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Las Vegas to San Diego by bicycle - the Desert Sessions

USA | Tuesday, 1 January 2008 | Views [6361] | Comments [3]

Anna and Joshua trees

Anna and Joshua trees

Las Vegas to San Diego - by bicycle

This is a description of our route from Las Vegas to San Diego. We started from Las Vegas on the 4th of december 2008, and arrived in San Diego on the 12th of december 2008. It would be possible to ride it quite a bit faster, but there is a lot to see and do and we found we needed some time to explore. We had heard very little about this area, and it turned out to be one of the most beautiful parts of our trip from Alaska to the Mexican border. We especially liked the Mojave desert preserve, Joshua Tree NP, the Salton Sea and the Anza Borrego desert (so the whole way really....)

There are quite a few places with water supply and many options for wild camping. We carried a 10 liter water bag a few afternoons to be able to wild camp away from services. You do need to think ahead of your supplies. I think this route would be very hard in summer, but in winter the temperature was comfortable for riding and camping. The roads were generally quiet with reasonable shoulder. There are almost no flat stretches, but the climbs and descends are gradual, and always long (15-25 miles). From Julian onwards the roads are very busy, but I guess an unavoidable evil to enter San Diego.


If you'd like more info contact us via our website www.thefuegoproject.com 

Alister and Anna

Las Vegas to Primm

distance: 45 miles

We took Las Vegas Boulevard heading south. The road was initially very busy, but with good shoulder. After some time Las Vegas Boulevard parallels Interstate 15, and becomes very quiet and relaxed. The first 10 miles or so are gradual uphill, then gradually down to Jean, and further down to Primm. Primm has all services. We stayed in 'Whiskey Pete's' in a very comfortable room for $20.

Primm to Kelso (and 7 miles beyond)

distance: 55 miles

From Primm one has to ride on the shoulder of the Interstate 15. The shoulder is wide. After 7 miles the road starts climbing gradually, then steepens. After 9 miles (from Primm) a huge roadwork project starts. Lanes get diverted and the shoulder becomes a truck lane. To us it looked too dangerous to attempt this section. The road workers also didn't allow us to continue, but were more than happy to transport us and our bikes 6 miles further, just over the pass. Roadworks will continue until 2010.

From the pass (elev 4700 ft) to Valley wells (elev 3900 ft) and the Cima Road junction it's 10 miles downhill. At the junction is a gas station (open year round) with water and basic supplies. From the junction we took the Cima Road, 17 miles on a very quiet road, with absolutely stunning surroundings (highest density of Joshua Trees in the South West).

The first 11 miles are gently up, the last 6 miles to Cima down.

In Cima no services, the store is closed.

From Cima we took the Kelso-Cima road. Kelso is 20 miles continuous downhill from Cima. There is no shoulder, and the road is not so busy, but the traffic drives very fast. The surface is at times a bit rough.

At Kelso is an information centre, open 9-5 year round, except Christmas day. There is water, but no camping. There is primitive camping at Kelso sand dunes trailhead, 4 miles off the road 8 miles south of Kelso.

We wild camped about 7 miles south of Kelso in one of the many washes.

N.B. Different maps show different minor roads. Some show a road turning east off the Interstate 15 just before the pass (Nipton Road), which has a turnoff to Cima (Morning star mine road). This route appears a bit shorter on the map. Due to the roadworks, this road is hard to access if you are riding south. Also, this road is a lot busier than the Cima road. 

Kelso Sanddunes to Sheep Hole Pass

distance: 59 miles

From Kelso visitor centre to Granite Pass is 14.5 miles gradual uphill. (so only 8.5 from where we camped).

After the pass the road undulates for 3 miles, then downhill for 20 miles. The road crosses Interstate 40 and then ends on the route 66. From the crossing it's 3 flat miles (or 6?) to Amboy. Amboy has a gas station with toilets, no potable water (and not filterable), but sells bottled water (6x500 ml bottles for $5). They do not sell food, but have cans of pepsi and root beer. No lodging.

After Amboy we turned south on the Amboy Road towards the Sheep Hole Pass. This road is flat for 15 miles, then climbs 10 miles to Sheep Hole Pass. We wild camped just beyond the pass in a wash. 

Sheep Hole Pass to 'Belle campground' (Joshua Tree NP).

distance: 38 miles

From Sheep Hole Pass 6 miles downhill, then 18 miles slight uphill gradient to 29 Palms.

In 29 Palms all services. Busy, we found the town unpleasant, with mostly soldiers/ veterans.

From 29 Palms visitor centre we took the El Dorado Mine Road through Joshua Tree NP. This road climbs up for 11 miles. Just before the top is 'Belle' campground (White Tank campground is 2 miles further). Both campgrounds do not have water, but are gorgeous. At Belle many Joshua Trees and granite boulders, at White Tank some cool granite rock formations that you can scramble through.

