The Trona Pinnacles are a series of more than 500 tufas making up one of the most memorable geological landscapes you’ll ever see. The pinnacles sit on the Searless Dry lake basin and are mainly composed of of calcium carbonate (like Mono Lake). Some of the pinnacles stand taller than 140ft. The Trona Pinnacles have been featured in countless movies, TV shows, commercials, and photo shoots. You may have seen the Pinnacles in Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, or Planet of the Apes. The Trona Pinnacles area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and it’s completely free to visit for recreational use.
The Trona Pinnacles are located 20 miles east of Ridgecrest, CA, on SR 178. Heading east on SR 178, you’ll see a sign for Trona Pinnacles and the dirt Pinnacles Rd (RM143). Follow this 5-mile dirt road to the pinnacles. Trona Pinnacles, San Bernardino County, CA
- Location: 35.68143 / -117.39033
- Reservations/Permit: None, BLM allows for free dispersed camping (See more)
- Site Elevation: 1800ft
- Road Conditions: Rutted and sandy in dry times. Jagged rock. Can be muddy and difficult to drive in when rains hit. Summer months allow for a 2WD vehicle with a little clearance. Other times of the year require a high clearance vehicle and 4WD.
- Activities: Hiking, camping, climbing, boondocking, ATV and dirt bike riding
- Dog Friendly: Yes
- Park Hours: Always open. Enter at your own risk.
- Weather: This is the desert and it can be extremely hot and dry. This area is notoriously windy, so make sure to stake your tent out well. Be extremely vigilant for flash floods and quick changes in weather.
- Cell Phone Reception: Spotty to non existant
Fun Facts about Trona Pinnacles:
- During the The Pleistocene Ice Age, runoff from the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains created a series of connected lakes from Mono Lake to Death Valley. This range included Searles Lake, the dry bed that the Trona Pinnacles sit on.
- The tufa pinnacles of Trona formed underwater as calcium-rich groundwater and alkaline lake water combined. Trona Pinnacles has a southern, middle, and northern group. These three distinct groups formed during three different ice age periods
- The pinnacles are classified into four different shape groups:
- Towers– taller than they are wide, range from 30-40ft
- Tombstones– short and stubby, range from 20-30ft
- Ridges– large ridges of tufa ruins, range from 140-800ft in length
- Cones– the most prevalent, these stumpy lumps are less than 10ft high
When you first arrive at Trona Pinnacles you’ll see a series of roads that encircle the area. You’ll almost never encounter a massive crowd here due to it’s remote setting. Take your time and drive around to get a lay for the land and see which camp sites are available. The majority of people camping at Trona Pinnacles have RVs and campers, with few staying in tents.
On a recent camping trip to Trona Pinnacles, I found a great spot with tufa towers, tombstones, and cones all around. The surrounding pinnacles also provided a very nice windbreak, which is very important when camping here.
*Be careful when pulling into established campsites as previous visitors have burned wood with nails and screws which can be a real hazard for car tires and tents.
From our campsite, and just about every campsite in the area, you’ll find a network of crisscrossing trails that allow visitors to explore the tufas up-close. They’re just use-trails with no signage, but it’s nearly impossible to get lost. Make sure to wear proper footwear though, as the trails can be steep, rutted, and slick with gravel.
Trona Pinnacles really comes to life at night. There are few places that allow visitors to see the stars with this kind of a martian backdrop. Camping here will make you feel like you’re spending the night on another planet. If you’re interested in long exposure astrophotography, this is the place for you.
The mornings at Trona Pinnacles are just as beautiful as the evenings. The sunrise on the Searles Lake bed is something you’ll never forget. The mornings can be windy and cold, but the views make it well worth getting out of the tent before sunrise.