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Afton Canyon California

Afton Canyon California, 2-10 days, September - March  See Map below

Afton Canyon in California is special because it has water that stays year round. This is rare in the southern desert. The canyon has incredible geological rock formations. Cottonwoods and other small desert trees like the mesquite shade the riverbanks providing shelter and food for wild animals. There are numerous marshes and streams that connect which sustain the wildlife here. Recreational activities include fishing, boating, hiking, hunting, and picnicking. Afton is the only place I know of in the United States where the Mojave River flows above ground all year. This sets the stage for a lot of wildlife due to the rare growth of so many plants in the desert. I love places like this due to their fantastic remote nature and easy to take predictable dry weather.

  afton canyon campground picture

Afton Canyon is one of few places where the Mojave River flows above ground for any length of time. There are lots of places to hunt, camp, explore, hike, photograph, and collect rocks (though it is technically illegal). You can even horse back ride if you are set up for it during the cooler months. Follow the instructions in the Vanabode book for what to bring here to stay comfortable.

The Afton Canyon area is a combination of BLM land you can camp on forever for free and private lands owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Check the Desert Access Guide maps covering the Afton area if you are really concerned about it. You can buy one at a California BLM station.

Afton Canyon has cool easy to climb hills, canyons and interesting washes where strange plants and small animals congregate. The rock walls and cliffs make great pictures since they are always changing colors depending on the sun levels.

Washes, arroyos and old dry stream beds are great for hiking because you can see more activity and experience easier footing.

You will see the most wild animals in the morning and early evening.


The plants that grow along the streams and river beds are very important as wildlife food and places to make burrows and beds. The BLM office has closed some of the dry roads in the canyon to protect these wildlife hangouts. You can still hike there but leave your Vanabode parked in the campsite or as close as you can without trespassing on sensitive areas.

Camping is legal in the Afton Canyon Campground property limits only. The campground is typical first-come first-served fee area with no reservations accepted. There are picnic tables and fire grates for cooking at all campsites. Pit toilets are located in the center of the campground a short walk from most sites. Backpackers and tent campers use this area during the cooler months.

It is 3.5 miles from the Afton Road exit off I-15 to the campground entrance.

Directions: Leave Barstow and drive east on Interstate 15 for 35 miles. Take the Afton exit and head south about 3 miles to the parking area. Visitor information is updated and posted there.

Vanabode Special Notes: Camping is NOT allowed outside the designated campground though there is not often anyone checking. You must pay a fee to camp here usually collected in a self help drop box. However, you can backpack outside the campground area. No fires are allowed outside of the designated campground area fire pits. Thunderstorms make flash floods in canyons and washes so don't park in one. Avoid low-lying areas during storms. Sometimes people get flooded out when parking in a low area even though it is not raining where they are. Instead the heavy rains upstream caused the heavy running water. Venomous snakes can present a risk here. Pay attention and don't move rocks or tree branches as snakes often live underneath. Contact the California Department of Fish and Game 310-590-5132 for hunting rules. If you stay in the designated camping area, you can have a nice and super cheap private time at Afton Canyon in California.

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