Gateway to Death Valley: Johannesburg, CA

Devil’s Golf Course at Death Valley National Park, Courtesy Wikipedia

The High Deserts of Death Valley

By Michelle Mowery


An hour and a half from Death Valley National Park. Northeast of Los Angeles in the high desert.


Johannesburg is an old Western ghost town, with only 100 current inhabitants. Gold was discovered here in 1894 and was the third-largest discovery in the US. There is still an active mine producing lots of gold daily.

There are many mines in the area and prospecting tours are available. In spite of its ghostliness, Johannesburg is in the center of the most popular recreational area in Southern California. Loads of national parks, hiking, climbing, history, natural history, film history, and more.


Anytime…There is sunshine and beautiful weather 365 days a year! But if you plan to visit Death Valley itself, come between September and April when it is coolest.


No public transportation directly to the area. Greyhound bus service: Ridgecrest, Ca. In Ridgecrest, you must rent a car to travel to Johannesburg, twenty-five miles away. Rental cars are available at the airport and at Enterprise Rental Cars in Ridgecrest, Ca. There is no public transportation to Death Valley National Park from Johannesburg.


There are approximately 30 different natural, geological, historical, and botanical attractions within 140 miles of the town, including the Joshua Tree National Forest and Death Valley National Park. Don’t miss Fossil Falls and Trona Pinnacles: they’re spectacular.

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Catch a movie being made! The area is a magnet for filmmakers, who are attracted to the bizarre geological formations and desert scenery (think Alien movies!) Check out Red Rock Canyon, Trona Pinnacles, Fossil Falls, Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel, all of which are natural movie sets year around. You may even get to be an extra in one being filmed while you’re here!


Hiking and climbing the magnificent rocks and trails in the many nearby National Parks and natural areas.


Desert tours of Death Valley and Sequoia National Forest.


Find places to stay in Lone Pine, Ridgecrest, and Pahrump.

You can find five hotels in Death Valley, see them here.


  • Drive to Ridgecrest.


Get some old Western culture at local Indian pow wows, rodeos, concerts, museums, wild west days. Check the Ridgecrest web site for dates.  


The “living” ghost town of Randsburg is only one mile away and has many pubs and attractions.


Ridgecrest is only twenty minutes away and has all major shopping. Look for Native American pottery and crafts, and old west leathers.


Don’t go wandering off into the desert on your own. The valleys and mountains can be disorienting without a map. Always bring plenty of water — two gallons per day per person in the desert — and wear sunscreen and a hat!

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NPS Death Valley Plan your trip website

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2 thoughts on “Gateway to Death Valley: Johannesburg, CA

  1. In Cantil at hwy 14 is the weekender OHV boondocking areas of Jawbone Canyon and Dove Springs and people need more than a map for safety there are open holes dotting the area of Rand Mining District and the yellow Aster open pit mine which was active a few years back can be seen from space. Saltdale had a population of 100,000 back in the 49er days they were bigger than Los Angeles back then yet not a single house stands today. There are many old legends and lore from mining ear like the lost river of gold throughout this area into Barstow, also Goler Gulch is the old death valley gateway of the 20 Mule Team historic Trail. My husband been in Cantil his entire life hes 65 now and he as a child spent many nights in the mines and caves all over this desert esp in El Paso mountains he grew up here. Also a very important note bcz ppl steal the warning signs the salt lake bed may look benign but it is very dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. It is Quicksand that no animal person or vehicle will escape there is a whole car lot of vehicles even train cars under that unassuming mouth of hell. The Danger is very real bcz it stays wet and is only dry on the top layer the rest is a thck acidic marsh or mud slurry

  2. Corrections 2022: Joshua Tree National Park is NOT close to Johannesburg, nor within 100 miles. Rsndburg is ACTUALLY the center of the recreational area w/ higher tourism than Jo-burg. Death Valley Hostel is no more!

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