The Castle Mountains National Monument is located in the eastern Mojave desert in San Bernardino County, California, and is bordered on three sides by the Mojave National Preserve. The park was established in 2016 along with two other neighboring national parks, Mojave Trails National Monument, and Sand to Snow National Monument. Castle Mountain National Monument is the only park of the three that is managed by the National Park Service, and it protects 20920 acres of natural area and desert ecosystem, northwest of the Colorado River.
The monument surrounds an open pit gold mine, which will transfer to the park service when mining is completed. The main attraction in the park is the Castle Peaks, a group of spires that jut upwards, a unique geological formation that is popular with sightseers. Mojave desert grasslands, dense juniper forests, and Joshua trees lie at the foot of the mountains here. The stunning desert scenery is also habitat for area wildlife, and there are historical and archaeological sites in the area that are interesting to explore.
The park is open year round, there are no facilities at the park, no WiFi available, and cell phone reception is spotty. The visitor centre in the adjacent Mojave National Preserve provides information on the Castle Mountains National Monument area.
Castle Mountain National Monument is a 90 minute drive south of Las Vegas, and a four hour drive east of Los Angeles. The park can only be accessed by dirt roads, and four wheel drive vehicles with high clearance are recommended. Dirt roads can become more treacherous in inclement weather so be sure you have the appropriate gear and equipment to access the park. You should not rely on GPS systems in the region as GPS maps are not current and service in this remote region is not reliable. Have a current map on hand, and plan your route prior to your trip so you are familiar with where you are headed and use GPS only as a supplemental form of direction.
From Las Vegas take Highway 95 south and turn right to head west on State Route 164 or take Interstate 15 south and head left, to the east on 164. From State Road 164 take the Walking Box Ranch Road to the south, or take one of several other dirt roads that extend from Lanfair Road in the Mojave National Preserve to the Castle Mountain National Monument. Direct access roads can be rough, dry, dusty, wet, or muddy depending on weather conditions and difficult to traverse. Check conditions before your trip and ensure your vehicle is appropriate to the conditions. There are no maintained roads or trails in the park.
Located across from the Hole-In-the-Wall, 34 miles from Castle Mountains National Monument, this campground is a group camping and equestrian friendly campground. Reservations are required. Facilities at this campground include outhouses, garbage receptacles, water, fire rings and grills, a picnic shelter, and picnic tables. A dump station is located nearby.
The equestrian campsites have corrals to contain visiting horses. There is no firewood available at the park so remember to bring your own to enjoy a fire. RVs can be accommodated, as can horse trailers. It's a great place to come with a large group, or to bring your four legged transport to explore the surrounding wilderness areas. The group camping area can accommodate up to 50 people and the equestrian area can accommodate up to 30 people.
Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is located 34 miles from Castle Mountains National Monument and is a first come first served campground. It sits at an elevation of 4400 feet and is surrounded by volcanic rock walls which gives this unique campground its name. This campground has 35 campsites that can accommodate RVs and tents, and is a popular staging site for backcountry hikers with several trailheads from the campground.
Two walk-in tent sites are also available. Campsites are unserviced, however, there is a dump station and potable water. A visitor and information centre is located here and serves the area. Bring your own firewood to enjoy a campfire in this beautiful desert local.
The Mid Hills Campground is 27 miles from the Castle Mountains National Monument. A fire in 2005 burned much of the surrounding vegetation; however, about 26 campsites and Pinyon Pine and Juniper trees were left intact. The Mid Hills campground sits at an elevation of about 5600 feet and is cooler than the desert floor in the region. The access road is unpaved and is not recommended for most motorhomes and RV trailers.
The campground is first come first served and there is no water available at the site. The campground can be reached from Cedar Canyon Road from the north, or Black Canyon Road from the south. The nearest visitor centre is located at the Hole-in-the-Wall campground which is 10 miles away.
Several of the paved and unpaved routes in the region are known for their scenery and are popular auto touring sites. Castleview Drive is the paved section of Highway 164 between Nipton and Searchlight, and takes you through dense Joshua tree forests. Ivanpah Road and Lanfair Road take you through the Lanfair Valley, the pavement ends, and vehicles with high clearance are recommended for travel in the area. Cedar Canyon Road is a maintained dirt road through scenic Lanfair Valley that may be a better option. Mojave Road was once an overland route bringing pioneers to California. This route is very rugged and appropriate for 4WD vehicles only.
Crisp, clear nights in the Mojave desert during the autumn months make for perfect stargazing conditions. The relatively secluded landscape of the Castle Mountains National Monument has a minimum of light noise from local civilization, which makes it easier to see the stars at night.
Take along a star chart to identify constellations and heavenly bodies as cell service is not reliable in the area and stargazing apps on your devices may not be useful. Take along some warm outerwear as the desert gets cold at night later in the year.
The local equestrian campground allows riders and their four-legged friends to camp near the Castle Mountains National Monument and explore the surrounding areas. The rugged terrain is best accessed on four legs, not two! There are elevation changes and rough ground so ensure your horse is fit for treks in the region. Cooler weather later in the year will make it easier to avoid overheating your horse while riding in the desert landscape which can be hot and unforgiving during summer months.
The desert habitats in the region which includes grasslands, forest, and mountain terrain are home to a variety of wildlife. This region is also part of the 226 square mile Lanfair Valley watershed which provides an aquifer that is critical to wildlife in the Mojave desert ecosystem. Eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats are some of the exciting creatures you may spot in the Castle Mountains National Monument region.
Also, keep an eye out for a variety of reptiles, birds, and insects that make the park area their home. Use caution and keep your distance from large mammals and rattlesnakes which are poisonous. Keep a respectful distance and use the zoom feature on your camera rather than crowding the local inhabitants!
Mountains, spires, Joshua trees, juniper forests and desert grasslands combine to create wonderful scenery and landscape views in the Castle Mountains National Monument area. The combination of Mojave desert features in the area is unique as few sites combine such diverse geological formations and natural habitat. The Castle Peaks spires which soar up into the sky are a particular favorite spot for visitors to do some interesting sightseeing. Enjoy the scenery and bring a camera to record your desert trip.
Several significant Native American archaeological sites have been discovered in the Castle Mountain National Monument area. There is also a historic gold mining ghost town, Hart, nearby. The gold mining town gives visitors insight into the hardships of settlement in this harsh desert environment.
Check out information on these sites at the nearby visitor center in the Mojave National Preserve. Prehistoric rock art and other signs of early Native American settlements can be found in the region. There are also signs of wagon train trails, and past cattle ranching activities including corrals and watering troughs. Take along a notebook and a camera to record your exploration!