Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level (the lowest North American elevation), is within Death Valley. Holding the highest temperature record in the Western Hemisphere, the desert’s Furnace Creek area reached 134 degrees on July 10, 1913, just 2 degrees shy of Libya’s world record. Larger than Yellowstone, Death Valley covers 2.2 million acres!
Varied terrains, including rock, dirt roads, muddy paths, both developed and undeveloped trails, and mountains offer outdoor enthusiasts numerous opportunities. A park map helps determine which trails, usually beginning in parking areas, to maneuver. Time of year and altitude are important: summer will be hotter; higher elevations result in cooler air. Trail guides are offered for a minimal amount at some sites or at visitor centers. Avid outdoorsmen should advise others of their trail and avoid hiking alone! Sunscreen and water are a must, along with food and adequate foot protection. Camping is available throughout the Valley at locations at least 5 miles from developed areas.
For winter hiking only: Wildrose Peak Trail, Charcoal Kilns parking area, (nearly 8 miles round trip), is an easy flat walk in the Western Hemisphere’s lowest area. There is no trail, and caution is required in muddy areas.
Want diversity? Visit the Furnace Creek area. There is an inn and resort, an off-road driving course through Echo Canyon, and a nearby bike path. The Hell’s Gate parking area, 22 miles NE of Furnace Creek, leads to the Death Valley Buttes, a short, strenuous scramble to 2 hills at the base of Grapevine Mountains. The more daring will climb the buttes to view the Valley’s best.
Magnificent Scotty’s Castle, far north in the Valley at Grapevine Canyon, brings back the Roaring 20’s and Depression 30’s, and is a must see!!! This structure was the brainchild of, and constructed by, Albert Johnson; while partner Walter Scott (Death Valley Scotty) was the entertainer, cowboy, and prospector. Year-round daily tours of the main house interior (a working museum) are conducted. The Underground Tour reveals Mr. Johnson’s technology while building and inhabiting the castle. Lower Vine Ranch, Scotty’s actual home, now offers ranger-led tours on selected dates.
Within a few miles of Scotty’s Castle is Little Hebe Crater Trail, Ubehebe Crater parking area. This mile trail, along Ubehebe’s west rim loop, consists of volcanic craters and elaborate erosion. Two canyon trails originate in Titus Canyon Mouth parking area. A short trek, 1.5 miles each way, is on a gravel road through Titus Canyon Narrows, with Klare Springs and petroglyphs 5 miles beyond. The second trail, 7 miles round trip, is Fall Canyon. Half a mile along the mountain base is a large wash. Upward 2.5 miles is a 35 foot dryfall. Cautious hikers can climb around it on the south side to see some of Death Valley’s most gorgeous narrows.
Nearly 4 miles north of the Titus Canyon road exit is Red Wall Canyon. Two miles up, an alluvial fan is the canyon’s mouth, where red and black rock meet. Rock climbing skills are necessary beyond a dry waterfall 1 mile upward.
Stovepipe Wells, centrally located in Death Valley National Park, is breathtaking! From the Sand Dunes parking area, a 2-mile walk leads to dunes 120 feet high, best viewed in the morning, afternoon, or moonlight for drama. Nearby is popular Mosaic Canyon, from the parking area bearing its name. This easy trip in the marble-walled canyon contains rock fragments cemented together on its walls. Within driving distance are two ghost towns in Leadfield, CA, and Rhyolite, NV.
Little Bridge Canyon, just east of Stovepipe Wells Village, Highway 190, is wide at the outset. There’s a small arch at half a mile; at the 1-mile point, a natural bridge 20 feet high spans the canyon’s east side before narrowing begins. This 3-mile hike each way contains cool areas during the summer. The Golden Canyon parking area, 2 miles south of Highway 190 on Badwater Road, leads to easy and moderate hikes through colorful canyons, badlands, mines, dryfalls, and canyon narrows.
For summer hikers, Telescope Peak, usually snow-free by June, begins at 8,133 feet and crests to 11,049 feet. Pine forests with ancient bristlecone pines are near its summit. This strenous trek, 7 miles each way, results in spectacular views. Only experienced climbers, equipped with ice axe and crampons, should attempt this hike in the winter.
Experiencing the vastness, history, nature, creation, landscape variations, and limitless beauty of Death Valley National Park should be on everyone’s “bucket list”.