San Jose, California is known for being the largest technological center in Silicon Valley, and the largest urban city by population and area in northern California. This beautiful coastal city is also an excellent starting point for a weekend road trip to Kingman, Arizona.
Make sure your RV vehicle is set up for travel in desert wilderness, as your trip will take you through some extreme climate! Fluid levels should be topped up, and you should carry plenty of water in case you need it!
The trip from San Jose, to Kingman, is just under 600 miles in length. Starting at the vibrant city of San Jose where water theme parks, an arts district, museums, an epic 60-mile trail system, and the ethnic community of Japantown are located, you will head south and east through Bakersfield and Needles, California, to reach Kingman, a high desert city situated at 3300 feet, where temperatures are thankfully somewhat more moderate than the terrain you will cross during your excursion.
From San Jose take Highway 101 south to Gilroy, then Highway 152 east to Interstate 5. At the Stockdale Highway head east to Bakersfield, then take Highway 58 east again to Barstow, where you will follow Interstate 40 to Kingman. This route takes you on sections of the historic Route 66, follow this iconic highway from a bygone era, and step back in time to view roadside attractions are typical of this unique cross country journey.
Once you have traveled along the same route, and though the same countryside as historic Route 66, check out the Arizona Route 66 Museum when you arrive at your destination in Kingman, Arizona. The Mojave Pioneers Historical Society has operated the museum since 2001, and is located in Kingman’s Historic Powerhouse building.
The museum exhibits capture the historical evolution of travel on Route 66 along the 35th parallel in Arizona. Displays include murals, photos, and life-sized dioramas depicting the experiences of travelers on what has been referred to as the “Mother Road”. Prior to becoming a motorway, the path of Route 66 was a trade route for early Native Americans, settlers, and the US Army, and has a long and colorful history waiting to be discovered.
The Powerhouse Building, in which the museum is housed, is a historic building built in two phases between 1907 and 1911, that housed a local power company powering Kingman area mines and the Hoover Dam construction. An Electric Vehicle Museum has been added to the existing Route 66 Museum as of 2014, and features 29 vehicles on loan from the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation in a 3600 square foot space. It's the only one of its kind in the world!
As you travel east on Interstate 40. take a side jaunt down the old historic Route 66, National Trail Highway, to the “Ghost Town” of Amboy, California. It's not entirely deserted, but many empty buildings, and the desert setting, gives this town a post apocalyptic feel.
This town was once a thriving tourist stop on historic Route 66, and several interesting sights remain at Amboy. Stop in for a burger and fries at Roy’s Cafe, where a giant neon sign, which claims to be the most photographed sign on Route 66, stands tall in the eerie desert landscape. The local courtyard has a statue of a white horse rearing, and east of town are two Chinese lion sculptures which are a notable site for photographs. There is also a shoe tree, just east of Roy's Cafe, where visitors have nailed shoes to a now toppled tree, but the desert air has preserved this bizarre roadside attraction, and people still add shoes!
When stopping at Amboy, head just west of town, where a hiking trail leads to the rim of a 250-foot high volcanic cinder cone. It is hot, hot, hot, here, so take lots of water for the trek through the Mojave Desert from the parking lot to the Amboy Crater. If you want to camp with your RV overnight in the area, the Mojave Trails National Monument is just north of Amboy, and the scenic Afton Canyon Campground is about a 90 minute trip north in this wilderness region.
Afton Canyon is a primitive campground with some amenities that accommodates RVs with 22 sites and is beautifully situated along the Mojave River. The campground is a great way to experience this California desert wilderness.
Travel down Interstate 5 to Bakersfield, California, a 250 mile journey, that takes just under four hours. While passing through Bakersfield, check out the last remaining Woolworth's lunch counter, and the thriving antiques district in the downtown area, then head north to Remington Hot Springs on Highway 178, a journey of under an hour, to enjoy the free public hot springs.
These geothermal springs are decorated with vibrant hippie art. The public hot springs feature four pools, including one cold plunge pool. You should be aware this is a remote spot that attracts some free-spirited visitors, and some patrons have been known to swim nude! Also, the water is sulphuric and has a definite odor.
While visiting the Remington Hot Springs you can camp with your RV at Sequoia National Forest, which is named for more than 30 groves of Sequoia trees, and situated at the south end of the Sierra Nevada range, just north of Bakersfield and the hot springs. There are several well-appointed RV campgrounds with amenities and services here.
Before you leave the northern California coastal city of San Jose, be sure to check out the quirky Winchester Mystery House. This mansion was the personal home of Sarah Winchester, widow of the founder of Winchester Repeating Arms, William Wirt Winchester. Shortly after Sarah's husband and infant daughter passed away, Sarah moved to San Jose and initiated the renovation of an eight-room farmhouse. The renovations took place from 1886 until Sarah’s death in 1922, resulting in a sprawling mansion occupying 2400 feet, with 10000 windows, 2000 doors, 160 rooms, 52 skylights, and 47 stairways and fireplaces.
The mansion renovations are a famous local tourist attraction, and tours of the house are available. The mansion is known for its vast, seemingly unplanned architecture and eccentricities, with staircases leading nowhere and obscure passageways. The odd layout is thought to have been inspired by Sarah's belief that her home was haunted by the ghosts of people killed by the Winchester rifles produced by her husband's company. A variety of different length tours are available, and you can book tickets ahead online. It's a must see before departing San Jose.
Now that you've completed your road trip to Kingman, you have arrived in the “Heart of Historic Route 66” and one of Arizona's “Hidden Treasures”. This high altitude desert city has a more forgiving climate than much of the surrounding area, with cooler temperatures. The city has many excellent restaurants, parks, amenities, and museums to discover, and is a charming, friendly city, where visitors will feel welcome. While staying at Kingman, you can set up camp with your RV at several private campgrounds in the area, including the Kingman KOA Journey.
Dispersed, primitive desert camping is available north out of town at Mount Tipton Wilderness, but the camping here is appropriate for backpackers with experience in desert camping and not RV friendly. A trip to this region of Arizona also provides the opportunity to take in the Skywalk West Rim Grand Canyon which is about 70 miles northeast of Kingman, and explore the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.