Containing 14 645 acres and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bigelow Cholla Garden is part of the 109 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System. The “Gardens” became part of the Mojave Trails National Monument in 2016 which covers 1.6 million acres of federally managed land with 350 000 acres of designated wilderness areas managed by the Bureau.
The Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness is situated at the north side of the Sacramento Mountains and gets its name from the dense population of Bigelow Cholla cactus that thrives in the area. The terrain and mountains are characterized by dark, eroded, volcanic rock, and the area is vegetated with creosote bush, desert scrub, and desert wash scrub. Elevations in the park range from 1400 feet to up to 3314 feet at Bannock Peak. The wilderness area contains excellent natural habitat and migratory routes for a variety of wildlife.
Visitors to the park can enjoy recreational opportunities which include hiking, horseback riding, camping, rock hunting, and wildlife photography. The most popular times of year to visit the BLM site are during the spring, fall, and winter, as summer temperatures are extremely hot with temperatures ranging from 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. When visiting the area, always carry an adequate water supply and do not rely on natural water sources which are unreliable.
Amenities can be accessed in the city of Needles, California, 18 miles east of the BLM lands. Many interesting destinations can be found in the area including the Joshua Tree National Park, Piute Mountains Wilderness, Stepladder Mountains Wilderness, Dead Mountains Wilderness, Castle Mountains National Monument, and Death Valley National Park. To explore the region by RV, check out RV Rentals Mojave, California.
Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness is situated in San Bernardino County, California, on the north end of the Sacramento Mountains, 18 miles west of Needles, California. Interstate 40 skirts the north edge of the wilderness area. The Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness can be accessed from the exit on Interstate 40 at the town of Camino, where visitors can head south on a dirt powerline road that extends southeast along the wilderness areas perimeter. The larger Mojave Trails National Monument contains the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of Route 66. The desert terrain is rough and covered with cacti, and has limited road access. Exploration of the Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness and larger Mojave Trails National Monument is mostly accessible on foot, by horseback, or by off-road vehicle. There are designated campgrounds in the area, and roadside camping on BLM lands is permitted in some areas. Extreme heat in the summer months can make transportation in the area challenging. Ensure your vehicle is in good condition and topped up with all fluid levels. Always carry extra water when traveling in the area and ensure you never leave passengers or pets in a parked vehicle as temperatures will rapidly become dangerous in a closed vehicle.
There are developed campgrounds near the Bigelow Cholla Gardens Wilderness area in the larger Mojave Wilderness Preserve. Mid Hills Campground has no water supply, but has amenities like pit toilets, trash receptacles, fire rings, and picnic tables and is accessed by a dirt road that may be difficult to navigate for RVs and trailers. There is no dump station, hookups, or firewood available here.
Hole In the Wall Campground can accommodate 35 RVs, with two walk-in sites also available. This campground has a water supply, pit toilets, trash disposal fire rings, and picnic tables, but no utility hookups or firewood. Both campsites are first come first serve and allow a maximum of two vehicles and eight people per site. A fire in 2005 burned some of the campsites at Mid Hills and Hole in the Wall, and some of the trees. However, both campgrounds are situated at a high elevation, and are less hot than the low-lying desert, with some shade trees remaining. Group and equestrian camping is available at Black Canyon Group and Equestrian Campground, situated near Hole in the Wall campground.
Backpacking, overnight camping, and informal private dispersed camping are permitted in the BLM lands at the national monument. While camping in the region, campers may occupy a single site for a maximum of 14 days, and then must move to a different location at least 25 miles away. All campgrounds must be situated at least ¼ mile from water sources.
Permits are not required in the Mojave Trails National Monument areas including Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness. Pets are permitted but must remain leashed, and waste must be packed out or buried. Dispersed camping provides solitude and amazing dark sky views with minimal “light noise”. Fires can be made in existing fire rings only, but no collection of deadwood is permitted in the area, and fuel must be packed in. All garbage must be packed out, and visitors should reuse existing campsites and avoid disturbing the landscape or vegetation.
