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5 Reasons to Avoid Slab City

If you’re looking for the perfect spot to take your family for your next vacation, it might not be Slab City. In fact, you’ll likely want to stay as far from this seemingly lawless city as possible. We visited this area in 2017 and almost immediately questioned our safety.

If you’re considering visiting Slab City, we have five reasons you should avoid this off-grid location at all costs. Let’s take a look!

What Is Slab City?

Slab City is an unincorporated city in California with no water, power, or sewer services. There are approximately 50 to 100 year-round residents. However, during the winter months, the population swells to about 3500. 

The community is mainly transient individuals who crave freedom and a community of like-minded individuals. Because of this, many nomads exploring the desert southwest venture in to see what it’s about. This was how we stumbled upon this forgotten corner of the world.

I WAS WARNED NOT TO GO HERE! | Slab City & East Jesus | Salton Sea adventures | Nomad Life RV Living

Broken-down vehicles litter the landscape, thrown-together structures serve as houses, and the city goes by the tagline “the last free place.” 

The area was a former military training facility, Camp Dunlap, which the government dismantled in the 1950s. Drifters from all walks of life and locales traveled to the abandoned land. They called it “Slab City” due to the large concrete slab foundations remaining after removing the immense military structures.

Can You Visit Slab City?

You can visit Slab City, but it’s not always the best idea. You drive in from the west through Niland, California. A dirt road winds you through the barren entryway, past old ruins and junk, and finally to a “city” of grid streets with various hand-painted signs and ramshackle structures.

You’ll find a library, food establishments, and even Airbnb hosts; however, you’ll also find a longer list of reasons why it’s not an ideal place to visit. Visitors explore Slab City, but very few adventure past Salvation Mountain. Soon, you’ll see why!

salvation mountain
Salvation Mountain in Slab City.

5 Reasons to Avoid Slab City

If you’re still not convinced about avoiding Slab City, keep reading. We’re sharing five significant reasons you should avoid this location. Let’s dive in!

#1. No Amenities

Slab City lacks amenities. It would be best if you came expecting no water, sewer, or electricity. Those who visit the area typically travel in an RV, allowing them to bring everything they need to be self-sufficient during their visit. There are designated boondocking spots on site, but it is little more than a dirt lot in a corner of the encampment.

However, the sketchiness of the city and general safety concerns should cause you to think twice about what you bring. Anything not within your site could quickly disappear into the hands of one of the locals.

#2. It Smells Awful

Sanitation is a serious concern for anyone visiting or living in Slab City. Officials have tried to improve the smells, but locals reject most of them. They choose to embrace the freedom of handling business and their sanitation needs. However, the sanitation issues aren’t the only reason for the foul odor.

The Salton Sea is less than 10 miles away. This body of water has a high amount of salt, making it impossible for fish and other aquatic life to live. As a result, dead fish and different marine life fill the beaches. Don’t count on having an appetite while in this area!

#3. There’s a Large Drug Scene

Many residents and nomads calling Slab City home struggle with drug abuse and other addictions. It’s a serious issue, and drugs are readily available. You can see the results of what addiction can do to a person.

Man rolling joint in front of Salvation Mountain
Unfortunately, there is a lot of drug use and abuse in Slab City.

#4. Trash Is Everywhere

Some of the sanitation issues in the area have to do with how residents dispose of their trash. Since there are no services in the area, debris and waste often end up on the ground.

Some have tried to clean up by providing dumpsters throughout the city. However, locals often reject the idea and feel anyone pushing it is trying to gentrify the community.

Piles of trash in Slab City
Be prepared for lots of garbage and unpleasant smells while in Slab City.

#5. Next to Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range

This was an unexpected discovery when we visited Slab City. We didn’t realize the “town” was right next to an active military practice range until we heard the sounds of battle in the distance.

It turned out that Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range (CMAGR) is less than 15 miles away from Slab City. People use the range for military practices involving guns and bombs so that it can sound like a war zone.

The sounds of explosions going off in the distance do not enhance the appeal of this remote, off-grid town. The training exercises can occur at any time, and you never know when you might hear a sudden burst of explosions.

While we were there, bombs were dropped and would shake the ground. We heard machine gun fire at all times of the night and could see tracer rounds being fired on the mountainside. Our dogs were terrified, and we were very unsettled. We could not wait to leave the next day.

Pro Tip: Skip Slab City and visit these 7 Best National Parks in California instead.

Why Do People Go to Slab City?

Those who visit Slab City enjoy free camping and experience the unique artwork by local artists. One section of Slab City, East Jesus, is home to an outdoor art museum. Here you’ll find a wall of broken TVs, a car decorated with doll heads, and several other art pieces that might make you feel uncomfortable.

The most significant attraction to the area is Salvation Mountain. This is a massive art project by a local artist, Leonard Knight. The many bright colors make it a tremendous draw for photographers and social media influencers looking for unique spots to fill their Instagram feeds.

The mountain combines adobe bricks, tires, automobile parts, and thousands of gallons of paint. You’ll find murals and scriptures written all over the display. 

Is Slab City Safe?

Slab City is a relatively remote “city” in the Californian desert. Despite having a reputation for being a “lawless city,” it’s not entirely without rules. There is a very minimal police presence in the area, and they would respond to a situation if you contact them. However, very few locals have favorable views of law enforcement and the city polices themselves.

