Scotty's Canyon Hike
Death Valley

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.

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Hiking Info:

Level of Difficulty: 3 (see chart)
Length: about 6 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: about 1,000 feet
Main Attractions: canyon scenery with breccia, unique desert grottos, history

Books That We Recommend:

  Getting There
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 cairns.

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 picture].

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 to [see 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 picture].

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 mine can also be reached from the Virgin Spring side of the mountain.

Photo Tour:
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 parking area, 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.
More 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.
A closer look at the breccia [glossary].
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 away faster.
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 grottos.
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 hangs on.
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 spring.
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 trail.
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 first grotto.
View heading down-canyon from the grottos.
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 ways.
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 Scotty's Canyon.
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 wash.
The hike over the hills between the two canyons.  As you can see in this picture, the trail is fairly well defined.

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Last updated November 06, 2011

 

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Last updated November 06, 2011.

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