On the western side of the Panamint Range lies a series of interesting canyons. Even when the rest of Death Valley has reverted to its usual dry hues, these canyons provide refreshing bursts of water and vegetation. One of these, Surprise Canyon, is a very enjoyable dayhike. It winds up for a few miles heading stadily uphill, but never overly taxing, as it follows the creek up to the hill crest. There are some areas of scrambling involved, as well as walking in water and through brush, so be prepared. But a good resting place is when you come to a lush grotto, with small waterfalls and ferns all around, quite a surprise considering the dusty tones of the rest of the Valley. It is possible to take this trail over the hill and into Death Valley proper, should you want to continue on that way. But that is a long journey; best to turn back and enjoy the downhill trek to your car.
You can find this hike just a bit past Ballarat, a ghost town just outside the park. The trailhead itself is a bit hard to get to, and often requires high-clearance vehicles to reach. The ranger station in Furnace Creek sometimes has guided hikes up this trail, which gives the bonus feature of having a ranger on hand to explain some of the geography, geology, and botany of the area. An enjoyable hike.
This is a great hike. Drive out Wildrose Rd to the Charcoal Kilns. Park and look for the trailhead sign to the north of the Kilns. Wildrose Peak is over 9,000 ft. Plan the hike to be a good 4-6 hrs r/t. Bring plenty of water and lunch/snacks cause you'll need them for energy. Great views of the Valley at around 2mi point. Another 2+ miles to the peak. Sign the guest book at the top of the mountain.
I dare you to move
I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor
I dare you to move
Like today never happened
Never happened before.
Switchfoot, Dare you to move
To really see Death Valley, you must get off the main track and do some exploring. There is far more to this park than dry brown earth and some mountains. The hidden canyons and roadless areas offer hidden treasures that belie the true beauty of the desert and the beauty that is Death Valley. The ghost towns, inaccessible to those who are true to their rental car contracts, offer a glimpse at past attempts at life in the area. Along the main roads, you can find glimpses of the past at abandoned mining communities and in century old wagon tracks
The hike trough Golden Canyon is an easy tour, 1 mi / 1,6 km round trip. You can see Red Cathedral at it's "end".
The best time to hike here would be in the late afternoon, when the rocks begin to glow and show where this canyon got it's name :-)
Park your car at Golden Canyon parking area on Badwater Road.
It's 8 km south of Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
Death Valley offers inumerous day hikes.
We have chosen the Natural Bridge Trail, as it was quite close to the road (and we only had one day in the park).
Natural Bridge Trail is a moderate uphill hike through a narrow canyon. It's 1 mi / 1,6 km round trip, get's you along a natural bridge.
Park the car at the Natural Bridge parking area on Badwater Road (approx. 20 km south of Furnace Creek).
In the Northern part of the Death Valley National Park are the sanddunes. Most drive by and see them, but the real experience is to get out and embraze the heat. Take a walk through the landscape of dunes that continuously changes it's shape. The wavepattern shows the power of the wind that forms and recreats this area.
The Racetrack - The Racetrack is one of the most famous of several clay lake beds in Death Valley. Rocks weighing as much as several hundred pounds occasionally slide across the surface. Some rocks can be seen close to the road, however the best examples are across the lake bed near the southern end of the lake bed. If it's hot, be sure to take water with you as the hike out onto the clay lake bed is HOT. There is no concensus as to how they move. One theory is that when the clay surface is moist and slippery the wind moves the rocks. Some think that freezing to form a thin layer of ice is required. The trails left by the rocks are said to last for several years !! This is a really neat and eerie place. The Racetrack is located 2 mile further south from the Grandstand.