- Location: Northwestern San Bernardino County, east of Ridgecrest. From US 395, exit at the Searles Station Cutoff, turn right and head northeast for 4.5 miles. Turn left onto Trona Road and go 8.5 miles to Highway 178. Turn right and head east on Highway 178 for 7.4 miles to the signed entrance to the Pinnacles. In 0.6 mile, bear right at a fork and continue along the dirt road, crossing the railroad tracks. Turn right again and head another 3 miles to a dirt lot with a some interpretive signs, a short distance before the pinnacles. From here, you can take any of several informal dirt roads to get to the pinnacles themselves. (The easiest route is to stay straight and drive off the embankment and then pick up another dirt road heading southwest toward the pinnacles, which at this point are hard to miss.)
- Agency: Bureau of Land Management/Ridgecrest Field Office
- Distance: Up to 1 mile
- Elevation gain: Up to 200 feet
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Suggested time: 45 minutes
- Best season: November – April
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
- Dogs: Allowed on leash (Exercise caution on warm days)
- Cell phone reception: Good (fair in some spots)
- Water: None
- Restrooms: Vault style toilets at trail head
- Camping/backpacking: Vehicle camping is available at the site (Description here)
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here
- Rating: 7
If you’re willing to make a long drive into the remote, inhospitable northwestern corner of San Bernardino County, you will be rewarded with a chance to get an up close look at a true geological oddity: the Trona Pinnacles. These calcite spires, some of which rise over 100 feet, are leftovers from Searles Lake which is thought to have dried up about 50,000 years ago. Some people may recognize the pinnacles from various TV shows and movies over the years; like Vasquez Rocks, their unusual appearance has made them a perennial filming location.
The 500-plus pinnacles come in all shapes and sizes: tall “towers”, short but wide “tombstones”, small “cones” and long “ridges” with several of the spires grouped together, like teeth. In addition to the pinnacles, the dramatic background of the desert and the nearby Slate and Argus Mountains adds to the visual appeal. Several unofficial “trails” meander around the pinnacles while a dirt road circles the main group. Keep an eye out for two small mine shafts, one which can be entered and another vertical hole fenced off by barbed wire. The area’s richness of sodium, potassium and other minerals led to various mining operations in years past (Searles Lake is named for John Searles, who mined borax in the area in the late 19th century and had the product carted by mule all the way to the port at San Pedro).
The challenge of the Trona Pinnacles is not the hike itself, which is more of a nature walk/informal ramble, but planning the trip and getting there. The nearest services are in Ridgecrest, about a 45-minute drive away. The pinnacles are reached by a 5-mile washboard dirt road that, while navigable by most vehicles, still requires extra care (and can be closed during rain or other weather conditions.) If you decide to visit during the summer, prepare for temperatures well above 100 degrees. Odds are you will be driving a great distance to get here (3 hours from downtown L.A. or the Inland Empire; 2 hours from the Antelope Valley or Barstow) so consider RV camping. The pinnacles can also be visited as a side-trip on the way to or from Death Valley.
Text and photography copyright 2017 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.