Tunnel Vision

Hiking to Burro Schmidt Tunnel in the Mojave Desert

Don’t expect logic from oddball desert hermits! At Burro Schmidt Tunnel, that’s to our great benefit. It took 32 years for William “Burro” Schmidt to dig through a mountain in a remote part of the north Mojave as a shortcut for taking his ore to a smelter. Long after new roads rendered it pointless, Schmidt kept at it. He finally broke through in 1938—a truly amazing feat of one-man engineering that we can readily enjoy today.

You’ll find the tunnel, plus the cabin where Burro Schmidt lived, on the northern slopes of Copper Mountain in the El Paso Range down a long dusty road in Last Chance Canyon northeast of the town of Mojave. Schmidt dug the nearly half-mile-long passage through solid granite using only hand tools and an occasional stick of dynamite. His two donkeys aided in hauling rock away—hence the nickname “Burro.”

Gallery image 1 of 8
Gallery image 2 of 8
Gallery image 3 of 8
Gallery image 4 of 8
Gallery image 5 of 8
Gallery image 6 of 8
Gallery image 7 of 8
Gallery image 8 of 8

Visitors are free to enter the tunnel. Headlamps or strong flashlights are a must—there are no lights inside, nor sunlight visible at the far end, since the tunnel makes a turn before opening up. The experience can be fearful and claustrophobic for some, but the challenge is more psychological than physical. The tunnel is structurally sound and the reward is the same far-side vista that must have delighted Burro Schmidt. You emerge onto a south-facing mountain ledge high above Fremont Valley with fantastic views of Koehn Dry Lake (a salt flat) and the El Paso Mountains.

Although most of Schmidt’s homestead has seen better days, his one-room wooden plank shack remains mostly intact. The walls and ceiling inside are covered in layers of vintage product packaging, newspapers, and magazines—some dating to the Depression era—tacked up by Burro himself for insulation.

Final note: Burro never transported any ore; the tunnel itself became his obsession.

STAY: If Burro Schmidt’s tunnel puts you in the mood for more old-time mining experiences, you can  stay overnight in an old miner’s cabin in the nearby “living ghost town” of Randsburg. Several cabins there have been renovated and are now listed as affordable vacation rentals on Airbnb, including this one.

To get to Burro Schmidt Tunnel, take CA-14 about 34 miles north of Mojave to Last Chance Canyon Rd. (EP-15) and turn right. Continue 6.3 miles and bear left when EP-15 joins EP-30. Continue 2.2 miles and turn right on Burro Schmidt Tunnel Rd., a spur that leads to the site. (Other routes require 4WD and high clearance.) Friends of Last Chance Canyon, a nonprofit group, is attempting to preserve and restore the Burro Schmidt site, which is managed by the BLM. Please be respectful and tread lightly. Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories Northern CA

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Tam Slam!

    This 8-mile (round-trip) hike is a pure classic, with redwoods, water-flows, and soaring views of the coastline. Oh yeah, and that ladder!

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    Easiest Best Hike in the World

    Choose the easiest and most view-rewarding hike in Yosemite. Okay, we’ll go first: the combination of hiking to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. Both of these lookouts are within a couple miles of each other on Glacier Point Road

    View
  3. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    Road Trip Ahead: Oregon Outback

    Remote open spaces, camping under true Dark Skies, hiking and biking trails galore, wildlife refuges, and hot springs! Plan your road trip to the Oregon Outback this summer.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story

    Nice Ring to It

    This tiny but mighty open space preserve on the Tiburon Peninsula can often exhibit a wide range of wildflowers late into the season, not to mention one of the most jaw-dropping views of the bay.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Bouquet of Waterfalls

    Like a good love letter, some of the best hiking trails are short and sweet. Cue the hike to Bouquet Falls in Santa Clarita Valley’s Bouquet Canyon.

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    New Rules of the Trail

    As some parks around California begin to re-open, we came up with tips for being responsible on your outdoor adventures. Let’s do our part so we can all keep enjoying the parks.

    View
  3. Image that represents the story

    Big Time Hike

    This is the largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite. We recommend this grand tour hike at 7.5 miles which includes a spectacular overlook.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    All Roads Lead to Rogue

    Idea for your next road trip: Go Rogue! The Rogue Valley in beautiful Southern Oregon has some of the state’s best hiking, swim holes, and wineries, and the charming historic towns of Ashland, Medford, and Jacksonville.

    View