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Bay Area Hikes
Bay Area Hikes

Mosaic Canyon

5.9 miles     1800 ft

Summary

“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.

Location: Death Valley National Park

Elevation Profile
Trailhead

Location: Cul-de-sac on Mosaic Canyon Rd, Death Valley, CA . No street address. Parking area is visible in Google Maps if you zoom in sufficiently.

Directions: 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.

Google Maps:

Parking Fees: None (last visited: Dec 2011)

Capacity: About 15 cars can be parked at the trail head.

Latitude: 36.572044     Longitude: -117.144299

Trip Planning

Trail Maps

» Official State Parks Map: A decent map that shows major roads, attractions and visitor centers.

» Death Valley Backcountry Roads: Official State Parks Map showing backcountry roads

» Hiking Death Valley: A Guide to Its Natural Wonders and Mining Past (542 pages, 2004) by Michel Digonnet: This book is the Bible for Death Valley hikes. Most hikes in Death Valley are cross-country, marked by cairns. This book describes dozens of such routes with maps and elevation profiles.

Route
Dist (mi)Elev (ft)
Parking area / mouth0.0 miles950 ft
1st narrows (head)0.1 miles~ 1000 ft
1st narrows (end)0.5 miles1180 ft
Side canyon #2 / rim trail0.9 miles1340 ft
2nd narrows (start)1.1 miles1480 ft
2nd narrows (end at 18-ft fall)1.4 miles1680 ft
Side canyon 3#1.6 miles1790 ft
3rd narrows (25-ft fall)1.7 miles1920 ft
3rd narrows (end) / rim trail2.1 miles2080 ft
Fork (side canyon #4)2.2 miles2150 ft
Grotto2.5 miles2440 ft

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.

2. To 25-ft Dry Fall

The second set of narrows ends in a 25-ft dry wall.

3. Rim Trail to Grotto

To bypass the 25-ft dry wall, we climbed up a steep side trail that meets the Rim Trail. After descending into the canyon again, we reached a grotto with a 40-ft ceiling.

4. Return by Rim Trail

Our return journey was mostly along the Rim Trail.

5. Climbing

The entire route has plenty of climbing opportunities.

25 Dec 2011
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