Driving from Las Vegas to Palm Springs on the Backroads
Updated: Aug 29
After spending a couple of days or more in Las Vegas, many of you feel like your senses are overloaded. You wake up and acknowledge it is time to pack up and head back home. Yet, the prospect of driving from Las Vegas to Palm Springs on Highway 15, retracing your steps, and possibly finding yourself stuck in traffic is not your ideal way to end your getaway on a high note.
There is an alternative to Driving Highway 15 to Las Vegas
There are, however, a few caveats:
1. Make sure you have a map or capture directions from your travel app before you leave Las Vegas. Internet reception can be spotty. You take many different roads, so do not rely on your inner sense of guidance/intuition.
2. Avoid driving from Las Vegas to Palm Springs on the back road during the heat of the summer, for The Mojave National Preserve can reach 120 degrees in this area. The road is not highly traveled; thus, any breakdown would cause a severe challenge for gas stations that are practically non-existent.
3. During the rainy season, some roads flood. They are blocked with gates and would make it impossible for you to continue your journey.
Assuming you are not discouraged by the above caveats, your drive is about to begin. With the gas tank full, you have had a satisfying breakfast, and extra packed water, it is time to head out.
The Journey Begins
This driving route from Las Vegas to Palm Springs will take you south on Hwy 15 for about fifty miles. About 25 miles into your trip, watch for a turnoff to Seven Magic Mountains. The road parallels Highway 15 and is easy on and off.
Walking shoes are recommended for you to walk from the parking lot to the 30-foot-high art installation. The compacted path is wheelchair accessible.
Be sure to take your camera with you. If it is hot, grab your water bottle; once you are there, you become mesmerized by the grandeur of the art and can easily become dehydrated in the desert.
Return to your car, and get back to Hwy 15. Soon, your directions will tell you to turn off on a country road. The landscape in this valley frequently changes, for it has diverse plants and rock formations. Hundreds of Joshua trees in one area and low bushes in another bloom profusely in the spring.
Kelso Depot Visitors Center
As you approach the town of Kelso, you will see one of your first signs of humanity. You will have been traveling along a railroad track on your journey. This is where the workers lived while constructing the railroad. Their small houses are still inhabited, and you can see them in the distance.
Keep your eyes open for the Kelso Visitors Center, for the sign is really small. It is easy to miss. Once you park your car, you will be happy to see a structure that houses clean restrooms. Don't miss the jail--used for unruly people; i.e., it is so small and fragile one can only assume it was only used for people celebrating a little too much at the end of the day.
Plan to spend some time in the original depot. A US Forest Ranger is the first person that welcomes you as you walk in the door. He or she has a wealth of information about the area, including brochures detailing the many sites one can explore--everything from the Kelso Dunes to Mitchell Caverns National Reserve.
Take 15 minutes to watch the film in the little theatre so that you get a better understanding of the entire area. The small museum helps you understand the history of your surroundings, the plants, and the animals that inhabit the area. A newly added upstairs exhibit illustrates how the railroad workers lived. There is always a revolving featured artist exhibit.
Now back in your car, the journey continues with an occasional stop to take photographs of the ever-changing landscape. Be sure to stop at Amboy. The owners have done a terrific job bringing this stop on the original Route 66 back to its glory.
Twenty-Nine Palms A Welcomed Stop When Driving from Las Vegas to Palm Springs
A delightful stop is in Twenty-Nine Palms. The home of the largest Marine Military Training Base in the United States. You might want to stop at the 29 Palm Inn if you are hungry. Their food is organic, the drinks terrific, and you will find the grounds delightful to explore.
An interesting factoid, the way to and from Las Vegas to Palm Springs is about equal driving distance, whether you travel US Highway 15 or come back as outlined in this blog. If you choose to take the back road for one of your trips, you will have made an entire circle and seen over 550 miles of this beautiful state.