'Belle' to Cottonwood campground.

distance: 29 miles

From Bella to Cholla cactus garden downhill, then mostly flat, last 10 miles to Cottonwood Springs uphill. At Cottonwood is a visitor centre with running water/ toilets. No other services. There's a beautiful stand of California Fan Palms a short hike from the campground.

Cottonwood - Salton City

distance: ? 50 miles

From the visitor centre it's 7 miles steep downhill to Interstate 10. We crossed the Interstate and continued on Box Canyon Road, 23 miles downhill to Mecca. The road has no shoulder but was very quiet.

In Mecca: water and grocery shops/ gas station.

From Mecca we took the very busy 195 (26 S?), wide shoulder, lots of glass, flat gradient, friendly truckdrivers, strong winds.

In Salton City all services, incl library with free internet, but very small and crowded (open mondays and wednesdays). We stayed at Westshore RV park for 10 dollars (incl shower). 

Salton City - Borrego Springs - Yaqui Well 

distance: 47 miles

From Salton City we took S22, gradual uphill for 28 miles to Borrego Springs. Awesome desert, very dry, no shoulder, quite busy. In Borrego Springs all services, incl RV parks. From Borrego Springs we took the S3 (Yaqui Pass Road), gradual uphill to slightly steep, wide shoulder for most of the way. Yaqui Pass is 12 miles from Borrego Springs. There is primitive camping on top (Yaqui Pass campground, no water), and a developed campground 1.5 miles after the pass, with water and tables (Tamarisk Grove campground and ranger station). Opposite this campground is a primitive campground (Yaqui Well), where you can pitch for free, no water, no tables, pit toilet.

N.B. From Borrego Springs there is another road over the mountains (Montezuma Valley Road), which bypasses Julian and later joins the 79. It looked very steep from Borrego Springs and it was too late in the day for us to start it. Might be a quieter alternative.

Yaqui Well to Ramona (Dos Picos County Park)

distance: 47 miles

From Yaqui Wells we took the 78 (Banner Grade), which climbs gradually 15 miles to Banner (water for sale, RV park). The last 4 miles to Julian are steep and very beautiful. There is no shoulder, but the traffic is light.

Julian has grocery stores and many cafes, known for their apple pies. They have a good public library with free internet. 

From Julian the 76 descends 22 miles to Ramona, a windy narrow road with no shoulder and heavy fast traffic.

Ramona has all services. There is no campground in town, but 5 miles past town is a pretty county park 'Dos Picos' with sites for $15, incl shower (a friendly ranger only charged us $5, so you might get lucky). 

Ramona - San Diego 

distance: 41 miles

From Ramona we took the 67 to Poway, busy but good shoulder. We turned right on the S4. This is a steep, windy road with no shoulder and heavy fast traffic, not a good option. From Poway there are bike lanes al the way to downtown San Diego. We took a bike lane along the Interstate 15 to Miramesa, then on Miramar Road, Kearny Ville Road, Clairemont Mesa Rd, Convoy Rd, Linda Vista Rd. Linda Vista brings you downtown.



I plan to do pretty much the same road but from Amboy to Vegas, and I would like to know if there is any change at Amboy and Kelso (Gas station at Amboy and Information center (with water) at Kelso) ?


  Romain Jul 11, 2013 7:04 AM


first of all congratulations for your trip. Next Christmas I'm planning a trip form Las Vegas to San Diego . I travel with my family (me, my wife, and two children of 11 and 6). Could you give me more information about your trip. Do you have the altimetry? I can cycle 60-70 km per day. Can I find motels or any places for the nights? Is the route safe for me and my family? Do you have any suggestion for us?
Thank you in advance for your availability.

  Alessandro Sep 28, 2017 10:22 PM


Just now, I completed a similar route bicycling between Las Vegas to San Diego in December 2018. I can recapitulate a lot of the above, not much has changed in the status of these small towns.

Twenty Nine Palms is still a joyless town, with a military bias. The main street features about 12 tattoo stores, and five barber stores, that advertise, 'Marine Haircuts'. However, Twentynine Palms does feature a redeeming cafe 'Mojave Moon cafe', in the downtown area. Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley, by contrast, are very plush towns, with great cafes.

There are some interesting ghost towns, between Amboy, and Twentynine Palms, if you are interested in that type of thing.

The mountain views all along this route are great.

If you have a headwind, and you take the route I describe in my blog post, you may find progress, to be much slower than Alister and Anna.

I have offered some opinionated documention, here:
https://wordpress.com/post/neurocontemplations.wordpress.com/817, which I will continue to update.

Thanks, Alister and Anna, for documenting this route, as it gave me a sense of conviction during some challenging solo cycling.

  Russell Jarvis Dec 30, 2018 9:10 AM

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