The 177,309-acre Turtle Mountains Wilderness is in southeastern San Bernardino County southwest of the City of Needles. It is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Needles Field Office. The Turtle Mountains Wilderness is an extremely diverse landscape of sweeping valleys and washes, eroded canyons, cliffs, and peaks. The rock formations vary in color and include black, red, brown, white, and many other hues. This recommended hike visits the Mopah Range, a volcanic portion of the eastern Turtle Mountains. A water source known as Mopah Spring at the base of these mountains is the destination of this hike.
From the metal barricade that marks the start of the route to Mopah Spring, proceed west on an old, closed road that makes its way west and south towards a wash. After about 0.83 miles you may see a mining-related stone structure on the north side of the old road.
The old road ends at the wash after roughly 0.85 miles from the trailhead. Our route simply follows the main wash west. Always follow the largest of the washes as you proceed west. Watch the ground for beautiful crystalline chalcedony roses and pieces of turquoise, just two of the fascinating rocks found here in the Turtle Mountains Wilderness. Plant life includes creosote bush, barrel cactus, bur sage, palo verde, pencil cholla, smoke tree, honey mesquite, and cat’s claw among many other species. As a transition zone between the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, the Turtle Mountains host a wide array of plant and animal life. Wildlife includes bighorn sheep, prairie falcon, golden eagle, deer, bobcat, coyote, roadrunner, mountain lion, and desert tortoise, among others.
As you proceed for a little over 4 miles from the trailhead to Mopah Spring (look for the palm trees that mark the spring), a prominent mountain called Mopah Peak will begin to dominate the western horizon. According to the BLM, the hike to the top of the peak is a “fun desert climb” and offers views that are “among the most spectacular panoramas in the entire desert.”
Mopah Spring is nestled in a canyon at the base of Mopah Peak. It hosts the northernmost native grove of California fan palms in in the state. At the center of this oasis is a small spring that offers a pool of cold, clear water. The pool is the only water for miles around and it is a haven for bighorn sheep and other wildlife. Please do not camp near the spring to avoid disturbing these elusive creatures.
People have been coming to Mopah Spring for millennia, especially the Pipa Aha Macav and Nüwü (Mojave; Southern Paiute and Chemehuevi) peoples whose ancestral territories include the Turtle Mountains Wilderness. Please do not touch any artifacts or rock art that you may encounter in the area. It is illegal to steal or damage artifacts.
To return to the trailhead, simply follow the primary washes east once more for 4 miles. Please note that in the desert it is critical to stay hydrated. Please bring at least one gallon of water per person per day. Also bring sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. Do not expect reliable cell phone service in the Turtle Mountains.
Directions to the trailhead: Vidal Junction is a small community 37 miles south of Needles and 18 miles west of Parker, Arizona. From Vidal Junction and the intersection of U.S. Highway 95 and State Highway 62, follow 95 north 12.2 miles to a dirt road on the west side of the highway. This dirt road is BLM NS 634, called the “Heritage Trail” on Google Maps. Follow BLM NS 634 for 4.3 miles west to a metal barricade that marks the trailhead. A high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for BLM NS 634.
For more information: Call the BLM Needles Field Office at 760-326-7000
Land Acknowledgement: This is the ancestral lands and traditional territories of the Pipa Aha Macav and Nüwü (Mojave; Southern Paiute and Chemehuevi) people.
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.