We stayed at the Trona Pinnacles BLM in April 2020.
Our Next Stop: Silver Canyon BLM Bishop, CA – Camping Review & Info
Location: 35.617399, -117.373611
Camping Limit: 14 Day
Amenities: Vault Toilet
Town: Trona, CA –13.4 miles, Ridgecrest, CA – 23 miles
Gas Station: Trona Texaco – 11.5 miles
Dump Station & Potable Water: Desert Empire RV Park (Ridgecrest, CA) – 22 miles ($10 Self-Pay Dump Station & Potable Water), or Bertrand’s High Desert Mobile on the other side of Ridgecrest, CA with a $10 self-pay dump station & potable water. You can stay there with full hookups for only $25 a night.
Grocery Store: Pioneer Point Market (Trona, CA) – 15 miles, Walmart (Ridgecrest, CA) – 24 miles
Cell Phone Service
Verizon – Good
AT&T – No Service
Trona Pinnacles– 0 miles
Fish Rocks – 8.4 miles
Ballarat (Ghost Town) – 38 miles
Cudahy’s Old Dutch Cleanser Mine – 45 miles
Red Rock Canyon State Park – 51 miles
Death Valley National Park – 58 miles
Alabama Hills – 104 miles
Joshua Tree National Park – 188 miles
Sequoia National Park – 193 miles
Camping At Trona Pinnacles, CA
The Road In
The Trona Pinnacles are unlike anything else I’ve ever seen and an amazing place to visit as well as camp. We enjoyed our time there but there are a few things we wish we would have known before taking our 29 foot Heartland Prowler travel trailer there.
First off, there are two roads you can take to the Trona Pinnacles and no matter which one you take it’s going to be 5 miles of some deeply rutted dirt roads. The entrance to the north is the most common route for regular travelers and RVers to take. The southern route had a lot of dirt bikers and OVH vehicles driving on it and couldn’t have been much better than the northern road.
Expect it to take at least 30-45 minutes if you are driving an RV or towing a trailer once you pass this sign. The nice thing is that you can see the Trona Pinnacles the entire way if you enter from the north so there’s no guessing about how far you are from them. There’s a train track that runs south from the nearby mineral plant which goes all the way past the Pinnacles. You will cross it once after about a mile.
After crossing the railroad track just know it will be really difficult to turn around until you reach the pinnacles. The road runs through a dry lake bed that was once part of the Searles Lake and it’s nothing but slippery soft clay you will get stuck in if you leave the road. There are lots of very deep ruts and it doesn’t look like the road has been worked on for years.
We camped there for 2 weeks, during the last week it rained heavily for 2 days. We knew it was going to be tough to get out even after a few sunny days but we wanted to experience the Trona Pinnacles after a rainstorm and explore the washes. (click here to check out the rainy day at the Trona Pinnacles post)
Even 3 days after the rain the road was really bad and full of water. We did make it out ok but it was stressful. If you aren’t used to driving in mud and sand make sure you plan your trip to the Trona Pinnacles well after and not during rain.
If you can get past the terrible road the rest of the Trona Pinnacles experience is pretty awesome.
There are tons of roads going everywhere all around the Trona Pinnacles, and most of them are not RV or even passenger car friendly. When you pass the entrance sign you drive up a small hill and get an amazing view of the pinnacles. There are some information signs and google maps wants you to keep driving to the right of them. You can take this road but it will lead you away from the main camping area.
Most people take the road to the left and so did we. You will go down a fairly steep hill and you have another choice to drive left or right. If you head right you will end up in the large parking/camping area that has a vault toilet.
There are three main camping areas at the Trona Pinnacles. The first and the one that is the most big rig friendly is the large parking/camping area by the vault toilet right at the base of the first group of pinnacles. The road getting to them is good and even after the rainstorm no water had collected there. The vault toilet wasn’t in bad shape either, there was even some toilet paper in it which is usually hard to find in campground toilets in remote areas like the Trona Pinnacles.
You can reach the other camping areas from here but the road is pretty bad and it’s easier to take the route that starts back at the entrance road. If you take the left road instead of the right one when you go down the steep hill you will be taken through the main group of pinnacles and end up at the other two main camping areas. There are some pretty great views of the wash and other groups of pinnacles from there and there were quite a few RVs and travel trailers that had already taken these spots when we arrived.
