Named after the infamous "Death Valley Scotty",
this canyon was used by Scotty as a home and hideout during the early days of
the Death Valley mining boom. The rumors of the day also said that this
was the location of his "secret mine" but no one has ever found it. To
read more about this eccentric character, see the chapter on
Death Valley Scotty.
Located in the southern part of Death Valley in the
bright, orange-colored Black Mountains, the hike up Scotty's Canyon is very rewarding. There are
lots of mosaic-type surfaces throughout the canyon that are the same type as
those found in Mosaic Canyon, although not quite as
spectacular. There are some unique grottos that were formed when rushing
water carved out caves along the canyon walls. You can see the the springs
area where Scotty lived and there actually is a mine high in the canyon but it
didn't belong to Scotty. It's the Desert Hound Mine and it belonged to
Scotty's friend, Bill Keyes.
Level of Difficulty: 3 (see
Length: about 6 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: about 1,000 feet
canyon scenery with breccia, unique desert grottos, history
Books That We Recommend:
Because the very popular Scotty's Castle is located at the north end of the
Park, many people are surprised to find that Scotty's Canyon is actually in the
Black Mountains at the opposite, southern end of the Park near Ashford Mill.
Although it is possible to get to the hiking trailhead with a stock 2WD vehicle,
we recommend a high clearance vehicle (not necessarily 4WD). Remember that
the condition of any dirt road can change often.
From the north (Furnace Creek): Go
south on Badwater Road for 33.4 miles as if going to the Ashford Mill ruins.
As you approach the entrance to Ashford Mill on your right, watch for a dirt
road directly opposite on your left and turn onto it. Continue reading directions at the * below.
From the east (Shoshone): Take S.R. 178 west,
through Salsberry and Jubilee Pass, to Badwater Road. Turn right (north)
onto Badwater Road and continue for about 2 miles. As you approach the
entrance to Ashford Mill on your left, watch for a dirt road directly opposite
on your right and turn onto it. Continue reading
directions at the * below.
*You are now heading east, up Ashford Canyon. Go 2.6
miles to the trailhead and park your vehicle in the small parking area that
holds about 4 vehicles. The road continues on, turning right and getting
noticeably rougher as it heads up Ashford Canyon. Scotty's Canyon is to
your left (north).
The Hike Scotty's Canyon is relatively easy in one sense
because there are very few obstacles (until we turned around) but the main canyon is a gradual and steady incline all the way up. It is
this continuous incline and the overall distance that gives this hike a 3 on the
Difficulty Chart. There are also no official Park trail markers - only
From the parking area, start hiking down into the wash to
the left (north). After about 150 feet, you should see the trail on the
opposite side of the wash that leads along the base of the low hills.
Watch for the cairns that mark the trail. Follow the trail as it
switch-backs its way across the hills for about 0.75 miles to the next canyon -
Scotty's Canyon. These hills make a good "warm-up" walk in preparation for
the steady incline that begins once you enter Scotty's Canyon.
Just before entering the wash of Scotty's Canyon, the trail drops into a narrow, orange-colored canyon.
You may need to do some light scrambling to get down to into this section. Look for
small clusters of crystals in the rock walls as you walk through [see
After exiting this narrow section, you are in the large
wash of Scotty's Canyon. Take a moment to turn around and look at the area
you just exited [see picture]. You will need
to identify this spot on your way back. The trail isn't marked from this
point on, so just turn right and pick your own path [see
picture]. Keep walking up-canyon and, as the canyon gets progressively narrower, the path will be
easier to recognize.
Once in the canyon, you will notice a lot of breccia [glossary].
Although not at spectacular as those in Mosaic Canyon, their patterns are very
interesting. After about 1.8 miles from
the mouth of the canyon, the canyon gets narrower
and mesquite trees are present. This is an obvious indication that there
is water here and that you are getting closer to the grottos. We were able
to (very carefully) go through the center of these very thorny trees but, at
times, it may be difficult to get through at all. Another possible route to bypass the trees
is to climb the rocky surface on north (left)
side of the canyon.
There are two sets of grottos in Scotty's Canyon.
The first set is where Scotty lived during his early days of prospecting in Death
Valley and was known then as "Camp Holdout". The grottos here are like
parabolic half-circle caves in the sides of the canyon that have been eroded
away by many years of flash floods. If you are lucky, you can still find some
artifacts from when Scotty and his unusual group of companions stayed there.
The next set of grottos is a little more difficult to get
picture]. To continue up-canyon you will have to back-track and use
the bypass trail. To access this trail, go down-canyon from the first
grotto about 400 feet and look for a more graduated rocky slope on the south
side of the canyon. As you
climb this slope, you will find the trail that parallels the canyon. You
will also have a good view looking down into "Camp Holdout" [see
Beyond the first grotto, the canyon remains narrow and
there are several, smaller grottos but none are as impressive as the first. In one of these small grottos are more mesquite trees that make
it difficult to continue.
It was at this point that we turned back. As you head back down the canyon
and into the wash, watch for the entrance into the narrow section (that you
stopped to look at on your way in) that will put
you back onto the trail across the low hills to the parking lot. It is easy
to miss! There were cairns marking the entrance but they were difficult to
see depending on where you are in the wash.
These grottos are only about halfway up this very long canyon.
