Halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the sandy playground of the Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It's an ideal destination for visitors who want a wild, rugged experience in a pristine, natural setting. Almost 145,000 acres of terrain for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding is available in this outdoor paradise. Opportunities for photography and wildlife viewing are around every turn.
The name of this BLM property accurately conveys what you can expect when you arrive. It's true wilderness in California. There are no roads, trails, or other services at all within its limits. Motorized vehicles are prohibited entirely from entering the area.
There are no official BLM campgrounds at Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area, but campers who want to do some tent camping can trek in with all their gear and pretty much camp anywhere they deem suitable. Luckily, for RV travelers, the Mojave National Preserve is adjacent to the wilderness area. It offers two campgrounds, one of which is RV-friendly. The national preserve also permits roadside vehicle camping if you don't require any facilities.
With all the activities, peace and quiet, and camping options available at Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area and nearby, it's a perfect addition to any RV road trip itinerary.
Accessing the Kelso Dunes Wilderness can be a little tricky in larger rigs. The nearest town is Ludlow, California. Once you exit the well-paved and large I-40 at Ludlow, where there is a gas station, you take Crucero Road (BL7815) north. At this point, you can turn east on any of the small dirt roads - the choice is yours. Once you hit the boundary of the wilderness area, you will need to leave your RV or vehicle and proceed on foot.
The Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area does not have any roads within its limits. When you approach the area, watch out for blowing sand and dips in the road. It's recommended that visitors have high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Before heading to Kelso Dunes, consider a stop in the small town of Needles. At the Bureau of Land Management Office here, you can get maps of the area. Since there are few signs, no roads, and no services, a map is an excellent idea.
Parking is available randomly at the limits of the wilderness area. There are no designated spots so visitors can park responsibly along the boundaries of the park. Just respect any posted signs.
Just outside the Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area is the Mojave National Preserve. While the journey to the RV-friendly campground here can take up to two hours, the trip is worth it for the comfort and convenience you'll achieve.
There are two official, pet-friendly campgrounds at the Mojave National Preserve. Only the Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is suitable for trailers and motorhomes. The other site, the Mid Hills Campground, is accessed via an unpaved road, so it isn't recommended for RV users.
The Hole-in-the-Wall Campground provides fire rings and picnic tables for each of the 35 RV sites. Campers can use the pit toilets, although there are no hookups available. Bring your firewood and water with you since none is provided onsite. Trash bins are placed conveniently throughout the area.
The elevation of Hole-in-the-Wall is 4,400 feet making it a perfect base camp for activities like hiking and mountain biking through the sand with views of spectacular rock walls.
The Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area doesn't allow motor vehicles of any kind within its borders. As a result, the area offers tent camping only. There are no official BLM campgrounds here and no services of any kind. If you are prepared to hike in with your camping gear, your reward is peace and quiet and breathtaking views of the rolling sand dunes.
Since there are no services of any kind, make sure you bring everything you need for an enjoyable camping experience with you. This includes all food, water, and supplies. Watch out for local wildlife as well. To keep the area wild, all visitors must pack out what they pack in and leave no trace behind.
experience with you.
Daredevils and experienced rock climbers will find plenty to keep them busy in this part of California. Within the nearby Mojave National Preserve, large rocks are scattered for bouldering opportunities. The largest rock area for rock climbing is in the Granite Mountains, although only half this area is open to the public. The other half is off-limits for research purposes.
Providence Mountains State Park, contained in the Mojave National Preserve, is worth a visit to explore Mitchell Caverns. The caverns, made of limestone, provide an unforgettable tour.
A great way to access the Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area is on horseback. You can cover a lot of ground, some of which is too difficult and far from the limits of the vehicle free park to explore on foot. No official trails are provided so you can travel in any direction while watching out for hazards along the way.
It's easy to get lost in this truly wild part of California so pick up a map from the BLM Field Office in Needles before heading out. If you plan to camp in the wilderness area, your horse can help carry your supplies. On horseback, you can camp in even more remote parts of this BLM property.
When you need a break from all the outdoor activities at Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area, bring a blanket and set up your own private picnic. Don't expect picnic tables, restrooms, or running water. What you can expect, though, are beautiful surroundings, quiet, and relaxation.
You'll need to bring all your food and water with you. There are no trash bins, so all your garbage should be removed with you when you leave.
Like hiking and horseback riding, cycling can be done throughout the Kelso Dune Wilderness Area. Exploration is done at your own risk and riders should be aware of the dangers of cycling in sand.
If you're feeling adventurous, leave the BLM property's boundaries and travel east to Devil's Playground in the Bristol Mountains Wilderness Area. Bike up and down the dunes and salt flats for about 40 miles and end your trip north at the Cronese Mountains.
The hiking is abundant at Kelso Dune Wilderness Area and is rugged, with no defined trails. Visitors are free to explore the endless acres of wild country. Since there are no services and temperatures in this desert area can get extremely high, bring as much water as you can carry.
The terrain is generally free of large vegetation with varieties of desert scrub. The views as you navigate Kelso Dunes are of volcanic rocks and endless sand. The sand can be a tough hike, so it is not recommended for beginners.
Since the Kelso Dunes Wilderness Area remains in a natural, undisturbed state, the chances of seeing wildlife are high. Bring your binoculars and your camera to capture the best shots. Do not approach wildlife and maintain a safe distance.
Lucky visitors may spy coyote, bighorn sheep, and even a bobcat. More common sights are ground squirrels, black-tailed jackrabbit, and kangaroo rat. The BLM property boasts a variety of lizards and is home to a population of rattlesnakes to watch out for.