Explore the most popular backpacking trails in Death Valley National Park with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

Went from cotton wood canyon to Deadhorse Canyon to marble canyon. Only uphill to get out of cottonwood and cross into Deadhorse. We used this app GPS feature and hiking project GPS and where able to stay on trail the whole time. Had water in both cottonwood and Deadhorse.

3 months ago

Now Please understand I am VERY!!! Old Fashion and I dont like or enjoy technology when Im In the Wilderness/Desert/Forest/Mountains so GPS's and or Phones stay in my car so I did the best I could by drawing this Trail for you but If you go to the Ranger station they will tell you that this is an unmarked trail because of the years of wash and very few folks ever find it . BUT!!! I ASSURE YOU IT IS THERE GOOGLE IT IF YOU LIKE. It is an old Indian Trail that even the Spanish used when they were moving across the West in search of Power and Gold as well as the Gold Miners of 49 they used it to get through the Mountains (This is How I know about it and went looking for it) You will experience everything Death Valley has to offer if you attempt this .Rock,Canyons,Sand, Salt ,Alittle Climbing, Very Dry and No Shade.They say there's water but NOTE!!!the ranger said its there sometimes but very rare. I was out there for 3 days and only saw 1 puddle that had maybe 1 gal in it and at that it was full of rabbit poop but I used it ( ALWAYS take a filter!!!!) There is a small stream called Poison Spring the water is brown and very bitter but with a filter can be drank(per the Ranger) I never found it, I dont know how I passed it ??. The spot to locate your starting Point is North of Furnace Creek at Mile Marker 104 just South of Beatty Junction. Park at Mile Marker 104 on the side of the road (if you are going North from Furnace Creek and the Ranger Welcome Center Marker 104 will be on your RIGHT SIDE down a few miles. from there look to your EAST( the side you are parked on,The salt flat is on your left) you will see 3 Brown hills (If you choose google earth it) you will see a small hill then the other 2 to the north. I went into the right of the small hill(note my picture) I heard there was an Old Gold Miners Wagon Trail that headed East of that hill from behind it and YES IT IS STILL THERE ! The wagon wheel marks have stood the test of time and wind absolutely AMAZING!!!! From there I followed the wagon trail until it was gone from the wash I climbed the highest point and looked across to find my very faint trail which is Indian Pass Trail you can see it from your high point to the North East corner at the base of the Mountains the Trail is there you"ll see it (google earth it if you choose) . Follow that trail up to the canyon (NOTE The trail/road dead ends up around the backside but makes for a pretty canyon picture because you are high above the canyon walls) when you get to the section of Trail that begins to go up the hill (The dead end) you go down to the Canyon wash and follow that all the way around, it will pass through the Mountains and come out on the other side . You can't get lost because the Canyon walls are very high . As the Ranger told Me there are very few Folks Know about the Pass so there are very few who ever pack or hike it its mostly locals if any. I set up Carins VERY BIG in some spots once you get back about 3-4 miles if you choose to follow my route . TAKE WATER!!!! I took 5 liters and got 1 liter from that poop puddle and I returned 3 days later with 8oz of water and 1/2 pint of
Swedish water,Svedke (: There is no shade except that of an occasional hanging rock in the Canyon so beware of the sun (you are in a desert!) I may sound like a wise ass but You'd be surprised at how many times Ive passed a person in Arizona Utah or Cali in the desert and they were headed out because they needed water and they had to cut there venture short. once I even gave up some of mine to a kat who needed abit. think wise this was an awesome venture and if you can read a compass can follow the Sun and have Water you will be fine. We have more to our advantage then any Gold Miner did that ever walked through this Pass . ENJOY!!! Oh and if you like being where you wont see a person for as long as you are out you'll LOVE it here! SLAINTE!!!

4 months ago

I hiked from Shorty’s Well, just east of West of westside road, up the Jeep trail to the west for five miles. It was nice in early February.

Good winter trip. Both springs running and I was able to get water. I ended up parking at the 2wd parking spot but in retrospect I could’ve saved hiking a few miles on rocky,sandy wash by driving into the divide. Getting down the dry falls on marble was a little tricky but it has some good hand and foot holds to help. Very few trail markers which made for a fun adventure.

