Surprise Canyon Wilderness shares its entire eastern border with Death Valley National Park. It contains small alluvial slopes that gradually rise from the west into the jagged ridges and steep sides of the Panamint Mountains. Canyons cut deeply into the mountains to form the interior of the Wilderness. Old four-wheel-drive tracks crawl through Jail, Hall, and Surprise Canyons and into the park; these non-Wilderness corridors carve the area into four sections. Elevations climb eagerly from about 1,000 feet in the west to more than 7,000 feet in the east, bestowing extraordinary vistas of the Panamint Valley from mountain summits. Creosote bush scrub and desert holly grow on alluvial fans. Cottonwoods and willows stand tall in the canyons, whose rocky walls sometimes support the rare and endangered Panamint daisy. Forests of pi

backpacking
10 months ago

This is an amazing hike that takes 5-8 hours depending on your physical well being.Take lots of water or have your filter handy.Its only about 5.5 miles from parking to the heart of panamint. But in those 5 short miles youll endure over 3000 feet of elevation. don't worry if you attempt this hike and want to turn around after so many hopless bends in the trail. Keep going keep pushing and look for that beautiful smoke stack in the distance. As a reference when the smoke stack first comes into view you have about an hour left of hiking. When you go through what I call "the tunnel of love" this will be your last chance to filter water. After that you have a 2 mile hike all uphill till you get to panamint. Even then you have to go in search of water. Please pick up after yourselves. I carried out about 6 pounds of trash. Love this beautiful hidden place. Ill be back in 2 days. cant wait to finish exploring.

off road driving
11 months ago

Great please, love the cabin. Cool mines to explore.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

hiking
Friday, February 14, 2014

Wow. Amazing hike to a cool place. This backpack trip is 6 miles in with 4,000 ft elevation gain to an abandoned silver mining town complete with 19th and 20th century mines, abandoned cabins, and year-round water.

The hike is a 4 out of 5 for booty kicking. It starts at 2,500 feet at Chris Wicht Camp on Surprise Valley Road. Follow the signs to Ballarat, turn left through the old city of Ballarat and follow the sign to Surprise Valley Road. The road is definitely high clearance though my friend brought his Camry safely to the trailhead.

The trail winds up the canyon with a couple easily-navigated waterfalls. Part of the toughness is, however, the winding back and forth over the creek, through the creek, up the sides of the canyon. After about 3.5 miles, however, you break out into the upper canyon where the trail is flat, dry and relatively straight. The smelter stack comes into view at 5 miles and the main cabin, "The Holiday Inn" is a 6 miles.

Lots of people lovingly use this place and some cabins are equipped nicer than others. The Holiday Inn has a nice fireplace and chairs to hang in. It was 37 degrees when I was there, so we kept the fire going in the evenings.

The area is filled with old mines, equipment discarded cars, and one cabin that was reputed to be the brothel. There are even petroglyphs under a rock that you can spy from the Hilton.

There is a water spigot that works in the welding shop in front of the hilton. It's orange. If that's not working, there year round water in the canyon up and to the left above the Hiltons.

There are mice in the cabins, so most people camp outside. I found a nice spot up the hill under some lovely pinon pines.

I thought I'd be bored on my slack day in between, but I wasn't. There are both modern and old mines to explore at your own risk. The one above the green crusher is straight, clean, and leads back 1/4 mile before deadending.