Summary: Mojave Lava Tube in California. Everything you need to know, how to get there and what to pack.
Land Acknowledgement: Land of the Nüwüwü (Chemehuevi), Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute), Newe (Western Shoshone) People. Find what Native Land you are visiting by using the app Native Land! I encourage you to read the history and culture of the Indigenous people who’s land you are visiting and donate if you can to Indigenous organizations in that area.
- About the Mojave Lava Tube
- SOUTHWEST ROAD TRIP VIDEO SERIES: Mojave Lava Tube
- Getting to the Mojave Lava Tube in the California Desert
- Best Time To Go To The Mojave Lava Tube
- Photography Tips for the Mojave Lava Tube in California
About the Mojave Lava Tube
I’m new to California and didn’t realize that Lava Tubes like this existed here. Apparently the best lava tubes in California are up by Lassen Volcanic National Park (a place on my list for this summer!). So, stay tuned for that adventure!
Mojave Desert Lava Tube in California is something really special. If you browse the Instagram tag for this place, you’ll see LOADS of photos showing off incredible light beams here. I learned a lot from our experience there and I can’t wait to tell you all there is to know about visiting this spectacular place.
For the Science Nerds (Like Me)
Growing up in Michigan, I truly had no idea Lava Tubes existed. The flatlands of the midwest did not teach me much about volcanic activity.
The Mojave Lava Tubes in California formed much like all other lava tubes. It occurs when volcanic activity occurs and lava is flowing. As the lava slows down to a steady flow, the top layer exposed to the air would cool and solidify. This forms a tube that the rest of the unexposed lava continues to flow through and eventually empties out.
There are plenty of lava tubes to visit. Weirdly, even though I get easily claustrophobic and quite honestly hate the dark, this is the THIRD lava tube I have visited. Other’s include the Thurston Lava Tubes in Hawaii, and the Ape Caves in Washington.
SOUTHWEST ROAD TRIP VIDEO SERIES: Mojave Lava Tube
If you want a short visual of our time at the Mojave Lava Tube, check out the YouTube Video my partner Johnathon DeSoto created! Subscribe if you want to see the complete mini series as it comes out!
Getting to the Mojave Lava Tube in the California Desert
- Las Vegas International Airport: 2 Hours
- Los Angeles International Airport: 4 Hours
- Phoenix International Airport: 5.5 Hours
Using google maps, we were able to navigate to the Mojave Desert Lava Tube no problem. We did not have cell service at the actual trailhead so make sure to load your directions before!
Coordinates: 35.21378, -115.7532
Directions to Mojave Lava Tube:
If you’re coming from Death Valley, fill up on gas in Baker, California before heading out to the lava tube. There are no gas stations for quite a ways unless you drive the 20 miles back to Baker.
- While the road is dirt and bumpy, it is passable for *most* vehicles.
From Baker, California: Turn left onto CA-127 South, after 20 miles you will turn left onto the unmarked Aiken Mine Road. Drive on Aiken Mine Road past corrals and water tanks.
You’ll want to take it slow over this rough road, as it is very bumpy and has washboard ruts most of the way. Budget extra time for this if you’re planning to get there at a specific time.
After 4.5 miles, turn left at a fork in the road, following a sign for the lava tube. Drive another quarter mile to the parking area at the trailhead.
The Trail to Mojave Desert Lava Tube
The trail to get to the lava tube is short and sweet. I downloaded the trail on AllTrails before we headed out for the trailhead to ensure I had no problem finding it. I would not say it’s very well marked.
Wear sturdy shoes, as you’ll be hiking over volcanic rock and uneven surfaces. Check out my hiking footwear guide HERE!
- .5 miles one way
- 150 feet elevation gain
- Dogs allowed
- No fees/permits required
- Not ADA accessible
After hiking the .5 mile trail, you will arrive at a metal staircase. Take the 16 steps down into an open area and turn left to enter the cave.
You’ll want a headlamp or your phone flashlight for this next section!
The Cave narrows to 3 feet tall in it’s shortest section, but is still plenty wide at almost 10 feet wide. So you’ll have plenty of space to maneuver. There are some small boulders you’ll need to step on and around.
Very quickly, the cave will open up into a large, lit, chamber where you will see the two skylights in the middle of the cave, followed by another skylight at the end of the cave.
I have seen other caves littered with trash and graffiti. Please respect the land and help preserve it’s beauty for future generations! Practice Leave No Trace Principles HERE.
Best Time To Go To The Mojave Lava Tube
Time of Year
This seems to be a great place to visit any time of year. We visited in Mid December and had temperatures in the 50’s. While this place doesn’t seem to get too overcrowded, it does seem to be busier in the summer.
If you want a higher chance of having the place to yourself, go during non-summer months and go on a weekday!
Time of Day
The IDEAL time to get light rays in the Mojave Lava Tube is between 11am and 1pm. Obviously weather will play a major factor in this. If you visit on an overcast day, you’ll likely be out of luck on light beams. Regardless, it’s a beautiful place to visit.
Photography Tips for the Mojave Lava Tube in California
- Get to the lava tube earlier than the ideal window (11am-1pm) and come prepared with time to wait for the best light beams.
- Kick up some of the dust in there! Before we took our photos, we kicked up some dust so that the light would illuminate some of the particles, giving the beam more substance.
- Be careful with your exposure! You’ll want to expose for the cave to ensure you have data there to work with. Another option would be to take two separate photos: one exposed for the cave and one exposed for the light beam and combine the two.
- Check out the Instagram tag Mojave Lava Tube for inspiration on angles and compositions before you go, so you can make quick decisions if the light beam makes an appearance!
I hope this guide was helpful! I would love to hear in the comments below if this is going on your travel bucketlist now!
Make this stop part of a larger road trip! Check out my complete Southwest Road Trip Guide!
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