There is water at Cottonwood Springs and Deadhorse Canyon as of Thanksgiving weekend 2017. 4x4 is a must if you're going to start from the junction. I was in a Prius and our car made it to the 2WD parking lot 8 miles in on Cottonwood Marble Road. But it was bumpy and kind of scary. Do not attempt to drive beyond the parking area if you do not have an off-road vehicle. I was tracking our miles on my Garmin and having to hike the extra miles from the parking lot and missing some turns got us to 35 miles for this trip. It's stunning, a real adventure, but really for those with experience. Should not be attempted by newbies. We did it in 2.5 days and we never saw anyone else. I used the topo map on this app as well as following the NPS map and printed info. We also followed wild horse tracks when things got confusing and I found them to be reliable. The section from the second saddle to Deadhorse Canyon is as tricky as everyone says it is. You'll see the Canyon below but you don't see how to get down there. There is basically a steep gully you're supposed to go down. We ended up heading on a ridge instead and I kept wondering how we were supposed to get down there. Once I realized we missed the turn into the gully, we descended down the side of a mountain and slid all the way down to reach the gully (do not try this at home!). This is to say, be meticulous in looking for the second saddle/gully turn. I personally found the 8ft dryfall to be difficult to climb down but my bf scrambled halfway and just jumped. Then I threw our gear down for him to catch it. Climb on the left side of the fall, which has more handholds. There is also a turn we missed near the rock choke after the marble slots. But the trail heads up to the left before the choke. Look for cairns. Because daylight is scarce this time of year, we got up at 4am each day to start. We parked at the 2WD parking on the first night and hiked a little past the junction to setup camp for the night. We started at the junction going clockwise on the first day and ended for the day at North Valley. Second day we went from North Valley back to the 2WD parking. We carried 5L of water for each day and I found that to be enough, we refilled at Cottonwood Springs. Highly recommend it for the solitude and experience. Just do your research.

This trail is very boring the first 8.7 miles. You will have to return via the same boring path. Hence, there is about 17.4 miles of boredom at the start and at the end. It is a 4x4 road which takes you into the canyon and these 8.7 miles climb slowly to about 3K feet. This is where the road ends. You will see a sign marking the route as closed to vehicular traffic beyond this point. The trail then continues into the canyon and you will be nicely surprised to hear the sounds of a spring. It is the Hanupah spring. I am not sure if its seasonal but it had quite a bit of water flow when I hiked. If you have trouble finding the "use trail", know that it skirts to the left of the canyon (almost hugging the base of the hill to the left. Obviously, it is to the left of the stream. If you keep at it this will lead up a slope to Shorty's mine. Do not continue up this route though. The hill which needs to be climbed and get to the ridge is on the other side of the canyon, to the right. The vegetation is quite thick at this point. There are some cairns marking the path up the initial part of the hill. Either you backtrack a bit and cross the stream and stay on the right side of the stream and hug the hill to its right till you see the cairns and gain the ridge, or you can just bush whack across from Shorty's mine.
Gaining this ridge is a bit of scree and talus climb and can be tiresome and there is quite a bit of elevation gained here. Once you get to the ridge, its quite straight forward. Just walk the ridge all the way. I did this at night on a new moon, and had no problems. There is a use trail which will walk you through the whole way. Even if it doesn't just stay on the ridge. Its quite simple, scan left and right. If you are on the tallest point of the scan, you are on the ridge, and you are good to go.
At around 7.4K feet you will hit the last mountain you have to traverse. It has a significant elevation gain and can get quite tiring, with the elevation effects kicking in as well. You will then hit the Telescope peak trail. From there follow this trail to the left and in 1.5 miles or so you will reach the peak.
I have seen reports of people parking one car in Mahagony Flats (The Telescope Peak Trail starts from there), and hence on the return, follow the trail all the way to the trail head in Mahagony Flats and call it a day. I had no such luxury. I trudged all the way back to Shorty's well trail head, having to trudge the 8.7 miles of boring road at the end.
For day hikes, you do not need to get any permits.
If you are coming from the Bay Area, you will cross a town called "Searles". It is about 120 miles before the trail head. There are two gas stations here - a Shell and a Kwik. The gas price was similar to what it is in the Bay Area. These are not open 24 hours, but a good place to fill up. There is also a gas station in the town called "Furnace", which is about 20 miles before the trail head. The gas here is 50c pricier per gallon than in "Searles". This is also not open 24 hours. Hence, plan accordingly.