People commonly engage in drugs, alcohol, and other illicit activities in Slab City. Safety is unpredictable, and you never know what will happen, especially at night. Visitors stopping to visit Salvation Mountain or to drive through and experience the city in person aren’t likely to face any issues. However, you won’t likely want to linger longer than necessary before getting back on the road.

Pro Tip: Are you brave enough to go boondocking in Slab City? Our stay in Slab City ranked in our top 9 Scariest Boondocking Experiences!

We admit, Slab City did have some cool art. These murals were done by street artist Christina Angelina.

Who Owns Slab City?

Slab City sits on a 450-acre piece of land the state of California owns. The state has never done anything with the land, but there have been rumors that the state intends to make use of the property.

Reports surfaced in 1993 regarding selling the land to a private contractor, which led to residents establishing the Slab City Community Group. The group’s purpose is to help defend what many feel is their last resort. How the state plans to use the land in the future is still unclear.

Don’t Waste Your Time With Slab City

Slab City may be a unique stop, but it’s not for everyone. We appreciate art and encourage artists to express their creativity, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg for Slab City. The unsanitary living conditions, drug abuse, and addiction are evident among many residents in the community.

If you must satiate your curiosity, we recommend a day visit instead of an overnight stay. All the art exhibits can easily be seen in an afternoon, and that’s really the best part of this strange place.

Would you dare to visit Slab City? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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Amy

Thursday 5th of October 2023

Your featured videographer makes derogatory remarks about Black Lives Matter signage, expressing fear of people who support equality, yet flashes a “Fuck Biden” banner with no comment. His privileged white male political penchant would be better edited out. He might do well to suspend his assumptions until he has interacted with some folks. So disappointed to see this posted on your site.

Nomadick

Monday 16th of October 2023

@Amy, rather than reaching out to the videographer, and asking him directly WHY he feels the way he does (just like you, I'm sure he has reasons...), you'd rather censor him and limit conveyance of his personal feelings about something that neither him nor you created?

If that's your tack...I suspect that same attitude is helping to promulgate the giant divide we have today in our country.

When did we first lose our "live and let live" attitude, or our "seek first to understand, THEN to be understood" compass? When did it become necessary for everyone to agree with our way of thinking, else be censored?

What he conveyed to us about BLM in his video, was personal to him. You'd rather cancel the guy instead of bridge the gap between you and other people who aren't perfectly in tune with your wavelength?

How does this attitude help mend the divide between cultures, which movements like BLM is attempting to mend?

I find great value in being friendly...and even possibly friends...with far-left folks, with far-right folks, with religious folks, with crazy folks, with straight-laced folks, with drug-user folks, and everyone else too...as I garner an interesting perspective from each person I meet, and hopefully they feel the same way towards me.

Something to ponder, -Nomadick

MadDog

Thursday 5th of October 2023

This sounds more like a whiney op ed than an actual article. If you had used any correct facts, there could have been some validity to it.

"The Salton Sea is less than 10 miles away. This body of water has a high amount of salt, making it impossible for fish and other aquatic life to live."

"There are fish in the Salton Sea! In fact, there are over 400 species of fish that call this place home. The most common fish you’ll find here are tilapia and carp."

Nomadick

Thursday 5th of October 2023

I get that Slab City didn't resonate with you guys. That's fine. However issuing a "warning" about it to other RVers is disappointing. I think the way I would have written the article, is "this is an interesting place, but not for me", rather than lambasting it. I've been there, and toured pretty much everything there was to see. The people there were VERY welcoming...a guy offered to give us a tour, which we declined...and they were serving food and offered us some.

I respect what these folks are up to. Self-goverence comes long before "official" rules. Be good to each others, respect your fellow human, Golden Rule seems to be what these folks live by.

Yes, it's relatively "dirty" compared to a sanitized RV Park. So are a lot of places...both in California, and in other parts of the world. This is not abnormal.

I find it refreshing that a group of individuals can come together, lay out some "human-rights-type-morals/ethics", and self-govern themselves without Big Brother peering over our shoulders, pushing us back into line when we step slightly outside the unclear and nebulous parameters that our governments have created for us, supposedly on our behalf.

Slab City is a perfect example of how human beings can be kind to each other, and respect each other's sovereignty. From a standpoint of a bit of a Humanities Observation, and a museum...I really quite liked it there...and we felt safe due to the folks who were very friendly.

I think you let your imaginations get the best of you, personally...and this article reflects that, IMHO.

L Provost

Tuesday 7th of November 2023

Burning peoples campers to the ground with people in it is not my imagination,Stealing from anyone that has something of value is not my imagination, I didn't work hard in life to have what I have to be burnt down with me and my dogs in it, I wouldn't go to a neighborhood like that overnight

Robyn

Thursday 5th of October 2023

We did go with our coach. We were staying in Desert Hot Springs last winter and decided to go to see the Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain and Slab city. Yikes, on SC...The trash and drug use was off the charts. To bad it is so close to Salvation Mountain. Couldn't get out of there fast enough. Do not recommend this place as a winter boondocking experience. There are plenty of other better areas to go boondocking.

L Provost

Monday 23rd of October 2023

@Robyn, I agree

Philllip

Sunday 20th of August 2023

I live about 20 miles south of Slab City. It may not be the ideal place to live but I may have to if I can't find work. There are videos / documentaries on YouTube about Slab City. I'm not sure it looks too bad.