Explore the Mud Volcanoes of the Salton Sea

4 miles  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Michael Wigle

See boiling cauldrons of steam and mud, learn about California's volcanic history, hike through miles of unique wildlife refuge, and photograph a wide variety of exotic migratory birds. This is an essential stop to any visit to the Salton Sea.

It should be noted that extreme caution should be practiced when going to the mud volcanoes. While the photographs above appear close, they were taken on a zoom lens from a safe distance. The ground here is soft and misleading. Collapses can occur, where you could be fatally scalded by the boiling pit underneath. Please observe the signs, and keep a safe distance.

In the midst of the Inland Empire's geopolitical struggle to either replenish, sustain, or drain the slowly emptying Salton Sea is a recently exposed geothermic hotspot on a growing peninsula. The geological history underlying California comes to the surface at nearly 230' below sea level. The San Andreas fault creates a rift valley that brings magma within a mile of the ground you stand on. Here noxious sulphur gasses mix with heat and boiling water to churn open pools of scalding mud. It is a must see in California as the sea retreats leading to a point where this unique feature will dry up.

To get to the mud volcanoes, first head to the town of Niland, California on the southeast side of the Salton Sea. If coming from Los Angeles, take Route 111 along the north shore. From Route 111, turn onto West Sinclair Rd. heading west toward the Salton Sea. After 4.5 miles, before the second geothermal plant, take a right heading north on Garst Rd. for 1.5 miles until you get to the Alamo River Bridge. On the other side of the bridge is a gravel parking lot that is safe for most vehicles to park. There is hunting in the area and fishing in the area, so it is recommended to wear bright clothing and to stay on the main paths.

During the late summer and fall, when there hasn't been recent rain, you can drive the dirt and sand road close to the pits with an off-road vehicle. It is not recommend during other times of the year, when wet, or in a non-high clearance vehicle. Deep sand, mud, and water can easily trap a vehicle in a place difficult to get cell service and a tow truck.

To get the full experience, take the 4 mile round-trip hike from the parking lot to the volcanoes and back. Head west along the marsh and river levee on the only path on the north side of the Alamo River. This will take you through pristine reeds and tall grasses, teeming with exotic bird species resting on their migratory routes. This is an excellent opportunity to grab shots that you would normally have to travel thousands of miles away to get.

After a mile, the marsh opens up into a wide peninsula and the paths head north toward the pits. Continue north until you can see the pile of rocks known as Murret Island, a roosting site for migratory seabirds. Here, the tall columns of steam can be easily observed on the northeast corner of the peninsula. Observe all warning signs as you approach the volcanoes. Stay on the outside of the groups, and do not try to walk between any of the mounds, steam columns, or wet areas. From here, you can witness the awesome power of the geological active earth.

When you're done exploring, retrace your steps back to your vehicle and head out. If you're wanting one last strange, yet awesome experience, head over to Slab City to visit the Head Hunters Lounge & Tiki Bar. It's the icing on the cake for an out of this world experience!

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