7 months ago

Most of the hikes in Death Valley are in and out. This is a beautiful loop day hike. It is not for beginners and it involves some scrambling. Anyone with some scrambling experience will likely have no problem getting through a few section will be fun obstacles.

There are beautiful rock formations, narrows and expansive views of the Death Valley once you are on the ridge.

This hike has been named after Scott Swaney. He has explored Death Valley more than anyone else and as of now has about 300 first time canyons descended/explored.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Backpacked this trail in two days (Feb. 24, 2017-Feb. 25, 2017) starting on the Cottonwood side and ending on the Marble Canyon side. I parked in the 2WD parking area and though my 2WD probably could have made it, it only added two miles one way to the trip.

On the first day I made it to the end of the jeep road by about 1:00 PM so I decided to continue on to Cottonwood Spring. Made it to the spring by about 5:00 PM which was perfect. There is plenty of space to camp out near this spring.

On day two, I tracked up the canyon, over the two saddles, and down into marble canyon. That traverse from the first saddle, to the second is not difficult but you must pay attention. I had the GPS way points programmed and I'm glad I did. Second day was by far the most stunning hike. The view of Marble Canyon from the top was incredible. Highly recommended.

All three springs were active when I was there, granted they had a huge rain storm the week before. First cottonwood spring and dead horse spring were only mildly active but the main cottonwood spring was very active (pictured). Beautiful, clean, cool water.

Great trip. If you want to take it very easy and get some side hikes in, three days is very doable. If you're looking to do it in two days, also very doable.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Did just a portion of this loop (Marble Canyon to the Petroglyphs). Excellent day hike. The total length can be shortened considerably if you continue driving along the road. 4WD is advised, but not required. Having never been here, I chose to park at the end of the 2WD road, which lengthened the overall trip to 13 miles. Still worth it. The hike itself is awesome and the petroglyphs are really cool. Keep a sharp eye out. They are hard to spot. I walked right by them the first time because someone had told me "you can't miss 'em."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

This is a great hike for winter. I live in Wyoming, so all we have is winter camping. Not my style. Not a difficult hike and navigating was not an issue. Just watch for the entrance to Dead Horse Canyon and you'll be fine. Since we weren't certain of the water situation we hauled our water. No water filter. Maybe not a good idea if it's hot, but for us it was no problem. We did it from the Cottonwood side, and I think this is the better choice.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cool trail with really nice photo opportunities. Not a challenging loop hike, long but easy. I popped my tire and had to change to the spare on the sand road, changing a flat in sinking sand was fun! I was in a 4x4 truck with big tires, but anything can still happen. I wouldn't recommend driving to the trail head without a high clearance vehicle some of the rocks are quick large to get over. Added some photo's from the morning sun. Definitely do this as a morning hike when the sun is cresting into the canyon. I camped around mile 9 on the road, was a great spot.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Warning: don't try this in the summer!!! We've been to Death Valley a number of times in the summer because you've not really had the full experience until you've stood at Bad Water in the 130* heat. But our first trip in the winter (Feb) allowed us to do some real on-foot exploring! The trail is easily accessed by a rental car via a gravel road, and there are some bathrooms at the trail head. Hiking through the canyon was fun...and challenging when you had to scramble and pick your way through some of the narrow passages. Other than some of the rock climbing, it's an easy trail that you can enjoy with your family.

