A field of cinder cones stands out dramatically from the surrounding Mojave Desert between the city of Baker and Kelso Depot Visitor Center in Mojave National Preserve. Within the lava field is a short trail leading to a tube formed long ago by molten lava. A ladder takes hikers down into the tube where skylights (holes in the rock ceiling) illuminate a subterranean world.
From the trailhead, hike 0.18 miles up a rough jeep trail. Turn right at the first junction onto a single-track trail, and continue 0.1 miles past two holes in the ground to the tube entrance. An impressive metal ladder has been cemented in place to enable access to the tube below.
Descend the metal steps and turn left, climbing down boulders that once made up the ceiling of the tube. Beyond the boulders, the bottom of the tube is flat and dusty. Make your way beneath a low hanging ceiling and enter the main chamber. A flashlight is a handy thing to have through this dark crossing.
The ceiling rises and the tube opens up on a shadowy room exposed by a spotlight of sunlight. The chamber is only a couple hundred feet long, but is a place worth lingering in. Explore the walls of dark hardened lava and take pictures in the dramatic lighting. As an added bonus, the lava tube is a great place to escape the heat up on the desert surface.
Mojave National Preserve does not change an entrance fee and no permit is required to hike Lava Tube Trail, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Kelso Depot Visitor Center, head west 15 miles on Kelbaker Road. Turn right on the unmarked Aiken Mine Road (the turnoff is 19 miles form Baker for those coming in the opposite direction). Drive north on Aiken Mine Road past water tanks, corrals, and cinder cones. Take it slow over this rough road, which should be passable for most vehicles. After 4.5 miles, turn left at a fork in the road, following a sign for the lava tube. Drive another quarter mile to the parking area at the trailhead.
Trailhead address: Unnamed Road off Aiken Mine Road, Mojave National Preserve, CA 92309
Trailhead coordinates: 35.21378, -115.7532 (35° 12′ 49.6″N 115° 45′ 11.5″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding California Desert trails and campgrounds.
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This short 0.6-mile hike drops below the surface into an old lava tube.
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|New York Peak
This 7 to 9-mile round trip hike summits the highest point of the New York Range in the northeast corner of the preserve.
|Rock Spring Loop Trail
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|Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Trail
This 1.5-mile loop takes visitors through a landscape of pocketed rocks. Ringbolts allow fun passage through narrow canyons.
|Fountain PeakThis 5-mile off trail trek summits a peak with commanding views over the Providence Mountains.
This 8.5-mile hike summits a 6,365-foot peak in the Granite Mountains.
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|Hikes in the California Desert
Explore more trails in Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Mojave National Preserve.
|Lava River Cave in Newberry National Volcanic Monument (Oregon)
This underground hike explores a lava tube south of Bend that is filled with fascinating volcanic features.
|Guler Ice Cave in Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Washington)
This short hike goes underground to explore an old lava tube with frozen stalactites and stalagmites, plus other interesting cave features.
|Trail of Two Forests in Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument (Washington)
This short nature trail tours a landscaped that was transformed by a molten lava flow. For extra fun, crawl through a 50-foot long lava tube beneath the trail.
|Ape Cave in Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument (Washington)
This adventurous underground hike travels through one of the longest lava tubes in the world.
|Caves Trail in Crates of the Moon National Monument (Idaho)
This 1.6 mile travels above and below the surface, exploring lava tubes in the Great Rift Lava Flow.
|Kalahuipua'a Trail and Fishponds Loop (Hawaii)
This action-packed 1.7-mile hike explores a lava field with a lava tube shelter and impressive fishponds along a gorgeous coastline.
|Kaumana Caves (Hawaii)
This underground hike explores lava tubes on the edge of Hilo, created by an 1881 eruption of Mauna Loa.
|Mojave National Preserve
There are a few campgrounds and endless roadside camping within the preserve.