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Red Mountain Hike Mojave Desert

Red Mountain Hike (Mojave Desert)

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to hike Red Mountain (Mojave Desert)
  • Getting to the Trailhead for Red Mountain
  • Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance (?)5.5 miles (8.9 km)
Hike Time3-5 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)1,900 feet (579m)
Highest Elevation5,261 feet (1604m)
Fees & PermitsNone
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)BLM Ridgecrest Field Office
Park Phone760-384-5400
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The Red Mountain hike, although “normal” on paper, really packs a punch. Red Mountain, a volcanic cone rising over 2000 feet above the surrounding Mojave Desert, has steep slopes, harsh terrain, and a challenging trail. And with great effort comes great payoff: the summit offers sweeping views and an interesting history.

Where is Red Mountain?

Red Mountain Hike Directions 2
The volcanic Red Mountain dominates the skyline for miles as you drive towards it.

First of all, don’t just type in “red mountain” and go. There are 96 named “red mountains” in the USA, and 18 in California. And it gets even trickier because the area where you will park is on a dirt BLM (Bureau of Land Management) road. Getting to the trailhead can be a challenge, use these initial coordinates, which are right off of historic Rt 395 in Red Mountain, CA:
35.367173, -117.619459

Once you get to that spot, you’re going to follow the dirt roads to a small parking area where you can start hiking. I’ve included the track to the parking area in the map below, and you can also use these coordinates:
35.36555, -117.60978

Red Mountain Drive
It’s about 0.75 miles from 395 to the area where I recommend parking (the red line). If you have this GPX track loaded on your GPS, use that to navigate to the parking area. A traditional (street) mapping app might take you somewhere else.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 1
The drive in is mostly sand and gravel, with a few rutted sections that can be crossed by going slow.

The road to the parking area is sand with some washboarding, but doable in a sedan if you go slow over the bumpy parts. Otherwise you can park at the initial coordinates off of 395 and walk in. There is another trailhead listed in earlier Sierra Club guides, but I found the road very challenging in anything non-4×4.

Red Mountain Hike Directions 4
Where I park isn’t an official parking area; there aren’t any out here. It’s just a nice spot off the road to clear any OHV through traffic. You can certainly park anywhere else that you’d like to that doesn’t block the roads.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 5
Just above the parking area is a mining structure.

There’s no fee to park here, and also no facilities. This is also BLM land, so you are allowed to camp and overnight pretty much anywhere.

Gear For the Hike

This is a rugged hike in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The landscape is harsh and unforgiving, the terrain is rugged. Bring a full hiking kit including your essentials, sun protection, and at least 2L of water. Trekking poles are a must on the extremely steep slopes.

This is the desert. When temps are high, conditions are extreme and deadly. Save this one for times when the forecast high is below 80F.

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Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Garmin inReach Mini
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI | Backcountry
My Review & Guide

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon | Black Diamond
Z-Poles: MacPac | REI | Amazon | Black Diamond

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated November 2021.

My November 2021 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Red Mountain Trail Maps

The trails on this hike are a mixed bag. In the beginning, you’ll be on old mining roads, now used by OHVs. When you leave the roads, the trail is faint, non-official, and sometimes bifurcates. I highly recommend bringing the GPX track loaded onto your GPS unit or phone to cross-check where you are. The track below (and in the GPX) is one that I hiked. There are other trails that will split and rejoin, so if you find something solid and it’s going in the right direction, stick with it over the GPX file.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your GPS, navigation skills, or following faint trails, you should probably give this hike a skip.

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Red Mountain Elevation
On paper this hike doesn’t look too bad. But the harsh conditions, steep slopes, and faint trails make it tougher than it looks. Expect a slower pace than a trail with comparable stats.

3D Map

Red Mountain 3d Map
The first part of the hike gets you up to the ridge on the old volcanic peak. Then you follow the ridge over a false peak, down, and then up to the Red Mountain summit.

Hike Brief

Red Mountain Hike Directions 40
Normally I’m not a fan of scrawled initials in the wild, but this one, from October 22, 1908, is an exception. It was put there by Frank Lee Hess, who surveyed California in the early 1900s looking for mineral deposits.  There is also graffiti from USMC visitors in 1907.

Red Mountian Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

Red Mountain Hike Directions 6
Head to the intersection where the hike starts (from the parking area) and make the left.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 3
There are many OHV roads crisscrossing each other. We’re going to stay on RM 108 until we get up to the saddle. When in doubt, look for these signs.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 7
After the turn, keep left on RM 108.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 8
And start gently climbing, again, staying on RM 108.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 9
You’ll see some trails leading off to the left. Stay straight on RM 108.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 10
Now the trail gets steeper as we climb towards the saddle ahead.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 11
If in doubt, there are regular RM 108 signs along the route to the saddle.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 12
Off to the left is a big red dome, which we will be next to when we gain the saddle.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 13
We’ve got another steep and rocky section of climbing.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 14
Almost there.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 15
Avoid the road that goes off to the right and keep heading up toward the saddle.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 16
One last steep climb and we’ll be at the saddle. You can see the steepness of the trail ahead.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 17
At about 1.25 miles you’ll reach a saddle with views to the east. Go straight.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 18
And then make the quick right turn and continue uphill.

Just before the dirt road, there’s a single track that you can also take up the hill. I’ve marked it in the GPX file and map. I generally take it, but it can be very hard to spot. The road is steep but easy to find.

Red Mountain Hike Directions 19
This road is incredibly steep, almost not walkable.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 20
After a little breather and a downhill, you’ll have another last section of uphill.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 21
And then you reach a big clearing that, according to USGS topographic maps, sometimes sports a small pond. Go straight through and uphill.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 22
Okay, this part can get tricky. We’re leaving the roads behind. Just before you crest the last hill, look for a pile of rocks and a faint trail on the left.
Red Mountain Saddle Turn
Here’s where the turn is on the map. You pass the dry pond, go uphill, but not all the way.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 23
After you turn, you’ll have a steep climb up the ridge. It’s steep, and there is a trail, but it can be hard to see. There’s not a ton of foot traffic around here. If you look closely in this picture you can see it going straight up the middle.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 24
The climb is a bit of a “choose your own adventure” and the trail often splits and reforms. If you look closely though, you can always see a trail.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 25
Some sections require climbing over the volcanic rock, but there are no sections where you are doing intense scrambles or bouldering. It’s all Class 2 or less.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 26
When you get to the top, the trail turns right and follows the ridge on the western side.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 27
The trail becomes easier to spot.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 28
And then the lava rock thins out, leaving the trail among shrubs.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 29
This is another section where the trail can be hard to follow and bifurcates often. There are cairns here to help you along the way.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 30
When you reach the summit of the false peak, you’ll see the proper summit ahead.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 31
Hike downhill along the ridge.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 32
And then climb up along the left (east) side of the ridge.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 33
Similar to the earlier sections, the trail can be tricky to see, but there is a route.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 34
And then you’ll clear the rocky section and see the summit.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 35
As you approach the summit you’ll see the cross.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 36
And here you are! 5261 feet above sea level.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 37
You’ll see the graffiti and wreckage I mentioned earlier around the summit area.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 39
To the west you can see the Sierras and Owens Peak, the highest point in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains at 8,452 feet.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 38
To the north is Telescope Peak, and the flat-shaped mountain ahead is Pilot Knob, south of Telescope Peak.
Red Mountain Hike Directions 41
And that’s it. From here, get your trekking poles ready, and start heading down the steep slopes back to the beginning. And if you don’t have trekking poles, pray at the cross for help in getting down without falling.

This guide last updated on October 23, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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