If you like to cruise endless desert dirt roads, crawl up rocky trails, and blast through dry lake beds, then Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area is a must do. Johnson Valley is located in Southern California’s high desert in Lucerne Valley off of Highway 247. Widely known as the home of King of the Hammers, an off-road Jeep race, Johnson Valley is full of dirt trails that meander amongst rocky mountains and wide open desert. I’ve camped at Johnson Valley several times to off-road and explore, and I’ve also watched Mojave Off Road Racing Enthusiasts (MORE) races zoom through the dusty trails. In fact, some of my friends used to race their class nine cars and class 1400 trucks and my husband and I would help out in the pits during their races. (And by helping, I would make racing videos; I’m not mechanically savvy!) Johnson Valley is a beautiful desert to camp and play in, so if you’re thinking about making the journey, here are a few tips and camping spots to check out.
My favorite camping spot in Johnson Valley is located off of Camp Rock Road. There are huge boulders and rocky hills that surround this camping area, with lots of open, flat areas for RVs and trailers. My group likes to make a big camp circle with our RVs to claim our spot. There are vault toilets, so tent camping is possible, but there’s no running water. Camping is dispersed and free.
Johnson Valley Camping Spot Near Camp Rock Road
GPS Coordinates: 34.492189, -116.826942
Soggy Dry Lake is a popular spot for the desert OHV racing events. I have camped at Soggy Dry Lake a few times while volunteering at the races, and it’s a much different experience than camping at Camp Rock Road. For one thing, it’s busier because all the racers are gathering and camping in the same area. So if you’re visiting Johnson Valley for a race, then this is a really great spot to camp because you’ll be able to see a lot of the action. If you’re looking for a more quiet desert camping trip, steer clear of Soggy Dry Lake during the races. There are vault toilets in this area, and it’s a popular spot to camp or visit for a day trip.
Soggy Dry Lake
GPS Coordinates: 34.447739, -116.684763
This video shows the 2012 MORE 500 race in Johnson Valley. My husband and I helped out our friends who were racing their 1400 trucks.
Thinking about heading out to Johnson Valley this fall or winter? Here’s my list of Johnson Valley essentials:
// Water – There’s no running water in Johnson Valley, so be sure to bring your own. These are the water jugs I like to use; you can set them on a table and they have an easy-to-use spigot. Even when we RV camp in Johnson Valley, we bring a few of these extra water jugs.
// Map – DuneGuide.com has a good overall map of Johnson Valley that shows the main roads and trails, dry lake beds, and race staging areas. Google maps is still your best option for navigating to find your camping spot.
// Off-road Vehicles – Quads, dirt bikes, RZRs, Jeeps, anything 4×4! A whip is not required.
// Kites – Johnson Valley gets its fair share of wind, so if you’re bringing kids along (and you should, my kids love it) plan on packing a kite for those windy afternoons. A huge kite like this is super fun and this single-line parafoil kite flies incredible and comes in a convenient, compact stuff-sack bag.
// Baby Play Yard – Babies love camping! My kids started camping when they were eight weeks old, and they’ve come along with my husband and I for every desert camping trip since they were born. There’s more prep and planning when you’re bringing a baby, and this Summer Infant Pop N’ Play Foldable Play Yard was one of the most useful baby camping items I ever bought. It folds up to about the size of a standard folding camp chair, and it keeps your baby safe from crawling too far from camp or from eating too much dirt. We always supervised our kids when they were playing in the play yard, and they loved it!
// Extra Fuel – It’s a hassle to leave the OHV area and refuel, so plan on bringing a few gas cans so you don’t have to worry about running out.