This is one of our favorite hikes in Death Valley because of all of the colors and endless shapes and contours of the eroded badlands. The hike up Golden Canyon is a popular one because of many reasons. For one, it showcases what Death Valley is all about: stark barren beauty. Two, it is close to Death Valley’s central settlement: Furnace Creek. Three, it is an easy and rewarding hike, even if you simply walk a few hundred feet into the canyon from your vehicle. The bottom line, a visit to Death Valley should include a small or long hike into Golden Canyon, just like a visit to Death Valley should include a stop in Badwater.
There are a few ways to plan a hike through Golden Canyon. The most popular way is to hike from the entrance to Golden Canyon from the parking lot along Badwater Road. Here, you can hike into the canyon as far as you wish and then turn around and head back to your vehicle. For the more motivated hiker, you can make the complete loop hike up Golden Canyon, across Manly Beacon, skirt by Zabriskie Point, head down Gower Gulch and then back to the Golden Canyon parking lot. Another method is to have someone drop you off at Zabriskie Point, hike down Golden Canyon and have that same someone pick you up at the Golden Canyon parking lot.
From the junction of S.R. 190 and Badwater Road (near Furnace Creek Inn), go south on Badwater Road for 2.0 miles. Look for the sign and the paved parking area on your left, next to Badwater Road. Turn left into the parking area. There is space for about 15 vehicles.
Restrooms are available at the end of the parking area. The trail begins just beyond the parking area and heads directly into the canyon.
Below are some pictures of what you will see along the way.
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Before you begin your hike, we suggest that you go over to the kiosk at the southern end of the parking lot and read the information there. Also, look for a dispenser with trail guides in it and pick up one for a nominal fee. These guides correspond with the markers all along the canyon and are very informative. The trail guides are also available at the Visitor’s Center.
As you start your hike from the parking area at the bottom of Golden Canyon, you are immediately into the narrowest part of the canyon. You will notice that inside these narrows are the remnants of a paved road. Built in 1929 by Bob Eichaum, who developed Stovepipe Wells, the road was paved all the way to the end of the canyon; to the base of Red Cathedral. It was destroyed during a flash flood in 1976, however, and all that remains now is what you see here in the narrows.
Once past the narrows, the canyon is relatively straight and climbs up at a very easy but steady grade. It passes through a very bright, golden-colored and harsh-looking landscape. If you take this hike in the middle of a cloudless day, you will need your sun glasses to cut the glare! The materials that make up these hills are ancient lake bottom sediments that have been pushed up here by the (geologically) recent and rapid uplift of the Black Mountains. Look for evidence of this rapid uplift along this part of the hike. The combination of the frequent movement of the faults in this area, mainly the Black Mountain Fault Zone [glossary], and the layering effect of the lake sediments that have solidified into rock have made the tilting effect of uplift even more dramatic here.
As for the rest of the hike, the virtual tour explains the different things to see along the way. It also points out the different route options for the hike.
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