The Bureau of Land Management permits roadside camping at previously used or disturbed sites that are not part of day-use only areas. These sites may have rock or metal fire rings existing on-site. If there is no fire ring at an informal roadside camping site, a new one can not be created. Most roadside camping sites in the area require four wheel drive vehicles with high clearance, as sites are accessed on rough, dirt surfaced roads, and RVs can not get to and are not permitted at some sites.
Existing roadside camping is situated off of Kelbaker Road at Rainy Day Mine Site, Kelso Dunes Mine and Granite Pass, and off of Clima Road at Sunrise Rock. Other roadside campsites are situated off Black Canyon Road near the Hole in the Wall Campground, and at Caruthers Canyon off of the Ivanpah Road. Roadside campers are encouraged to disrupt the natural landscape and vegetation as little as possible.
Hunting is permitted on the BLM lands in and around the Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness. Be sure you have a valid California hunting license, and permits and tags for your target species, which you will need to present on request by an NPS park ranger or state game warden.
A youth quail hunt is held annually in the preserve in the fall season. Discharge of firearms is only permitted when hunting, and no shooting is permitted within 1/2 mile of dwellings, trails, campgrounds, visitor centers, or public gathering areas.
Equestrian activities are popular in the Mojave National Preserve lands around Bigelow Cholla Gardens Wilderness. Riding horses, pack horses, mules, and even llamas which are used as pack animals are permitted on area trails, backcountry roads, and open country within the preserve.
Overnight equestrian camping is available nearby at Black Canyon Equestrian and Group Campground. You can not allow your stock to graze on native vegetation; instead, bring weed-free hay or pelleted food during your stay. Groups that contain more than seven animals require a special permit. Equestrian activities are more frequent in the offseason when temperatures are cooler.
The Bigelow Cholla Gardens and Mojave National Monument have a few established trails. However, hikers use abandoned dirt roads, washes, and ridgelines, which provide excellent hiking routes in the area.
The Hole in the Wall campground has several designated hiking trails for short and long treks. When hiking in the area, be aware that cacti and rattlesnakes pose a hazard to hikers. Hiking boots that will help you navigate the rough terrain and protect from vegetation with spines or needles are recommended.
Hiking is most popular in the spring and fall when temperatures are cooler. However, you will need to pack plenty of drinking water no matter what time of year you visit due to the extreme temperatures and lack of reliable natural water sources.
The lava rock that permeates the area, especially at the base of the mountains, makes for great amateur geological discovery. Grab a field guide on local geology and try some rockhounding, discovering and collecting different types of rocks, and keep an eye out for fossils, as invertebrate fossils such as trilobites have been found in the region.
Follow BLM casual collection regulations, which allow for the collecting of a reasonable amount of geological and fossil specimens for non-commercial use. Alter the landscape as little as possible, and be respectful in your collecting practices.
Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness is part of the larger Mojave Trails National Monument, which conserves several significant cultural resources.
While hiking or camping in the area, visitors may discover stacks or lines of rocks. These cairns were placed there by previous inhabitants and indigenous people. Do not interfere with or move rock groupings, which should be preserved for future generations and tell the tale of past human activity in the Mojave desert. Instead, take a picture or draw a diagram and check out information on the indigenous people of the area at a national monument visitors centers.
Dense cholla cacti, desert wildflowers, and a variety of animal species make for excellent wildlife watching and photography in Bigelow Cholla Gardens. Species that reside in the area include coyote, bobcat, jackrabbit, ground squirrel, kangaroo rat, quail, roadrunner, and rattlesnake. The region also provides an important habitat for the endangered desert tortoise.
If you are there at the right time of year, you can spot Bighorn sheep, which migrate through the area annually. Spring and fall are ideal times of the year for wildlife watching, when precipitation results in a burst of desert wildflowers and increased animal activity.