off road driving
Thursday, March 12, 2015

Beautiful drive. Stock SUV's would be fine. We drove in from Death Valley rather than starting on the Nevada side. Very secluded and there are some neat spots out there to rest and relax. Lots of hidden mine shafts and stellar views of the sunset!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The most popular DV backcountry hike although there are no signs or trail to guide you so come prepared with a few topo maps and GPS. After an extensive discussion with a ranger at Stovepipe we decide to do this route. He drew us a map and suggested just one topo for Harris Hill where most people get lost. We made it through the correct pass but had a bad hand-drawn map that sent us to the right of a hill that we were supposed to go left around. This led us to what we now have learned to be an "impassible" canyon. This also meant we missed our water source at Dead Horse. Don't do this. It meant a few hours of climbing down dry steep waterfalls followed by another three hours of hiking until we found Cottonwood Rd. Did I mention we ran out of water that morning? A learning experience for sure. Do your research, talk to a few rangers, bring your navigational tools, and lots of water in case you miss the few water sources. That being said - do this, it is awesome! You will be the only one out there and boy is it quiet. The stars and moon will blow you away. This website below is really helpful in prepping for your trip. Also note I've read in a few places that the loop is closer to 30-32 miles.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

We hiked this at the end of the season (mid-May) so had to deal with temp in the low 90's. Long sections of the "trail" in the wash are hard to follow and with the zero shade, made for some cranky hikers. Thankfully there is plenty of shade in a lot of sections of the hike. Some scrambling and having to hack through foliage that had taken over the trail. Great shady spot to stop and have lunch near the trial end. As always, make sure to bring enough water. Those open sections were brutal, especially towards the end of the day.

Monday, March 10, 2014

This seems to be a fairly common loop in Death Valley but I went from Friday morning to Sunday morning without seeing another soul. I also went in the opposite direction, starting up Marble Canyon and exiting Cottonwood Canyon. I'd highly recommend this in early spring as the weather was perfect (high 70's, low 50's) and desert flowers were in abundance after a few days of rain the previous week. Marble Canyon is a pretty easy slight uphill with only one challenge: a boulder blocked the canyon and you have to clamber up onto the west ridge to get around it. To get to Cottonwood Canyon you have to leave Marble Canyon where it turns west and head roughly South into Dead Horse Canyon. It's easy to miss this if you're not paying attention. There is a spring at the souther turn of Dead Horse Canyon that is very thick and difficult to get through or around. Good camping is all around though. The hike from Deadwood over to Cottonwood is pretty strenuous as there is a lot of climbing and no marked trails. Topo map and/or GPS is essential. The string of springs in Cottonwood Canyon are great although difficult to get through or around. There are some paths along the canyon wall that are useful. I camped just below the third and final spring. The final hike out is a nice easy downhill that goes quickly through some nice narrows, but not as scenic as Marble Canyons.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hiked this as part of the Marble Canyon and Cottonwood Canyon loop. The Marble Canyon portion is the best part in terms on scenery with very narrow canyons that are amazing. The walk is a gentle uphill and not too strenuous as long as you stay on the hard pack and off the soft sand and gravel as much as possible. There is one spot where a giant boulder has blocked the passage and you have to climb around a nearby shallow ridge on the west side. Lots of wildflowers were blooming too as it was a week after some heavy rain.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Kat's review is incorrect. 4WD is not needed to access the trailhead for this hike-- only high clearance (at least 6") is necessary. 4WD is recommended since there are sections of deep gravel along the road. Road is not recommended for sedans/coupes/crossovers.

This trail is part of the longer 26 mile Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop. Both canyons are beautiful and scenic, though the hike is entire walked through a wash. Marble Canyon is a steep ascent through a fine gravel wash so be prepared.

Do this hike in the winter. Your elevation ranges between a little above sea level and 4000'-- not optimal for the "spring" months or early fall.

Monday, April 08, 2013

4 wheel drive only accessible. Difficult to drive.

Large boulders, loose gravel, gully wash and no real discernible trail make for difficult hike. Turned back after 3/4 mile. Views on drive in and out were beautiful.

off road driving
Monday, April 08, 2013

4 wheel drive only. Marble Canyon well worth the drive.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Accessible only by 4 wheel drive. Loose gravel trail. Make sure to take side trail to right just before the chalk stone. Canyon narrows are AMAZING!

5 months ago

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Monday, October 24, 2016

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