Because these main spots were taken we had to do a little searching for an open camping area. A lot of the places around the pinnacles are marked as restricted no motor vehicle areas and no camping is allowed. We had to drive further south and were able to find this amazing camping spot halfway up a hill that was to the south of the main group of pinnacles. It was pretty difficult to back into and it took a long time to get the trailer level but having the amazing view of the pinnacles that we did and being away from most of the daily visitor traffic made it worth it in the end.
As far as RV and travel trailer access these are the only camping spots at Trona Pinnacles. If you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle and camp with a tent there are way more options.
There are more pinnacles located across the large wash towards the east. Before the rain, it was easy to drive across it with our truck but it was not do-able with our travel trailer. If you have a truck camper or are a tent camper with a 4-wheel drive vehicle you can easily get across the wash and camp in the other group of pinnacles. There were tons of great camping spots over there and we saw quite a few tent campers coming and going from that area.
What It’s Like Camping At The Trona Pinnacles
We camped at the Trona Pinnacles the first two weeks of April 2020 and while there were a lot of people camping there when we drove in, most of them left the next day. In the two weeks were camping there were a ton of people driving in and out in cars, motorcycles, and side-by-sides. If you’re looking for the ultimate peaceful and tranquil getaway, the Trona Pinnacles may not be the best place for you.
The weekends were worse than the weekdays but there were still people driving in and out every day (except for the two rainy days). On top of all of that the Trona Pinnacles are part of the Navy/Airforce training grounds. About 3 times a week low flying fighter jets were flying around the pinnacles and sometimes right over the top of us. One day there was even a Navy helicopter dropping people off and flying around all day doing what we assumed were training exercises.
All of it was very noisy but fun to watch.
There’s also the train I mentioned earlier. When we saw that the tracks run close to the pinnacles we were a little bit worried about the train keeping us up at night. Luckily while we were there the train only came through about twice a day and it wasn’t super noisy. You can see it off in the distance in the picture below.
As in every desert, you should expect some beautiful sunny days. In April the highs were getting into the 80’s and the nightly lows weren’t too bad. There were some amazing calm mornings and a few gorgeous evenings. But most of the time it was very windy, which is common for springtime. Expect some very high winds and if you are a tent camper make sure you check the forecast before heading out to the pinnacles.
We saw many a brave tent camper try and stick it out but end up leaving on some of the more windy evenings which turned into even windier nights. The day before the rain came everyone packed up and left and we were the only people camping at the Trona Pinnacles for those two days.
To read more about the rainy days and the large rivers that were formed at the Trona Pinnacles check out this post here.
The Trona Pinnacles
The Trona Pinnacles are in the top three of my favorite camping places of all time. It’s so beautiful there and there’s a lot of things to do and see. You can mountain bike around the pinnacles and if you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle there are lots of roads you can take to explore everything.
There are tons of roads you can hike down but just keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. There are two species that live around the Trona Pinnacles. Along with the snakes, there are tons of lizards running around everywhere and if you go in the springtime you will be able to see the desert bloom.
There’s a small cave you can even check out. It’s located at the base of the pinnacle closest to the vault toilet. It isn’t deep and it’s easy to walk to.
As you may have read or even seen there are quite a few music videos and scenes in movies filmed here. It’s fun to watch them and try and figure out where they were filming. Musical artists like Lady Gaga and Rihanna have music videos that were filmed here and popular movies like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and even scenes from the TV show West World were filmed at the Trona Pinnacles.
There’s a rich history to the place and it’s magical to spend time there. The pinnacles themselves have some amazing patterns and textures. They were formed after the Ice Age when huge a sea covered the Searles Valley. The combination of the calcium in the ground of the Searles Valley and the Alkaline in the water mixed to form the pinnacles which are bumpy and have a lot of texture.
They formed anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 years ago and are now a National Natural Landmark.
My Camping Review of the Trona Pinnacles
We loved the Trona Pinnacles and I highly recommend camping there or at least taking a few hours to visit them. Sure the road is pretty bad but most roads to beautiful camping places are. I do wish there were a few more designated camping spots so everyone can with RVs and trailers had an easier time finding a good place to camp but it seems like there’s still room for everyone.
If you like to experience amazing natural formations and don’t mind sharing the area with lots of travelers passing through, dirt bikers, OHVers, and the occasional fighter jet then you are going to love the Trona Pinnacles. If you have Verizon you will be able to get decent cell service and the town of Ridgecrest, CA isn’t far away. It’s a decent sized town with lots of stores, restaurants, and museums to check out.
So if you are ever in the area make sure you take a few hours to check out the Trona Pinnacles. Just make sure it’s not going to rain while you’re there.
Have any questions about camping at the Trona Pinnacles in California? Leave a comment below.