Palm Springs to Las Vegas

Via the desert scenic route

Last weekend I made another trip to Las Vegas, taking an alternate route over the back roads of the desert and the Mojave National Preserve. Having done this now several times, I am convinced this is absolutely the best way to go.

freeway route, PSP-LAS Freeway route between Palm Springs and Las Vegas, 273 miles
desert route, PSP-LAS Back roads route through the desert between Palm Springs and Las Vegas, 227 miles

Ask almost any online map service for directions from Palm Springs to Las Vegas, and you will be given a freeway route that requires traveling west before heading northeast to Las Vegas. Moreover, this includes notoriously congested sections of I-10 and I-215/I-15. But, if driving in dense freeway traffic for four hours and more is your thing, this is your route.

But— tell the map service you want to go through Twentynine Palms, and it will generate a shorter, far more scenic route over back roads through the desert and the Mojave National Preserve. Although the route consists almost entirely of paved, two-lane roads, they are roads less traveled by, and you can drive nearly freeway speeds (faster, if the freeway is congested!), enjoy awesome scenery along the way, and get there in about the same amount of time and 50 fewer miles.

What's the catch? There are no services anywhere along the road. Literally, none. If you break down, you'll have to rely on your own resourcefulness and the kindness of strangers. Depending on the location, you may be able to get a cell-phone signal, but don't count on it. Also, the road is crossed by numerous dry washes that flood when it rains; the road "dips" when it comes to these washes, so the ride can be a bit exciting, especially for any backseat passengers.

Along the way

Twentynine Palms. Heading toward Las Vegas, this is the last chance to buy gas until you reach the outskirts of Las Vegas, so it's good to check the tank before setting across the desert. It's also the last chance for any kind of food service. Yes, it is possible still to drive over 200 miles in the USA without seeing a single gas station, Starbucks, or MacDonalds!

Amboy. Nearing Amboy, you drive through salt flats being mined by the National Chloride Company and pass by Amboy crater, a perfect volcanic cinder cone and lava fields. Amboy itself is a deserted stop on the National Trails Highway, also known as Route 66.

Kelso. The town of Kelso is about the half-way point, and is home to the Kelso train station, now restored and serving as the visitor center for the Mojave National Preserve. Just before Kelso, the massive Kelso sand dunes rise 600 feet above the desert floor.

I-15. You finally join I-15 at the Nipton Road interchange, about 50 miles from Las Vegas.

Route from Kelso to Las Vegas


Route from Palm Springs to Kelso