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Amboy Crater Hike

Amboy Crater Hike

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Amboy Crater Hike
  • Getting to Amboy Crater by Mojave National Preserve
  • Amboy Crater Eruption History
  • Recommendations and Tips for the Hike
Total Distance (?)3.7 miles (6 km)
Hike Time1:30-2 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Easy
Total Ascent (?)400 feet (122m)
Highest Elevation984 feet (300m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark
Park Phone760-326-7000

The Amboy Crater hike takes you across the Mojave Desert, onto an ancient lave field, and then up the 250 foot extinct Amboy cinder cone. It’s a hike like no other, with wide-open views, tons of lava rocks, a circuit around the rim of the volcano, and all in a short 3-mile package right off of historic Route 66. I highly recommend making a stop to experience this fantastic hike.

Where is Amboy Crater?

Amboy Crater is just south of Mojave National Preserve on Route 66, and is just a reasonable detour off of Interstate 40. Use this trailhead address:
Amboy Crater Parking Lot and Trailhead, Amboy, CA 92304

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Look for this sign right off of Route 66 and turn in. You have to drive a few minutes to the end of the road to reach the parking area.
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The parking area is massive, with space for RVs and trailers.
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There is an overlook and several shaded picnic tables around the parking area.
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And there’s a bathroom here as well.

There is no water at the trailhead. Bring water with you to the hike.

When To Hike Amboy Crater

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You need to take the heat seriously here; people who didn’t have died.

Even though this isn’t a long hike, it can be deadly. People who were not prepared have died here, for real. In the warmer months it can routinely hit 110F. This hike is best done between October and April. Always check the nearby temperatures and expect the heat at Amboy Crater to be several degrees warmer than the forecast. Sunrise and sunset are great times to experience the hike.

Gear For the Hike

This is a short hike and you don’t really need anything special to do it. Light hiking gear or fitness clothes work best. Bring at least 1L of water, sun protection, and good shoes to hike on top of the sharp lava rocks with. Watch your step for the normal desert creatures like rattlesnakes and lizards. If you’re scared of heights, having trekking poles to steady yourself at the rim can be helpful. Most folks can walk around the rim without any additional gear though.

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.

Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
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. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

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

My September 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.

Amboy Crater Map

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The trails are well-maintained and well-marked. Where the trail isn’t obviously visible, you’ll see these trail markers.
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.

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

3D Map

Amboy Crater 3d Map
From the parking area we’ll hike across the flat desert and around the side of the volcano, where there is a break in the wall. Once you hike into the break, you just climb up to the rim and hike around, then return the way you came.

Amboy Crater Eruption History

Amboy Crater Eruption
If you look at the area around Amboy Crater from above, you can clearly see the 24 mile-wide lava field from the original eruptions, as well as the darker lava flow from the last eruption, which happened only 10,000 years ago.

There’s some dispute about the timing of the eruptions at Amboy Crater, but the consensus has the first happening around 79,000 years ago, and the last happening 10,000 years ago. Today the volcano is extinct, although there is still tectonic activity here. In 1999 the powerful 7.1 magnitude Hector Mine earthquake’s epicenter was just miles away.

Full disclosure: I was inspired to visit Amboy Crater after watching the 2021 Iceland volcano live cams. Here’s the type of stuff that you can see when watching, and I hope that seeing this gets you as excited to visit the (much cooler) real thing too.

Hike Brief

Amboy Crater Historic Postcard
Amboy Crater used to be a big tourist destination when Route 66 was in its hay-day. This postcard from 1934 incorrectly lists the last activity happening 500 years ago. Photo Pomona Public Library

Amboy Crater Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Amboy Crater Hike Directions 7
The trail starts behind the two picnic benches at the end of the lot. There are some other “trail” signs in the area that are old and no longer correct.
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Follow the concrete path around the benches.
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And then you’ll see the big trail board. The trail continues past the board.
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There’s a little uphill in the beginning.
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The trail is easy to follow as it’s mainly lined with rocks.
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You’ll be surrounded by basalt as you hike through the lava field.
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When you get to the top of the small rise, you’ll see Amboy Crater in front of you.
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There’s a small rest bench with limited shade. Watch your footing around shaded areas around the shelter, which provide a cool refuge for snakes and lizards.
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Keep hiking toward Amboy Crater.
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The trail turns to the right and starts to head uphill. There’s one last shelter before you climb up the cinder cone.
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Hike up the small switchbacks into the gap in the cinder cone.
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When you get to the gap, take the trail up to the left to hike up to the rim. The center of the crater is right in front of you.

Once you’re at the gap, you can go into the middle of the crater. It’s not super-exciting, and I think the rim is better, but if you want to do it, do it here and then come back and continue at the last step. The trail into the middle from here is much safer than scrambling down the side of the cone on the other trails.

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You’ve got a small climb up to the rim.
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And soon you’re at the rim!
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Enjoy the spectacular views from the rim in all directions. In the distance is Granite Peak at 6,761 feet. It’s one of the four mountain ranges in the Mojave and is very remote.
Amboy Crater Hike Directions 22
From the rim you’ll also get great views into the middle of the crater. The crater is about 0.25 miles across.
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Take the trail around the rim of the crater and complete the circle, staying up on the rim and avoiding the side trails into the crater.
Amboy Crater Hike Directions 24
When you get around the whole rim, you’ll come back to the gap in the cinder cone where you arrived. We’re going to hike down there and head back the way we came.
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At the end of the rim you’ll see a series of switchbacks heading back down.
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After you descend the switchbacks, you’ll arrive at the junction where you entered the cinder cone. Make the left and head back on the trail you hiked in on. That’s the hike!

This guide last updated on May 20, 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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