Red Mountain Hike (Mojave Desert)
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||5.5 miles (8.9 km)|
|Hike Time||3-5 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,900 feet (579m)|
|Highest Elevation||5,261 feet (1604m)|
|Fees & Permits||None|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||BLM Ridgecrest Field Office|
|Weather & Forecast||Latest Conditions|
|Stay Safe||Copy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.|
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?
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:
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:
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.
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.
Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI
Altra Lone Peak 6
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. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
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
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 2022.
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.
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.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
Here’s what I use. 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 7 or Epix. 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.
- The drive in through the town of Red Mountain is, let’s say, “interesting.” The area used to be an old wild west mining town, with three separate discovery booms, the last of which was silver in 1919. In the early 1900s this boomtown was much different, filled with miners, serving booze during prohibition, offering a 9-hold golf course for big wigs, and sporting a large community of prostitutes. Its reputation got so bad that locals changed the name from “Osdick” to “Red Mountain” in 1929 to try and leave the earlier chapter behind. The silver mine was one of the most productive in the country. Unfortunately a lasting legacy is arsenic contamination (used to process minerals). Arsenic levels are thousands of times higher here than they should be, making the water unsafe and leading to numerous other health issues for locals.
- Red Mountain is a cone in the Big Pine volcanic field, active from 1.2 million years ago, up until about 17,000 years ago. The volcanic field is too old to be still considered a threat, but there are earthquakes in the area. If you want to visit a neat volcanic area, check out Fossil Falls a bit to the north on 395.
- There used to be a structure at the summit. There’s a concrete base, metal framing, and some yellow gas tanks. I’ve looked everywhere for info on what was here. If you happen to know about it, please contact me.
Red Mountian Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
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.
This guide last updated on April 21, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.