Climb Up Chloride, Arizona’s Big Wash Road

One look at a map of Big Wash Road and you might just dismiss the drive as too rough for a truck camper. Located in the Cerbat Mountains of northwestern Arizona, the 4×4 drive features a steep, 2,500-foot climb, numerous hairpin curves, and 1,500-foot drop-offs. We found lots of information online about Jeeps and other 4×4 vehicles tackling this steep 4×4 road, but not a single mention anywhere of truck campers. If you’ve been reading our trip reports for any length of time you know that we usually take this absence as a challenge. It was time to take our new Bundutec Roadrunner on its first true climb to the mountains anyhow. The nearby Cerbat Mountains looked like as good a place as any.

We decided to tackle Big Wash Road on Christmas Day. It’s been years since we’ve been able to get away on Christmas and we were looking forward to it. In addition to our truck and camper, we also decided to take our new Toyota 4Runner to reconnoiter the route and document the 2,500-foot climb up the mountain.

Before leaving, we stopped at the Kingman BLM Field Office to obtain a map of the area and to get the latest intelligence on the condition of the road. Getting to Big Wash Road is easy. We’ve passed the road numerous times on our way to Las Vegas, but had never driven on it. The well-graded dirt road is located 18 miles north of Kingman, Arizona off Highway 93.

On a map, the Big Wash Road resembles an upside down hook with the Cherum Peak Trailhead marking the end. The road is 13 miles long. While it’s true that you can also get to the trailhead from the southwest via the town of Chloride, this part of the “road” is very rough and challenging and is not recommended for truck campers unless you own a high clearance 4×4 truck with a lightweight pop-up like a Four Wheel Camper.

BLM map of the Big Wash Road Climb to the Cherum Peak Trailhead.

The climb up Big Wash Road is thrilling and not for the faint of heart. The first part of the drive is basically flat with only a few corrals and water tanks to break things up, but as the road climbs the scenery gets interesting. Big Wash Road basically follows Big Wash, which gets deeper and more pronounced the closer you get to the mountain. Several hairpin turns will be encountered as the road climbs up the side of Packsaddle Mountain. Just before reaching the top, you’ll have an opportunity to enjoy stunning views of the valleys to both the east and west. The last 3 miles of the road hugs the side of a steep crest, which dips in and out along several outcrops, before you pass a radio tower and end things at the Cherum Peak Trailhead. Evidence of fallen rock—some large, some small—can be found along the top. Airing down is recommended though not required. Just take it slow.

The climb up Big Wash Road is marked by several sharp, hairpin turns.
On Big Wash Road headed toward Windy Point.

Most roads have a worthwhile destination and Big Wash Road is no exception. At the top of the mountain are two campgrounds operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM): Packsaddle and Windy Point. We look down on campgrounds generally, but BLM campgrounds are different because they are usually small, isolated, are free or cost very little, and often provide amazing views. The views at the Windy Point Campground, in particular, are simply stunning. Yes, there were a handful of pull-offs where you can boondock before you reach these two campgrounds, but the views don’t compare to Windy Point. The views alone are worth a few bucks.

Unfortunately, you won’t find much information online about these two BLM campgrounds. The BLM website reveals very little about both. Each campground is gorgeously surrounded by boulders and Pinion Pines. Camping is first come, first served, but I wouldn’t worry about crowds. During our two days on the mountain we encountered only two other tent campers. Unfortunately, neither campground has potable water, so you’ll need to bring your own. Here’s what we were able to learn about both campground:

  • Packsaddle Recreation Site (four sites): Located 9 miles from Highway 93, this tiny campground consists of four sites, three of which are for tents only. The only site suitable for a truck camper is site 3, which is where we stayed one night. Amenities at Packsaddle include a pit toilet, garbage, picnic tables, and fire rings. Camping at the Packsaddle Recreation Site is free.
  • Windy Point BLM Campground (six sites): Located 11 miles up on a large outcrop on the west side of the road, this aptly-named, hidden gem consists of six sites, all of which are suitable for truck campers. Amenities include a pit toilet, garbage, picnic tables, and fire rings. Camping at Windy Point costs $8 a night, a bargain when you consider the stunning scenery and spacing between the sites.
Sign marking the entrance to the Windy Point BLM Campground.
Site 2, Windy Point BLM Campground.

For the more adventurous, the 4×4 Jeep trail from the Cherum Point Trailhead can be taken directly to Chloride rather than doubling back the 13 miles on Big Wash Road. Warning, this Jeep road can get very rough. The “road” is really a wash and is marked by countless boulders, deep ruts, and washouts that will make things very slow. Only pop-up campers are recommended for this downhill stretch. Along the way, you’ll pass several mines, Native American petroglyphs, and Roy Purcell’s famous Chloride murals. Called The Journey: Images From an Inward Search for Self, Purcell’s murals were painted in 1966-67 while living in a nearby cave. We’ll let the photos of the murals speak for themselves. We actually enjoyed the Native American petroglyphs more, which can be found on adjacent rocks on both sides of road.

Roy Purcell’s Chloride murals.
Another view of Roy Purcell’s Chloride murals.

Of course, this road wouldn’t exist without the mines around Chloride, Arizona. Established shortly after silver ore was discovered in 1864, Chloride was once a bustling town of over 2,000 people, but now numbers only 271. On our BLM map we counted no fewer than 34 mines around Chloride that produced gold, silver, copper, zinc, turquoise, and lead. Today, Chloride retains the distinction of the being the oldest active mining town in the country. Chloride’s post office was established in 1873. A few scattered businesses can still be found in town including a couple of restaurants and gift shops. Today, the old mining town remains a popular divergence from nearby Route 66 and a popular place where the more adventurous can dig for raw turquoise.

Remains of an old gas station in Chloride.

Overall, we found the climb up Big Wash Road both thrilling and scenic. Yes, parts of the road are little steep and a little rough, but most of the road is wide, well-graded, and fine for a 4×4 high clearance truck camper. As a bonus, you can camp overnight at a BLM campground, enjoy stunning views at an elevation of 6,200 feet, and take in a hike to nearby Cherum Peak. The temperatures in the Cerbat Mountains can be a little cold during the winter—during the night the temps dipped down into the 30s —but this elevation can be a welcome respite during the heat of summer if you happen to be passing through the area.

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About Mello Mike 564 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently rolls in a 2013 Ram 3500 with a 2021 Bundutec Roadrunner truck camper mounted on top. A communications expert, he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side.

3 Comments

  1. This reminds me just a little bit of our trip down to AZ in November 2019. I selected a boondocking site called Big John Flat in Fish Lake National Forest. I did not read the description well enough, it is at 10,100 elevation, and the last five miles of the climb look quite a bit like your photos in this post!

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