“For its diversity of scenery, easy walking, and convenient access, Mosaic Canyon is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the park. If Death Valley is new to you, the lower canyon is a good introduction to the unexpected delights of desert canyons. It has tortuous narrows with colorful mosaics, finely polished marble, and interesting geology. The upper canyon, far less visited, will appeal even to seasoned desert rats for its sculptured narrows, rugged canyons, and hard-to-reach Twin Springs.” — Michel Digonnet.
Mosaic Canyon is a 2.3 mile graded road, very close to Stovepipe Wells on Highway 190. In Dec 2011, we were able to drive on this road comfortably in a Toyota Camry. The road ends in a parking lot at the mouth of Mosaic Canyon.
Parking Fees: None (last visited: Dec 2011)
Capacity: About 15 cars can be parked at the trail head.
The table above is borrowed from the book Hiking Death Valley: A Guide to Its Natural Wonders and Mining Past (542 pages, 2004) by Michel Digonnet, a Stanford Professor who has extensively hiked in Death Valley over the last thirty years. Mosaic Canyon has three sets of narrows and two dry falls. Most people turn back from either the first or the second dry fall. For a truly awesome experience, one should study Digonnet's book which describes how to bypass both of these dry falls and reach a grotto with a 40-ft ceiling. If you follow this route, the whole character of your experience shall change!
Notes: The steep trail that bypasses the 25-ft fall was intermittently faint. We were persistent and cairns placed by previous hikers assured us that we were on the right track. This steep trail is not for beginners: scrambling was necessary at two points. Good gloves are recommended because the rocks are hard and abrasive. Once on the Rim Trail, the going became easy. Rim Trail is well graded and runs parallel to the main valley floor. In its way back, it ends in a side canyon from where you have to walk a short distance to enter the main canyon (details in Digonnet's book).
1. First Narrows
The first narrows start as soon as you enter the canyon. Plenty of marble. After 0.5 miles, the narrows end. At this point, you may climb up the left side of the canyon for gorgeous views of Death Valley. The side trails that climb up the left side have several steep sections.