With blistering heat in the summer and frigid temps in the winter capable of killing a man, Death Valley certainly lives up to its name. But hiking here is still one of the greatest treats the country has to offer. The incredible landscape is unlike anything you’ll find around the world. The best months to hike the region are between October and April, when the temperatures are cooler. Check out these trails to see the best of the best of Death Valley National Park.
If you’re going to hike Death Valley, you might as well go big or go home. Telescope Peak is the highest point in the the park and towers 11,049 feet above the valley’s lowest point. During the winter there’s always the threat of massive snowfall. If you can manage the seven-mile trek to the top, you’ll be treated to unparalleled views of the surrounding topography. On a clear day you can see the top of Mount Whitney and the Badwater Basin, the highest and lowest points in the country. It’s important to dress appropriately when tackling these heights, because the extreme change in elevation in Death Valley can mean you’ll be sweating one moment and shivering the next.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes offers one of the easiest hikes in Death Valley. A hike to the top of the highest dune will take roughly 1.5 hours. During sunrise and sunset it offers one of the most breathtaking views in the entire region, and is a must for any visitor. There are technically no official trails along the dunes, but it’s difficult to get lost. Just be aware that walking across sand can easily wear a hiker out, so come prepared with excellent boots.
The aptly named Sidewinder Canyon features some of the coolest features in Death Valley. You’ll find the different trails here wind through a variety of slot canyons, hollows, narrows, and arches that make for a wonderfully maze-like adventure. The narrow pathways are susceptible to flash flooding, so it’s important to keep an eye on the weather before embarking on the trek. The trails here vary between two and four miles in length and offer incredible views at the base of Smith Mountain. You’ll also find easy access to the Badwater Basin from here.
Golden Canyon to Gower Gulch
The trip from Golden Canyon to Gower Gulch is a six-mile journey that takes you past some of Death Valley’s most dramatic features. You’ll traverse the famous borax mining and the towering Red Cathedral. Halfway through the hike you’ll reach the peak of Zabriskie Point. Here you’ll find terrific views of the golden canyons and come alive with color during the sunset. On your way back down out of the canyon you’ll pass underneath the stunning spire called Many Beacon. From there it’s a relaxing wind through the mudstone hills to reach Gower Gulch. Portions of the hike will see you scrambling up the sheer rock face, so it’s not exactly for the inexperienced hiker.
Though Mosaic Canyon is not the most challenging hike in Death Valley, it’s arguably one of the most unique. The smooth breccia walls were formed over millions of years by rushing water and are still cool to the touch. The resulting mix of narrow passageways and open trails surrounded by walls of marble swirls and mosaic designs form an incredible sight. Once you’ve made your way through the three narrow canyon sections of the hike, it opens up to a dry waterfall. Though you can choose to turn back here, as most do, there’s also the option of scrambling to the top and continuing on for another two miles. The hike is alluring, and a great way to keep cool in the middle of Death Valley.