The scenery further up the canyon is similar
to that of the lower half of the canyon but, if you can make it all the way up,
there is a reward. The Desert Hound Mine is at the top of Scotty's Canyon. This mine
was owned by Bill Keyes (of Joshua Tree National Park fame) and was involved in
the "Battle at Wingate Pass" episode of Death Valley Scotty's life. The
also be reached from the Virgin Spring side of the mountain.
Click on picture to enlarge
Pictures taken: February 2003
In the afternoon sun, the mountains near
Ashford & Scotty's Canyon light up with a beautiful orange color.
The small parking area in Ashford Canyon
where the trail to Scotty's Canyon starts. The dirt road continues on
to the right into Ashford Canyon.
The dirt road up Ashford Canyon from
Badwater Road. This view is looking down, to the south, towards
the Owlshead Mountains.
From the parking area, looking west
towards the Panamint
Mountains. The road
in the distance is Warm Springs Road; a very rough 4WD road that goes all
the way to Goler Wash and Panamint Valley.
After hiking over the hills from the Ashford Canyon
you will encounter this narrow section. Just beyond this section is the
Scotty's Canyon wash.
Look closely at the walls here and
you can find these clusters of crystals.
Some of the crystals appear in pockets.
Please leave these beautiful little clusters here for the next hikers to
enjoy as you have.
After exiting the narrow section, you will
be in the wide wash of Scotty's Canyon. There is no marked trail here so
just turn right and start hiking up-canyon.
The wash narrows as you enter the canyon.
Before reaching the grottos, you'll come
across several eroded rock ledges. The rock material along this
part of the hike changes frequently. Here, the black rock layer
seems out of place with the rest of the material.
Notice that there are different layers of breccia.
Occasionally, plants are able to get
a foothold in the breccia.
Another example of how flash floods erode
away everything in their path.
One of our hats gives you a sense of scale.
Here, some of the rocks from
the surrounding black, rocky layers were caught and included in the breccia making for
a beautiful, contrasted pattern.
Here you can see the black, rocky layers.
Notice how the softer sedimentary layer above the breccia eroded
Similar to Mosaic Canyon, the hike will
include a few scrambles over little dry waterfalls.
In this part of the canyon, the surface
is randomly eroded creating nooks and crannies.
Hiking on the sandy bottom in this part
of the canyon can sometimes lead to a spot where you have to turn back and
find another route.
Here is an example where the years of flash flooding
have eroded-away the softer, sedimentary layers [glossary]
and left the breccia behind, creating these caves. This is a miniature
version of how the larger grottos up-canyon were formed.
As you hike further up the canyon, you'll see
less and less breccia.
The canyon gets progressively narrow the
further up you go.
At this point, you are almost at the
Close to the grottos, breccia becomes
more visible on the canyon walls. Plants have found
it easier to get a foothold here and there are many different types.
High on the rocks, a hedgehog cactus
View as you approach the first grotto.
Just behind this point (to the right) is the start of the bypass trail you'll use to
continue up-canyon to the other grottos.
Just before reaching the first grotto,
you will pass through Scotty's Spring. This section can be muddy, so be prepared to get your shoes wet
(or at least a little muddy).
The closer you get to the springs, the
more plant life there is. This is a "coyote melon".
The classic Brittle Bush - to early for
its bright yellow flowers.
Another of the desert plants found near the
It's amazing where seeds take root!
This is a full view of the first grotto
known to Scotty as "Camp Hold Out".
This picture includes two essentials for
any day hike in Death Valley: Michel Digonnet's Hiking Death Valley
book and a fair sized backpack to carry some snacks (or lunch) and plenty of water.
The first grotto makes a great place to take off your pack, sit in the
shade and rest while you enjoy your lunch and take in the surroundings. It's also a good place to stash your pack or other equipment
for the hike ahead.
View of the first grotto from the bypass
A closer look at the sides of the grotto.
If you're still and listen, you can usually hear water dripping from above.
Another view of the grotto. When
Scotty lived here, he hung pictures on the sides of the walls to make it feel
more like "home".
At the end of the first grotto is this
a large obstacle. To continue on, you
will have to back-track about 400 feet and find the bypass trail mentioned earlier.
When we visited the grotto, this
old metal pan was sitting underneath the dripping water and made an
unusual echo throughout the grotto.
A better view of the obstacle in
of the first grotto.
And this the view looking down at the
point in the previous picture.
We saw this chuckwalla while hiking along
the bypass trail over the canyon wall's rocky surface. They
blend in well with the surrounding rocks.
These large (14") lizards can look scary
but won't hurt you. When threatened, they retreat into a
pile of rocks and bloat themselves with air so that they are wedged in and a predator can't pull them out.
Sometimes the only way to spot these (or
any) lizards is if they move.
View down-canyon from the bypass trail.
Getting to the next set of grottos is
difficult because of the many thorny mesquite trees.
Another view of the upper grottos.
Hiking down the bypass trail around the
View heading down-canyon from the
This is an unusual sight - the remains of a mountain
(bighorn) sheep. We would prefer to see these wonderful
creatures alive and in the rocky hillsides above but Mother Nature has her
Another view of the carcass. Life
in the desert is not easy and death is a natural part of life.
An afternoon view as you hike back down
As you hike down the wash, be sure to
keep an eye out for the left turn you'll have to make to get out of the wash
and back onto the original trail, through the narrow section, and back to Ashford Canyon.
It's easy to miss! This is what that narrow side canyon looks like
from the wash.
Approaching the narrow section from the
The hike over the hills between the two
canyons. As you can see in this picture, the trail is fairly well defined.