Hiking Death Valley
Hiking Death Valley can be a unique experience that you may have not consider before. Yes, the valley can get quite hot and unbearable for strenuous exercise. If you plan your trip during the cooler months, it can be a great experience. I decided that the first week of February was the most ideal time for this expedition. The desert nights and mornings can get cold so make sure you dress in layers, easily removed as the day gets warmer in the afternoon. For the two days we were in Death Valley, the temperature started at 50 degrees at 8 a.m. to a high of 70 degrees by mid-afternoon. I limited my hike choices to trails that were easily accessible from the highway and a length of about 4 miles as I wanted to do multiple hikes to experience different parts of the valley. My brother and I were able to visit multiple points of interest along with 4 hikes that will make you put Death Valley on your bucket list.
1. Mosaic Canyon Trail
Mosaic Canyon can is located off of highway 190 via a dirt road right before Stovepipe wells if you are driving east, just look for the sign. The road is over two miles of hard dirt with gravel, large rocks and unforgiving pot holes that can give your vehicle quite a work out. It is passable by non-4-wheel-drive vehicles but I wouldn’t suggest low profile vehicle to attempt this road. There’s a great view of a portion of the valley from the trailhead you shouldn’t miss including the sand dunes of Mesquite Flats to your right. This hike is a fairly easy uphill hike with some scrambling in certain portions of the trail totaling to a 4 mile up and back route. The walls of the canyon are amazing and it is aptly named for the colors of the polished rock. The mosaic is comprised of a myriad of rock fragments suspended in a natural state. Thousands of years of rainfall and flooding have sculpted this geological wonder and polished the rock into a smooth finish not usually associated with natural rock formations.
2. Natural Bridge Trail
Natural Bridge is off of Badwater Drive and the trailhead can be accessed by a dirt road that can be traversed by most autos including two wheel drive vehicles. As most of this national park, the points of interest on this road are well signed and each point of interest would be hard to miss. This trail is another canyon path much wider than Mosaic canyon with higher walls. Natural Bridge is a short half mile uphill hike if you are only interested in seeing this 50-foot natural bridge. It’s an easy hike to this point but we decided this wasn’t enough so we decided to do the full mile hike which ends at short rock wall. Little did we know that you could continue the hike beyond this to a dry waterfall and a cave. We learned that you should always read the trail description for different options of the hike at the trailhead before starting the trail and not after the hike.
We decided that the conventional one mile hike, one direction, wasn’t enough so we took a side trail up the side of the canyon on a small “goat trail”. This trail seemed to just continue going up to the sky with no end. We continued to go as far as we could until I realized that the trail ended at a small plateau that provided an amazing view of the canyon below. This provided an amazing feeling of accomplishment that the normal canyon trail could have not delivered. After taking in the view, and enjoying a sense of pride, it was time to make the dangerous descent down the same “goat trail”.
If you decide to do this hike, I suggest you continue past the Natural Bridge to make the hike a little more challenging.
This video is of the “goat trail” portion of our Natural Bridge hike
3. Golden Canyon Trail
Golden Canyon was a hike that was not planned but born out of convenience in time and location. We had some extra time to kill after lunch and the Golden Canyon Trail was near highway 190 just two miles on Badwater Drive. Another positive was that the trailhead was accessible without having to drive down a dirt road. This is a short 1 mile trail to the end or you could couple it with another trail and create a four mile loop. Another option is to follow the trail to the end where it meets the Red Cathedral. Several smaller canyons also break off the main channel and can be explored if you desire. We chose to hike to Red Cathedral, a red mudstone, with the trail going right up to the cliffs. The trail takes you through golden rolling hills, with some cliffs appearing to have veins of gold, before arriving at a narrow gulch. Once you clear this obstacle course you’ll emerge at the foot of the Cathedral. Most hikers will turn back at this point but for others more adventurous, there is goat trail along the cliff which will take you half way up the Cathedral. I chose to continue and the view from this perch was spectacular. With a breeze blowing in your face and the warm glow of the sun beating down on you, this is an experience so few ever have. I sat here soaking it all in along with three other hardy hikers, who arrived before me, just enjoying the moment. This was the pinnacle of our trip literally and figuratively.
Golden Canyon Trail highlights
4. Darwin Falls Trail
Darwin Falls Trail is a beautiful hike unlike most desert hikes you can find and must be on everyone’s to-do list if you visit Death Valley. For my full article, see: Darwin Falls.