Best Small Towns Near the Mojave Desert
Spanning 47,877 square miles, the Mojave Desert is spread out between California and Nevada — with small parts of it spilling into Utah and Arizona.
Despite crossing four states, it's actually the smallest desert in the United States. And the hottest. Besides the Mojave Desert National Preserve, you'll also find Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park within the elusive boundaries of the desert's borders.
The best way to experience this wondrous landscape is to skip the big cities around it (like Las Vegas) and go to smaller places. These are the best towns near the Mojave Desert with fewer than 40,000 people.
Year established: 1970 (settled in the 1860s)
The town of Pahrump itself isn't too interesting (except for its fun-sounding name). But it provides a perfect stay for those wishing to visit the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. A little-known part of the Mojave Desert, this ecosystem is unique because it holds natural springs and ash trees, making it quite literally an oasis in the desert.
Within the town, head to the casino to pretend like you're in Vegas or visit the scenic Sanders Family Winery.
Desert Hot Springs, California
Year established: 1941
Visiting Desert Hot Springs
Nearby Palm Springs may get all the attention, but it's mostly on the Sonoma Desert, whose border with Mojave is not always too clear. Instead, head to Desert Hot Springs.
Sure, you won't find as many boutiques and mid-century homes, but you will get the very rare opportunity to dip in both hot and cold springs. The water from these springs is touted as having healing properties, so you won't have to pay extra for spa treatments.
Year established: 1888
Nostalgic travelers love stopping in Barstow, which is located on historic Route 66.
Once an important railroad stop, the town is mentioned in John Steinbeck's famed novel "The Grapes of Wrath." Immigrants looking to strike gold — well, actually, silver — passed through it in search of mining jobs.
Many attractions in Barstow are kitschy, but that's precisely what we'd want from a Mojave Desert road trip.
Joshua Tree, California
Year established: 1937
Visiting Joshua Tree
Stay in Joshua Tree while visiting the national park that gives the town its name. Yes, there are large cities nearby, but small towns match the unexpected strangeness of the natural landscape.
One of the last surviving "boho" desert towns that haven't succumbed to the pressures of influencer culture, Joshua Tree has an unexpected art scene. You'll be surprised when visiting the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, whose most famous works have been made with toilets.
Head to Pioneertown, a 1940s film set that was a stand-in for the Wild West. And definitely stop for a beer at the Joshua Tree Saloon.
Year established: 1883
Another great Route 66 destination, Needles is as remote as it gets.
It's separated from Arizona by the beautiful Colorado River, which offers a respite from the dryness of Mojave National Preserve. Not that you'd want too long a break from the park, which is located just west of the city.
You'll probably spend most of your time hiking dunes and desert landscapes in Mojave or Dead Mountains Wilderness Area.
Year established: 1905
Despite having fewer than 1,000 people, Beatty is well-known, especially among outdoor enthusiasts. It's widely considered the best gateway town to Death Valley National Park, one of the most incredible parks in California.
This tiny town offers countless opportunities for hiking, star gazing, camping and bird watching. It's also a popular starting point for visiting nearby ghost towns that were once thriving mining villages.
Year established: 1920s
Less than an hour away from Las Vegas, you'll find the small town of Primm, located on the border with California. What we love about it is that it acts like a large city despite its population of 650. In it, you'll find multiple casinos, golf courses, malls and even a Tesla charging station in case you're road tripping in an electric car.
Of course, the best thing to do is still to go out into nature at the Mojave National Preserve. But don't neglect also stopping by the real Bonnie and Clyde death car, held at the Primm Valley Resort and Casino.
Year established: 1875
Another surprisingly lively small town in Mojave, Tecopa has its own microbrewery scene. This alone makes it dear to our hearts since it's a very rare thing to find in the middle of the desert.
The town's other main point of appeal is the collection of hot springs and trails near it. Right at the border of Death Valley, it's also a perfect starting point for exploring the South Nopah Range Wilderness Area and Kingston Peak.
For an unexpected foodie experience, visit the China Ranch Date Farm, which offers hiking with a side of food tasting.
Year established: 1895
Randsburg markets itself as California's "living ghost town."
With a population of only 41 people, there isn't much movement here. Still, road trippers stop by to see what the old west looked like around the mid-century, before so many mining towns were abandoned. Life revolves around the General Store, which stands out with its painted exterior. But there are also restaurants, saloons and an interesting antique store.
Being virtually stuck in time has earned Randsburg cameos on numerous films and commercials set in the Wild West.
Death Valley Junction (Amargosa), California
Year established: 1907
Visiting Death Valley Junction
If you thought 41 people was a small population, Death Valley Junction is ready to raise you up a level.
Better known as Amargosa, this destination only has around four permanent residents. Most of the town is in complete disrepair, except for three things: the Amargosa Opera House, the Amargosa Hotel and the Amargosa Cafe. In reality, they're all part of a single business owned by a non-profit.
Stop on your way to Death Valley's Furnace Creek.