Amboy Crater: Hiking to the Top of a 250ft Extinct Volcano off Route 66

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Hike A Volcano off Route 66 known as Amboy Crater

Two things I absolutely love: the desert and Route 66. Throw hiking in the mix and you now have my full attention.

Right off Route 66 I discovered a unique desert hike unlike any other we’ve done before. Did you know there’s a trail that takes you through a lava field and all the way to the top of an extinct volcano?! If that doesn’t sound epic enough to you then I don’t know what is.

Find all this and more at Amboy Crater just south of the Mojave National Preserve.

What Is Amboy Crater?

Amboy Crater is a 250 ft tall extinct volcanic cinder cone in the Mojave Desert. It’s easy to spot from Route 66 provided it’s one of the tallest landmarks among the flat desert landscape.

Estimated to be around 6,000 years old, this cinder cone is almost perfectly symmetrical with a diameter of about 1,500 ft across. The last volcanic eruption at Amboy Crater took place around 10,000 years ago with no predictions of any future activity.

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Where Is Amboy Crater?

Amboy Crater is located between Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, about 1 hr and 15 minutes from the city of Barstow.

It’s incredible the number of times we have stayed in motels in the city of Barstow. It’s basically the most convenient spot for access to any of the surrounding desert hikes. Not the fanciest of cities, but it has more than enough if you’re looking for food, gas, groceries, or general stores.

Plus, did you know Barstow homes the original Del Taco?! Always a must stop when we are in the area.

Hike Details

Keep in mind, Amboy Crater is fairly easy to complete as long as you’re hiking outside of the summer months.

  • Distance: 3 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 984ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate (mainly flat except for a steep incline starting at the base of the volcano)
  • Time to Complete: 2 hours
  • No shade -bring sunscreen and/or hats for sun protection
  • Avoid hiking past late spring and before the fall season as temperatures typically reach over 100°F during the day
  • Bring plenty of water – a must for any desert hike
  • No cell service

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The trailhead to Amboy Crater is located in the one and only parking lot of the area. Exit Crater Rd from Route 66 and follow it until you reach the parking lot at the end of the road. This parking area has (hole toilet) restrooms, picnic tables, an overlook, and a few informative signs explaining the history of the crater.

If hiking isn’t your thing, you can view Amboy Crater from one of the overlooks set up near the parking lot.

Although, to really get a feel of this incredible volcano, we highly recommend going further and hiking to the top. Be sure to plan ahead and hike smart – brush up on the 10 essentials for hiking before setting out on a new trail.

A Rocky Beginning Through The Lava Fields

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Majority of the trail takes place on the desert floor along the rocky lava field. The first mile of the trail is fairly flat taking you along a large amount of black volcanic rock.

The view as you head towards the base of the crater doesn’t change too much as it’s basically a straight shot through the desert. The hike along the desert floor up unto the base of the crater is around 1.1 mile in length.

Despite the consistent scenery, it was still amazing to be hiking through this type of terrain. It’s not every day we get to hike through an ancient lava field!

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Be Aware of The Seasons and Avoid Hiking During Summer

We hiked this trail during March with the temperature reaching around 85°F. Even in these conditions it still was a little too hot for our taste. Probably due to hiking under direct sunlight with virtually no available shade.

Along the trail we saw two benches with shade enclosures, but still not nearly enough to save you if you’re hiking in extremely hot weather.

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Please DO NOT hike here during the summer months! Unfortunately there are have been many cases of hikers overheating and some even dying along the trail from hiking in temperatures over 100°F. Hiking in temperatures above 90°F can even be risky. Bring plenty of water and sun protection since there is close to no shade along the trail.

Not sure how much water to bring? Reference our guide on how to stay hydrated while hiking and learn how much water to bring with you on the trail.

Climbing To The Top of Amboy Crater

As we approached the base of Amboy Crater I surprisingly started to feel pretty tired. I’m assuming it was from the relentless sun beating on my skin. Nonetheless, I was still excited to make the trek up to the tip top of the crater.

Follow the trail around the back end of the volcano to start the climb up. No switchbacks! Just a straight shot up to the top.

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Surprisingly the climb up wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I normally don’t do well with steep incline, especially mixed with desert heat, but this was very tolerable moving at a slow pace. After about 5 minutes we reached the inside of the cinder cone.

Enjoy Panoramic Views of The Mojave Desert

Once inside, pick any of the 4 pathways to get to the top. It’s just a little more incline from here to reach the outer edge of the volcano. We chose the right trail and circled Amboy Crater counter-clockwise.

This small trek up to the top was way worth it! The views from up here were outstanding. You see full panoramic views of the beautiful Mojave desert stretching all the way to the horizon. We could faintly see tiny structures in the distance from some of the nearby towns. I wonder if you can see the crater from these nearby towns?

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It’s not very common to see sprawling views of the desert valley from such a high vantage point, considering the desert is mostly flat. It was amazing to see the desert from a new perspective.

Trek Cautiously Along The Edge

Walking along the top of Amboy Crater was my favorite part. Some parts are more wide than others making it easy to walk along. Be careful as a few sections were very narrow and more rocky. Nothing too hard to conquer as long as you watch your footing.

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It was great feeling the cool desert breeze from up here. A huge difference in temperature compared to what we were feeling on the ground.

After circling the entire circumference, head back down one of the 4 paths to the center and back down to the ground the same way you came up.

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An Epic Volcano Hike in the Middle of the Desert

For a moderately short hike, the 360° vantage point atop Amboy Crater was definitely worth the trip. Enjoy a hike through a historic lava field and ascend Amboy Crater to see sweeping views of the desert below.

If you’re in the area, either at Mojave National Preserve or taking a road trip down Route 66, you should definitely add this volcanic hike to your itinerary. Fairly easy for most to complete, just be sure to bring proper sun protection and plenty of water.

Now I can finally cross a volcano hike off my list! After this one, I’m pumped to explore the many others on Earth.

California is full of incredible desert hikes, this being just one of them. For more hikes like this, check out our post on our 8 best desert spots in the southern California desert.

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If you’re looking for another unique desert excursions, visit the abandoned healing center of Zzyzx Road in the Mojave Desert. You can find this health spa on the northern end of the Mojave National Preserve near Baker, CA.

Be sure to also check out this list of Best Route 66 stops in California from travel blogger Josh, of California Through My Lens, for even more great locations along America’s Mother Road.

Have you had the chance to hike a volcano? Which one did you complete? Share with us in the comments below!

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About the Author

Shelby Kirk is the co-founder, editor, and author of We Who Roam. With a strong love for nature and adventure travel, she hopes to inspire others to get outside and explore our natural playground that we call home.

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting read. Haven’t hiked a volcano, but have been to Capulin National Monument which was a volcano in New Mexico once. The crater wasn’t as big as the one in your pics though.

    1. Thank you! It was definitely a new experience for us as well. We’ve never heard of Capulin National Monument before! Weird as we were just in New Mexico too! Will have to check that out next time we are in the area.

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