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Hiking in Death Valley National Park

Hiking in Death Valley National Park is not for the novice to desertscapes. The landscape is demanding, exacting, and can be deadly. But it also can reveal some wonders.

Sensibly, the best time to hike in this huge park is during the "winter" months, from October into April. The rest of the year is just too hot to safely head out for a long hike.

Hikes featured on the Traveler:

Golden Canyon

You won't find any trees to escape the glaring sun shining down on the heavily eroded badlands of Death Valley National Park. Fortunately, my trek through Golden Canyon took place in early December, one of the more reasonable, temperature-wise, months in the park best known for its unrelenting heat.

Read the rest of the story on this page.

Here, courtesy of the park staff, are some of the most popular hiking trails: 

Gower Gulch Loop

  • Length: 4 miles round-trip.
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Start: Golden Canyon parking area, 2 miles south of Hwy 190 on Badwater Rd.
  • Description: Colorful badlands, canyon narrows, old borax mines. Hike up Golden Canyon to marker #10, then follow trail over badlands to Zabriskie Point or down Gower Gulch (no trail) to finish loop. Two easy dryfalls must be scrambled down. Ask for Gower Gulch handout at Visitor Center.

Desolation Canyon

  • Length: 3 miles, round-trip.
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Start: parking area at end of ½ mile dirt road off Badwater Road, 3.7 miles south of Hwy 190.
  • Description: Narrow canyon through colorful badlands. Follow old road and then main wash east continuing toward cliffs, then follow the wash draining from the south. Hike up canyon, keeping to the right at the forks. No trail.

Natural Bridge Canyon

  • Length: 1 mile to end of canyon, ½ mile to natural bridge.
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Start: Natural Bridge parking area, 1.5 miles off Badwater Road on gravel road, 13.2 miles south of Hwy 190.
  • Description: Uphill walk through narrow canyon. Large natural bridge at ½ mile. Trail ends at dry waterfall.

Badwater Salt Flat

  • Length: ½ mile to edge, 5 miles across
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Start: Badwater parking area, 17 miles south of Hwy 190 on Badwater Road.
  • Description: Level walk across lowest place in North America. Crust of salt crystals may be covered with temporary lake after rain storms. Watch out for muddy areas. No trail. Do not hike this area during hot months.

Salt Creek Interpretive Trail

  • Length: ½ mile round-trip.
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Start: Salt Creek parking area, 1 mile off Hwy 190 on graded gravel road, 13.5 miles north of Furnace Creek.
  • Description: Boardwalk along small stream. Good for viewing rarepupfish and other wildlife. Best in late winter/early spring.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

  • Length: 2 miles to highest dune
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate
  • Start: Sand Dunes parking area, 2.2 miles east of Stovepipe Wells on Hwy 190.
  • Description: Graceful desert dunes, numerous animal tracks. Walk cross-country to 100 ft. high dunes. Best in morning or afternoon for dramatic light. Also good for full moon hikes. No trail.

Mosaic Canyon

  • Length: ½ to 2 miles, one-way.
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Start: Mosaic Canyon parking area, 2 miles from Stovepipe Wells Village on graded gravel road.
  • Description: Popular walk up a narrow, polished marble-walled canyon. First ½ mile is narrowest section. Some slickrock scrambling necessary. "Mosaics" of fragments of rocks cemented together can be seen in canyon walls. Bighorn sheep sighted occasionally.

Titus Canyon Narrows

  • Length: 1.5 miles, one-way.
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Start: Titus Canyon Mouth parking area, 3 miles off Scotty’s Castle Road on graded gravel road.
  • Description: Easy access to lower Titus Canyon. Follow gravel road up wash 1.5 miles through narrows or continue to Klare Springs and petroglyphs at 6.5 miles. No camping allowed.

Dante's Ridge

  • Length: ½ miles to first summit, 4 miles one-way to Mt. Perry
  • Difficulty: moderate to first summit; moderately strenuous to Mt. Perry due to much up and down along trailless route.
  • Start: Dantes View parking area
  • Description: Follow ridge north of Dantes View for spectacular vistas and a cool place to escape summer heat. No trail for last 3.5 miles.

Little Hebe Crater Trail

  • Length: ½ mile, one-way.
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Start: Ubehebe Crater parking area, 8 miles west of Scotty’s Castle.
  • Description: Volcanic craters and elaborate erosion. Hike along west rim of Ubehebe Crater to Little Hebe and several other craters. Continue around Ubehebe’s rim for 1.5 mile loop hike.

No’re on your own.

Death Valley Buttes

  • Length: 1.2 mile to top of first butte
  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Start: Hell’s Gate parking area on Daylight Pass Road.
  • Description: Climb prominent buttes at foot of the Grapevine Mountains. From Hell’s Gate, walk SW ½ mile to buttes. Scramble up ridge to summit of first butte. Second butte is more difficult and 0.7 mile further. Descend 300' to saddle, then climb 500' to next summit. The ridges are narrow and exposed with steep drop-offs. No trail.

Fall Canyon

  • Length: 3 miles, one-way.
  • Difficulty: moderately strenuous
  • Start: Titus Canyon Mouth parking area, 3 miles off Scotty’s Castle Road on graded gravel road.
  • Description: Spectacular wilderness canyon near Titus Canyon. Follow informal path ½ mile north along base of mountains, drop into large wash at canyon's mouth, then hike 2½ miles up canyon to 35' dryfall. You can climb around the dryfall 300' back down canyon on south side for access to best narrows. Canyon continues another 3 miles before second dryfall blocks passage. No trail.

Little Bridge Canyon

  • Length: 3 miles, one-way.
  • Difficulty: moderately strenuous
  • Start: 3 miles west of Scotty's Castle junction on Hwy 190. Park along road at end of straight stretch.
  • Description: Climb large alluvial fan south of road 2 miles to canyon mouth. A small arch is on the right ½ mile into canyon and 20' high natural bridge spans east side of the canyon ½ mile beyond. No trail, Grotto Canyon topo map.

Cool places to hike when the valley is too hot, but may be snow covered in winter.

Wildrose Peak Trail

  • Length: 4.2 miles, one-way.
  • Difficulty: moderately strenuous
  • Start: Charcoal Kilns parking area on upper Wildrose Canyon Road.
  • Description: A good high peak to climb (9,064 ft.). Trail begins at north end of kilns with an elevation gain of 2,200 ft. Spectacular views beyond 2 mile point. Steep grade for last mile.

Telescope Peak Trail

  • Length: 7 miles, one-way.
  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Start: Mahogany Flat Campground at end of upper Wildrose Canyon Road. Rough, steep road after Charcoal Kilns.
  • Description: Trail to highest peak in the park (11,049 ft.) with a 3,000 ft. elevation gain. Climbing this peak in the winter requires ice axe and crampons, and only advised for experienced winter climbers. Trail is usually snow-free by June.
Death Valley National Park

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