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Salvation Mountain: The Mountain from Into the Wild in the California Desert

October 21, 2021 /
Salvation Mountain california

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

God is Love. These are the three words written on the top of Salvation Mountain, an artificial mountain built with recycled materials, hay and adobe over 25 years by the visionary artist Leonard Knight.

This place has become known all over the world because some scenes of the movie Into the Wild were filmed here, and since its release, the flow of tourists to Salvation Mountain has intensified so much that many people now consider it a must-see attraction on their trip to California.

Where is Salvation Mountain?

Salvation Mountain is located in California near the eastern shore of the Salton Sea, about a 90-minute drive from Palm Springs. The nearest town is Niland, although it would be more accurate to call it a small cluster of houses, and it is just 44 miles away from the border with Mexico.

Best Time to Visit

Salvation Mountain slab cityYou can access Salvation Mountain from sunrise to sunset every day of the year including holidays. There is no need to pay a ticket, but if you want to leave a donation you can do so in the designated box near the mountain. Parking is available wherever you feel safe to leave your car and make sure to maintain at an acceptable distance from Salvation Mountain.

Brief History of Salvation Mountain

where is Salvation Mountain


During his first days in Niland, Leonard Knight thought of using small air balloons to convey his message of universal love. He was not satisfied by this, so he began to sketch a structure on the course of an old river using cement, paint and anything else that he could use. The work continued for the following months until this first mountain reached 164 ft.

near Salvation Mountain

After four years, however, this mountain collapsed on itself. Instead of getting discouraged, Leonard Knight began to build Salvation Mountain, the one you can still see today. It would take 28 years of work, but the fact that visitors here from all corners of the world would prove to be the best possible reward for his effort.

Since Leonard Knight passed away, a volunteer association has become the steward of the mountain and continues to spread its philosophy and message.

What to See

Salvation Mountain stands out from the surrounding landscape not only because of its height but also due to its bright colors and the large cross that surmounts the structure. You can climb the mountain while also making sure not to ruin the structure by following the yellow path. Surely you will find have plenty of opportunities take memorable pictures and to walk inside the galleries that Leonard Knight has built.

Besides looking around and filling your camera’s memory, there’s not much else to do, so even the most adventurous visitors should consider spending a maximum of an hour around Salvation Mountain before resuming their trip.

If you find Salvation Mountain fascinating, you should know that there are two other places around Salvation Mountain that are definitely unusual.

Slab City

Slab city californiaWhat was once an active Marine military base during the Second World War is now the meeting place of those who want to escape from society and its rules. Slab City is inhabited by squatters and snowbirds. There are no buildings but only RVs, tents and the most permanent structures are trailers adapted in the most imaginative ways. There is no electricity or running water and no sewage, so every inhabitant makes do as he or she can with solar panels and a lot of inventiveness.

Even though this “city” was built on California soil, and therefore also American soil, it is anarchic, not so much because everything is allowed to do what they want, but because there is no representative of public order to enforce the rule of law. Keep this in mind if you decide to venture into Slab City because any problem could grow into something greater than its true magnitude. Some scenes from the film Into the Wild were also shot here.

East Jesus

East Jesus californiaIt is very difficult to give a rational definition of this place. We may dare to define it as a sort of experimental museum that is continuously changing and evolving. This “museum” exhibits “works of art” created by eccentric local artists and artists in residence.

If you are interested in visiting East Jesus, you should know that admission is free, but before you go, I suggest you to read carefully this “ survival guide” of East Jesus written directly by the people in charge of this place.

Nearby Attractions and Parks

Galleta meadows estate

  • Galleta Meadows Estate: Located near Anza-Borrego State Park, this estate is definitely one of the most unusual attractions in California. There are over 130 giant metal sculptures created by the artist Ricardo Breceda depicting a variety of subjects, such as dinosaurs, dragons, giant scorpions and religious themes.
  • Salton Sea: Although once it was a popular holiday resort, today, due to water pollution, the Salton Sea area looks like a post-apocalyptic movie set. A ghost town, abandoned beaches and dead fish carcasses along the shores of the lake: that’s all Salton Sea has to offer nowadays. If you are intrigued by this place, you can type it into your GPS.
  • Joshua Tree National Park: It is one of the most famous and visited parks in California and the dominion of the famous Joshua trees.

Where to Stay in the Area

Salvation Mountain is not located along routes popular among tourists. The most important city in the vicinity of Salvation Mountain is Palm Springs and we recommend you consider it if you are looking for accommodations in the area. If you want more information, read our post on where to stay in Palm Springs.

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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