Salvation Mountain

Visiting Salvation Mountain in California

Visiting Salvation Mountain in Southern California is an interesting experience. We did that and learned the whole story behind it. If you are ever close by, make sure to stop there! 

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During our vacation at Palm Springs we decided to drive all the way to Salvation Mountain to see what it was all about. I had seen so many pictures of it and read so much about it, that it was finally time to go see it ourselves.

Salvation Mountain is located near the southern part of Salton Sea about a 20 minute drive from Bombay Beach. The road turns from State Route 111 to Niland, and you will reach Salvation Mountain after driving through this little town.

If you pass Salvation Mountain and continue all the way to Slab City, you will come to a small community consisting mostly of snowbirds—people escaping winter from colder locations. Slab City is known for its art installations and everyone can visit to see them for free.


Salvation Mountain is basically a man-made hill and art installation created by Leonard Knight. Knight was a local resident who was passionate about religion. He built the mountain with one message in his mind; “God is Love”. And that can be seen all over the place.

Knight was hoping that some day, Salvation Mountain would become a tourist destination that would bring a lot of money to the Salton Sea area and to people living there. Leonard didn’t think of himself as an artist; he said that God created Salvation Mountain through him.

The hill is built from adobe brick and used car parts like windows and tires. And of course, a lot of paint.

While Leonard Knight was building Salvation Mountain, people started donating more paint to him. He said he was always happy to get any paint for his work, but the best and most colorful paints he saved for the flowers. He painted many things on the hill, like trees, waterfalls, suns, birds and flowers.

There are also some Bible verses and hearts. The installation is topped with a big white cross.

Colourful Salvation Mountain in California
Salvation Mountain in California
Heart painted to Salvation Mountain in California.
Blogger Paula standing in front of Salvation Mountain in California.

Knight first came to California in 1984. His plan before building Salvation Mountain was to release a hot air balloon with the message “God is Love” printed on it. But he wasn’t successful in building the balloon and decided to go for a small monument instead. That is how Salvation Mountain got started.

The very first construction of the hill failed and it collapsed in 1989. But Knight said he had learned from his mistakes and asked God’s help to rebuild, and eventually today’s Salvation Mountain was born.

The new mountain was built stronger than the old one and it is about 50 feet tall. By using adobe and bales of straw, Knight also built some dome shaped structures which became part of Salvation Mountain. They were all painted and decorated too, of course.

Leonard Knight died in 2014 after staying in a care facility for a while due to dementia. During his stay there and after his passing, a bunch of volunteers took care of Salvation Mountain. Since it is in the desert, it requires a lot of upkeep.

According to Knight, the mountain should ideally be repainted twice a year. Later, a non-profit organization: Salvation Mountain Inc. was established to take care of it, and the mountain is still run by the volunteers and kept alive by donations from visitors.

The Controversy around Salvation Mountain

In 1994 Imperial County raised the concern that Salvation Mountain was polluting the soil. They had the site tested and high levels of lead were found. Mr. Knight didn’t believe the tests were done fairly and he claimed that he always used non-toxic paints. He hired another company to conduct the tests and they came back negative.

Some say, that there were political motives behind the first testing, and that there were plans to use this area for something else. But I do think it is a valid concern. Pouring this much paint on the ground every year can’t be good for the environment.

If you look at the history of the completely polluted Salton Sea area, they really can’t deal with any more toxins in the ground. No matter how much we love art it should be done in an environmental way. I’m glad they tested the area again though and it was all fine.


During the Covid-19 pandemic, Salvation Mountain was closed for a long time. However, it had just re-opened before our visit with some restrictions in place. Since it is outdoors, we felt safe there and it was very easy to social distance when needed.

Overall, Salvation Mountain is in a remote location in the desert and there are not a lot of people around. The indoor dome areas of the mountain were still closed, but we got to peek inside from the door.

Inside of Salvation Mountain

In front of the mountain, they have a small parking lot and you can walk around the area for free. However, they do ask you not to climb up in order to protect the paint. There are also some decorated old trucks in front of the mountain.

If you want to make a donation to Salvation Mountain, they ask you to use a donation box found in front of the mountain or to send money electronically. You can use either Paypal or Venmo like we did, or you can do it through their website.

There are no services around this area, so make sure to stop at a bathroom or for food in Niland, or bring your own snack. There were some people camping on the other side of the road from the mountain, and it is free of charge. You can also camp freely in Slab City. They have more information about that on their website.

I should also mention, that you might run into the border patrol along the way, since Salvation Mountain is quite close to the Mexican border. There was a check point on State Route 111, and when we left back to Palm Springs, we got stopped. It was quick though and we were able to return to our vacation home.

However, it is a good idea to bring your ID’s with you since they might ask for them.

Colourful Salvation Mountain sign by the place in California.
A painted truck at Salvation Mountain, California
Painted trucks at Salvation Mountain, California
A colourful, painted mailbox at Salvation Mountain, California


If you are vacationing in the Palm Springs area there are so many things to do! Salvation Mountain is just one of the places you can visit. Along the way there you should stop at the Salton Sea and the quirky Bombay Beach.

Make sure also to check if the DesertX art exhibition is happening and go see some of the amazing art pieces! Many of them are still there even after the event closes or permanently.

If you like hiking then there are many great places to do that too. Indian Canyon is probably the closest with some really great trails but if you are willing to drive a bit, then you should definitely visit Joshua Tree National Park. Mojave National Preserve is also close by and has lots of trails.

We stayed in Indio in this family friendly condo but if you are looking for a hotel in Palm Springs, this one our favourite.

Salvation Mountain was definitely and interesting place to visit. Because of its remote location though, I’m not sure if it will ever attract as many visitors as Leonard Knight hoped for. If Salton Sea would be cleaned up and could be used for recreation again, I’m sure Salvation Mountain would become a popular destination too.

But if you are close by, it is a rather weird site to see. You should definitely stop by!

What do you think, would you go see Salvation Mountain?

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  1. I’ve been to California a few times, but this place is still on my dream list to see. I hope I can do it during my next visit. I saw Salvation Mountain for the first time in the movie Into the Wild. And I would love to see it. It has an amazing story, but it is also very photogenic. I had no idea that when Leonard Knight was building Salvation Mountain, people started donating more paint to him. It’s great that you provide such a detailed story about this place.

  2. Wow what an interesting place. I saw another travel blogger who I follow post a reel about this place. It definitely looks interesting. It’s good to know that you can’t climb it. I imagine some people try to haha.

  3. I have never heard of Salvation Mountain or the Salton Sea. So great to discover a new region in California to visit on our next trip. Fascinating to see this hill built from adobe brick and used car parts. And so colourfully decorated. How fun that there are trucks also decorated with the religious messages.

  4. I haven’t been out to this area in a very long time and do not live too far away. There are so many quirky things to see. If I remember correctly, slab city is an abandoned military base and the snow birds living there are squatters staying for free who have made it their community. Interesting that there is a conspiracy about the test painting to take the land when there is soooo much land in the area not being used. Thank you, this is a good reminder for a day trip this winter!

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