Death Valley is a bonafide geologist’s dream with its myriad of rock formations, stark topography and ever-shifting terrains. But those same attributes also contribute great pleasure to hikers looking to walk land that ranges from flat, harsh and salty plains to multicolored, rugged and deep canyons all within one vast national park.
Here are some favorite hikes to get you started:
1. Golden Canyon
This easy hike takes you through a colorful canyon where you will get an up close glimpse of the various hues and textures of the area as well as the various strata levels of rock that have morphed and shifted throughout the years. At the end you will encounter a towering wall of reddish rock—a cathedral-like space that is awe-inspiring in its scope.
2. Natural Bridge Canyon
Natural bridges are a rare feature caused by differential erosion and made out of a conglomeration of rock that arches over a canyon. At the quarter-mile point of this hike, you will walk beneath one of the natural bridges as well as encounter odd geological phenomena such as faults, chutes and mud drippings along the way. The end is marked by sloping marble dry falls, renowned for its shades of green and turquoise, which can be scaled to mark completion.
3. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes provide a variety of options depending on your mood. Take a chance at reaching the highest spot by traveling two miles across soft and rolling hills, up along well-traveled ridgebacks and find yourself feeling at the top of the world. Or have fun scampering over the smaller dunes, discovering the joys of running down seemingly steep hills that feel safe due to the pillow-like sand. Or better yet, visit overnight for a full moon hike as the terrain turns lunar and the air cool and dry.
4. Ubehebe Crater
At first glance, after parking at the Ubehebe Crater overlook and stepping out to peer over this volcanic crater’s rim, it seems a daunting consideration to hike down into the deep bowl. In reality, once you step foot on the soft gray gravel trail that leads you down 600 feet, it doesn’t strike fear any longer. The effort is worth it when you reach the bottom and look back up at the walls surrounding you to view embedded red cinder, alluvial fan deposits and sandstone and conglomerate rock collages. Walking across the pink and brown mud flat floor is also fun. Be prepared for a hearty hike back up.
5. Mosaic Canyon
Years of rain embedded with dirt and grit have produced exfoliating floods throughout Mosaic Canyon. This has caused delightful vignettes of highly polished walls, gorgeous curvatures and smooth rocks to scramble over during the first quarter-mile of this hike. It’s a great place to view Noonday Dolomite, which is beautiful magnesium rich limestone formed 750 to 900 million years ago when the area was part of the Pacific Ocean.
6. Darwin Falls
A two and a half mile unpaved road branching off the highway takes you to the mouth of a canyon where the refreshing Darwin Falls run year round into a narrow gorge. The hike follows a small rivulet stream, alive with bright algae, that continues through the canyon offering beautiful willow trees and bush along the way until you reach the rushing water. Once near the end, there is some climbing over boulders and rocks, which is the manageable but the more difficult part of the journey.
These are just a small sampling of the various hikes and walks that Death Valley has to offer. There aren’t many constructed trails or guided paths and some of these walks take a bumpy ride across unpaved road to discover. With some dedication, good hiking boots, homage to the sunscreen gods, plenty of water and loose fitting clothes, you will find a day’s worth of walking wonder at just about every turn.