Formation Nation

Hiking Caruthers Canyon in Mojave National Preserve

You don't have to head to a museum to see some of the world's greatest sculpted formations. Take a hike along Caruthers Canyon Trail in Mojave National Preserve’s New York Mountains, where eons of volcanic activity have left behind a dazzling landscape of fantastic rock formations. Even the vegetation here is fascinating—not at all what you’d expect at 6,000 feet in a high-desert range.

The 6-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike begins at a primitive campsite known as Stone Table, where you can leave your car in the shade. From there, begin your trek along an easily followed old mining road. Look for some of the named formations—Balancing Rock on Spire, Elf’s Cap, Giant’s Foot—and feel free to name some of your own. You’ll also catch a stunning view to the northwest of 7,533-foot peak that crowns the New York Mountains.

As for the unusual plant life, nearly 300 plant species call the canyon home, including pinyon pine, white fir, oak, juniper, and, weirdly, many coastal chaparral plants that would seem to be more at home in the Santa Monica Mountains. You’ll see manzanita, yerba santa, ceanothus, and coffee berry—leftovers from a long-ago period when the climate here was much wetter. This niche of the New York Mountains is just high and moist enough for them to survive.

The trail culminates at the mouth of the abandoned Giant Ledge Mine. Once a hot spot for copper, silver, and lead mining starting in the 1860s, it has been abandoned for nearly 100 years. As common sense should dictate, it’s wise not to enter the mine. But spend some time in the isolated tranquility of the place before you make your way back to your car and out of this magical canyon.

From Ivanpah Rd., take New York Mountains Rd. west for 5.5 miles and turn north at an unsigned junction. Continue 2.7 miles to a wooded area with a primitive campground. Camping is free, but bring your own water. The approach can be rough; high clearance highly recommended. Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Taking the Stage: Tyler Ranch

    Hike the recently opened Tyler Ranch Staging Area in Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park, with 18 miles of new trails. This 6.5-mile loop up Sunol Peak is a challenge and rewards with exceptional views of seasonal iridescent hills.

    View
  2. Swing into Spring

    Swing into this 7.1-mile hike in the hills of Half Moon Bay! It’s got gorgeous views, fields of spring wildflowers, and a hidden rustic tree swing.

    View
  3. The Carson Show

    Carson Falls is ready for primetime. This three-tiered, 100-foot stunner is hidden back in a canyon outside of Fairfax and reached on a 3.25-mile (round-trip) hike.

    View
  4. woman kneeling and signing peak book at Mount Olympia in Mount Diablo State Park

    Double Up on Diablo

    Set the tone for 2024 with this twofer summit hike at Mount Diablo State Park. Embark on a 7-mile out-and-back up Mount Olympia and Diablo’s lesser-known summit, North Peak.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Hiker overlooking Bear Gulch Reservoir at Pinnacles National Park near Monterey

    Pinnacles of Spring

    Why hike at Pinnacles National Park? Spring's a beautiful time of year here. And you might spy the magnificent California condor soaring while you gain soaring views from the High Peaks Trail.

    View
  2. Caves in Mojave

    No one expects to see caves when they visit the desert, and that’s part of what makes Mitchell Caverns in the Mojave Desert such an interesting place. Go on a two-hour guided adventure tour through Mitchell Caverns in Providence Mountains State Recreation Area.

    View
  3. Sponsored

    Port of Call

    Nestled by the sea on the majestic Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, Port Townsend is for travelers who treasure small town charm and natural beauty.

    View
  4. Lava Lava

    Once a land of volcanic activity, Mojave National Preserve shares plenty about its past via a quick yet adventurous hike to the Lava Tube in the Cima Dome Volcanic Field.

    View