags, lights and turn signals, and valid insurance. California "Green Sticker" and "Red Sticker" programs are not recognized within the preserve. To clarify: This means the route is open to any vehicles that could be street legal in the state of California. Jeeps and trucks (licensed in any state) are fine, but ATVs, RZRs, and side-by-sides are not permitted.
Before beginning any adventure, Mojave Road drivers should ensure that their vehicle is in good condition: check tires, oil, and gas gauge. For emergencies, carry tools, tire jack, towrope, extra water, and fluids for your vehicle.
Carry a good map; do not depend solely upon GPS navigation devices.
It is recommended that cars do not attempt the Mojave Road alone. Having two or more vehicles will allow you to extricate each other if one vehicle gets stuck or disabled.
Most of the Mojave Road does not have reliable cell phone coverage, and in case of emergency help might be many miles away. Visitors are responsible for their own safety and must prepare adequately.
Road conditions vary widely (click here for the latest updates). Dirt roads might be rough, sandy, or muddy, rendering them impassable. Be prepared for any conditions before beginning your trip. Watch for tortoises and other wildlife on roadways.
Top 5 reasons to stay on the Mojave Road while crossing the Soda Dry Lakebed:
1) Leaving the road leaves a scar on the landscape for a decade or more. The lakebed requires several cycles of rain, drying, and wind to break up tire tracks. The Soda Dry Lakebed is public land, shared by all, and should not be defaced semi-permanently by any individual.
2) It’s illegal to drive off the road. Traffic is permitted on the Mojave Road itself, but land on both sides of the road is protected as wilderness, and no wheeled vehicles are allowed.
3) You might get stuck. Although Soda Lake is referred to as a “dry” lakebed, it is never truly dry. It is the terminal basin for the mostly underground Mojave River, which starts in the San Bernardino Mountains over 100 miles west of Zzyzx. The whole Soda Lake area is constantly fed with water. Rain or no rain, the ground is always moist just beneath the surface. The Mojave Road is compacted from decades of vehicular traffic, and much easier to drive on. The dry lakebed off the road can be a deep and sticky slurry. Staying on the main road is your best shot of making it across; towing fees can exceed $1000.
4) Dust harms ecosystems and air quality. The dust produced by off-road driving negatively impacts local ecosystems and air quality; it can even melt faraway snowpacks. These unnecessary clouds of dust also make the air hazy, spoiling the magnificent views for both day trippers and stargazers.
5) Zzyzx is currently closed to the public. The area is home to the Desert Studies Center, a California State University research and education facility, whose staff lives and works on-site. Driving on the lakebed can damage the integrity of their scientific studies, as well as damaging the area’s rare and fragile desert marshland. In the past, historic features at Zzyzx have been damaged by people driving over them. The campus and private residences at the Center are not currently open to tourism, and any entry is trespassing. When Zzyzx reopens, entry will still only be allowed via the Zzyzx road exit on I-15.
The lakebed portion of the Mojave road is still open to drivers of CA street legal vehicles, and we’d like to keep it that way. Please stay on the Mojave Road during your trip and encourage other 4WD enthusiasts to do the same.