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How to hike Amboy Crater California (Extinct Cinder Cone Volcano)

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One of historic Route 66’s most peculiar pit stops involves the hike up Amboy Crater in California. This adventure will take visitors to the top of an extinct cinder cone volcano where they can enjoy views of the surrounding lava fields.

The site was designated a national natural landmark in 1973 and ever since has been inviting visitors to try their luck hiking across an ancient lava field and up the prominent cinder cone formation.

Entrance to Amboy Crater National Landmark, California
The entrance to Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark, Southeastern California

In this post I’m going to cover everything you should know before setting out on this hike. Read on to learn why Amboy Crater makes for the perfect afternoon hiking destination, enjoy stunning sunsets, stargazing and views from atop the volcano!

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Where is Amboy Crater?

Amboy Crater boasts an extinct cinder cone volcano located about 50 minutes north of Twentynine Palms, CA. If you find yourself in Southeastern California be sure to add this stop to your itinerary.

A stop here pairs well with a visit to Joshua Tree National Park or if you’re traveling along Old Route 66. Keep an eye out for the nearby Mojave Trails National Monument while you’re in the area as well.

From the parking lot you’ll easily spot the extinct cinder cone volcano off in the distance, as well as signs advising you not to hike.

This is where I will strongly recommend you plan your visit during the colder months (I went in December) and/or planning your visit very early or very late in the day so you can avoid the harsh Mojave Desert sun.

If you’re still looking for accommodations be sure to check out these deals on hotels in Twentynine Palms.

How long does it take to hike Amboy Crater California?

The hike itself is a little more than 4 miles out and back. The trail is well kept and pretty easy until you reach the symmetrical volcanic cinder cone itself where you’ll have to ascend around 400 feet to reach the top.

As long as you heed the heat warnings this is hike that anyone can accomplish. Be sure to bring plenty of water even if you attempt the hike when temperatures are cooler as the dry desert air really takes it out of you!

Is it safe to hike Amboy Crater?

I repeat, you need to bring plenty of water and avoid hiking on hotter days, especially midday when the Mojave sun is the harshest

I know I probably sound like a broken record here – but you really do need to be mindful of bringing plenty of water and not attempting this hike if the temperature is too hot and the sun is at its peak.

Heat warning sign at Amboy Crater, California
Signs posted around Amboy Crater advise against hiking, plan ahead!

You’re hiking through a field of lava rocks in the middle of a desert, where the air is extremely dry and surface temperatures near the volcano will be even hotter than what the local weather forecast suggests.

Picture being out on a freshly paved blacktop parking lot on a scorching hot summer day at noon while someone shoots fireballs at you.

There are signs posted around the area reminding you to hike Amboy responsibly. If possible visit during the winter months, otherwise this hike is best enjoyed around sunrise or sunset.

If you’re hiking around sunset be sure to bring flashlights for the trek back to your vehicle.

When we visited Amboy in December we spent most of our day exploring Joshua Tree National Park.

If you exit the park through the north and cut through Twentynine Palms you can reach Amboy in a little less than an hour. A visit to the crater pairs quite nicely with a trip to Joshua Tree!

Amboy Crater Volcano
Views approaching the cinder cone volcano from the hiking path at Amboy Crater

We timed our visit to the area so that we could catch a sunset around the time we were climbing up the volcano.

How long is the Amboy Crater hike?

The hike is mostly flat until you start climbing up the side of the crater and is almost 2 miles each way (3.2 km). I would budget for about 90 minutes of hiking plus how ever much time you want to spend wandering around on top or inside the volcano’s basin.

Desert Sunset in California near Amboy Crater
Desert sunset at Amboy Crater

If you’re going to visit, I’d recommend timing your hike so you can enjoy a sunset or sunrise from atop the crater, it’ll make the experience that much better!

For anyone doing some longer hiking during their trip be sure to check out my complete day hike packing list. It’s probably overkill for a hike of this duration, but if you look it over, you’ll have piece of mind that you didn’t forget to bring any hiking essentials.

Are there restrooms at Amboy Crater?

Visitors will find picnic tables and restroom facilities adjacent to the main parking area. I’d suggest using the bathroom before heading out on your hike. Since there aren’t any trees, there isn’t anywhere for privacy if you need to go once you start!

Is Amboy Crater a good place to stargaze?

The Mojave Desert surrounding the cinder cone volcano is prime real estate for stargazing.

If you visit around sunset, you’ll have two miles back to your vehicle after the sun goes down. Not a problem if you’ve packed flashlights as the trail is pretty well kept and marked, but it could be difficult without light.

In a pinch, since the trail is well marked, your phone’s flashlight would probably be sufficient.

Basin inside Amboy Crater Cinder Cone Volcano
View from the basin within Amboy’s cinder cone volcano

A great perk of doing Amboy this way is that by the time you reach your car the sky will be filled with stars and a chance to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way as this area of the Mojave is particularly void of light pollution.

Enjoy some world class stargazing in the parking lot! You can also get a really good stargazing experience by pulling off nearby Route 66 (which we also did)!

When is the best time of year to visit Amboy Crater?

I would avoid visiting Amboy Crater during the summer when temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Mojave Desert. Winter is a great time to visit when temperatures here are the most mild.

Spring and fall months can make for a great time to visit as well. You’ll still need to be careful about avoiding midday sun and heat during these periods.

This season advice also applies to nearby Joshua Tree National Park and I’d suggest combining your visit to both areas during the same trip if possible.

Check out these activities available in the area

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Is Amboy Crater worth visiting?

Amboy Crater makes for a great late afternoon activity, especially if you’re staying in the area to visit Joshua Tree National Park. By this time of day the temperature should be cooling off and the sun setting. This combination will create great hiking conditions.

Be sure to follow my prior tip and stick around for some world class stargazing after your hike!

Large Joshua Tree in California
Many of the Joshua Trees within the park are absolutely massive!

If you need help rounding out a trip to the area be sure to check out my guide covering the top things to see in Joshua Tree National Park such as the Ryan Mountain hike or a list of tips to know before visiting. I also published a video version of that information which is available on my YouTube channel.

Hopefully this post covering the hike to Amboy Crater California helps you decide whether or not to include this stop in your travel itinerary.

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