Last Updated on January 2, 2023

There are three main deserts in California: the Mojave Desert, the Colorado Desert, and the Great Basin Desert.

The California Deserts have unique ecosystems and habitats, a sociocultural and historical collection of “Old West” legends, districts and communities, which also form a popular tourist region of dramatic natural features and recreational development.

All of the deserts are located in eastern Southern California in the western United States.


The Mojave Desert is bounded by the Tehachapi Mountains to the northwest, the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains to the south, and extends eastward to California’s borders with Arizona and Nevada; it also forms portions of northwestern Arizona. This desert is known for its hot and dry climate, as well as its unique and diverse plant and animal life, including the Joshua tree and the Mojave rattlesnake.

The Colorado Desert is located in the southeastern corner of the state, between the Colorado River and the Transverse Ranges, and continues into Mexico and Arizona to the south and east. This desert is characterized by its hot and dry climate, as well as its unique flora and fauna, including the Palm Springs cypress and the desert tortoise.

The Great Basin Desert lies immediately east of the Sierra Nevada and extends eastward into the state of Nevada. This desert is also known for its harsh and arid climate, as well as its unique plant and animal life, including the Great Basin bristlecone pine and the Great Basin rattlesnake.

Map of deserts in California
California Deserts Map

Deserts of California

Mojave Desert

The Mojave Desert, also known as the High Desert, is one of the main attractions and symbols of the United States. In total it occupies an area of 60 thousand km², covering most of southern California.

The desert is named after the place where the Mohave tribe originated. This American Indian tribe used to occupy these lands, settling not far from where Las Vegas stands today.

The Mojave Desert includes vast protected areas such as the Mojave National Reserve, Joshua Tree National Park, and Death Valley National Park. The latter is surely are only one of the main attractions of the Mojave Desert, but of the entire United States.

Kelso Dunes - Mojave Preserve

Colorado Desert

The Colorado Desert is part of the larger Sonora Desert, which covers the territory of several California counties.

The Peninsular Ranges and other mountain ranges of Southern California and Lower California block most of the air and disturbance from the eastern Pacific coastal zone, thus producing an arid climate.

There are two rainy seasons, one in winter and the other in late summer, especially in the southern portion of the desert.

Great Basin Desert

The Great Basin Desert area extends partly into eastern California. It is a succession of small sedimentary basins interspersed with mountain ridges.

Many of these were once permanent lakes, as in the case of Lahontan Lake, which covered an area today corresponding to that between Oregon, Nevada, and California.

California Deserts FAQs

What are the three main deserts located in California?

The three main deserts located in California are the Mojave Desert, Colorado Desert, and Great Basin Desert, the are all located in the eastern region of California.

How much of California is a desert?

Approximately 44% of California is classified as desert, while the remaining 66% of the state is made up of a variety of landscapes including mountain ranges, beaches and coastal areas, rivers and lakes, agricultural land, and urban areas.

What are National Parks you can visit in the Deserts of California?

The three national parks located in California’s Mojave Desert are Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Mojave National Preserve.

Joshua Tree National Park is known for its stunning rock formations and unique plant and animal life, and is a popular destination for rock climbing.

Death Valley National Park is the driest and lowest point in the United States and is known for its extreme temperatures and unique geological features.

Mojave National Preserve is home to a diverse array of plant and animal life, as well as a number of historic sites and cultural landmarks.

What cities and towns can you find in the desert of California?

The largest cities located in the deserts of California are Palm Springs and Palm Desert, both of which are located in the Colorado Desert.

Palm Springs is a popular destination known for its hot springs, golf courses, and mid-century modern architecture, while Palm Desert is home to a number of shopping centers and recreational facilities.

Both cities offer a range of amenities and services for residents and visitors, and are important centers of culture and commerce in the region.

Other notable cities located in the deserts of California include Twentynine Palms, Indio, and Barstow.

Read also: Deserts of the USA logo icon

Your n°1 source of information on the world of sandsports and desert adventure travel. Our articles are the result of extensive research, personal experience, and knowledge-sharing within the global sandboarding community.