A pleasant walk up a desert canyon between yellow badlands.
|Total Distance: 4.2 miles out & back||Elevation Gain: 1,193ft. (-148ft. to 486ft.)|
|Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous||0-5 Mile Difficulty: Strenuous|
|View Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0 stars||Author’s Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0 stars|
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|Pets: No||Horses: No|
|Best Seasons: November-April||Special Permits: None|
|Water Availability: None||Overnight Options: None|
|Trailhead Amenities: Primitive Restroom||Crowd Factor: Crowded|
|Trailhead Access: 0.6|
Mile-by-Mile: Golden Canyon Trail
0.0 Golden Canyon Trailhead (-148ft.). Head northwest up Golden Canyon. As you can see, the area received its name from the yellow tint of the rocks and badlands along the route. (Be careful to take the trail up the canyon rather than along the base of the hills, which is the Gower Gulch Trail from the same trailhead.) (36.420714°, -116.846639°)
1.0 Red Cathedral Junction (153ft.). The Red Cathedral is a very worthy side trip. But to continue on the Golden Canyon Trail, continue right up into the badlands. The trail is often marked with brown survey-type markers. (36.424635°,-116.831959°)
1.4 Viewpoint Trail Junction (494ft.). Turn right up to the viewpoint. (36.422679°, -116.826362°)
1.6 Viewpoint (476ft.). Return to the main path and turn right to continue along the trail. (36.422062°, -116.829205°)
2.2 Gower Gulch/Badland Loop Trail Junction (363ft.). This is the supposed end of the Golden Canyon Trail, which ends at the Badlands Loop. I recommend three different options: 1) Turn left up to Zabriskie Point – the views are awesome! 2) Turn left or right to complete the Badlands Loop. 3) Turn right and continue down the wash to take the Gower Gulch Trail back down to the Golden Canyon Trailhead. You can also turn left on the Badlands Loop and then turn right down Gower Gulch instead of taking the left up to Zabriskie Point. (36.4192989°, -116.8224237°)
History & More
Many of the yellow-tinted rocks in Death Valley have a high concentration of Limonite, a type of iron ore. The name is derived from a Greek word that means “wet meadow” (the Greeks frequently found the ore in marshy areas). On the island of Cyprus, limonite was used as a pigment – yellow ochre, specifically. It was also roasted to make red ochres and brown tones.
A favorite memory of the Golden Canyon Trailhead was finding a scorpion in the restroom. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you that, but it really was a neat find!
Golden Canyon (along with the Badlands Trail) was my first favorite hike in Death Valley. I loved those views!
Download Trail Map
Remember, it may be easier to climb up dryfalls than down them (or vice versa). Be sure you can climb in the other direction before climbing up or down a dryfall.
Leave No Trace Principles are enforced
Drones and model aircrafts are prohibited
Camping is permitted only in designated sites or in areas open to dispersed backcountry camping
All park rules and regulations
12 Month Pass: $55/Death Valley Annual Pass (valid at Death Valley National Park). $80/America the Beautiful Annual Pass (valid at all national park and federal fee areas). $20/Annual Senior Pass (62 years or older US citizens; valid at all national park and federal fee areas). Free/4th Grade Pass (Valid Sept. 1-August 31 of the child’s 4th Grade school year). Free/Military Pass (valid for all active military personel and their dependents with a CAC Card or DD Form 1173).
Lifetime Pass: $80/Lifetime Senior Pass (62 years or older US citizens; valid at all national park and federal fee areas). Free/Access Pass (available to all US citizens with perminent disabilities). Free/Access for Veterans and Gold Star Families Pass (valid for all military and veterans with a CAC card, Veteran HJealth Identification Card, Veteran ID Card, or veteran’s designation on state-issued drivers license or identification card.)
Golden Canyon Trail
The Golden Canyon Trail strikes off up Golden Canyon almost from the first. The canyon received its name from the yellow rock in the walls and the nearby badlands. The trail is fairly nondescript for the first mile as it passes between the walls of the canyon.
On my first visit (in early May), the day was so hot that we would walk gratefully in every patch of shadow offered by the canyon walls. Hats off in the shade to let our heads cool off (did you know that 90% of all lost body heat is through your head?), hats back on in the sunshine so we didn’t get heatstroke or sunburn.
Views open up more as the canyon progresses, including interesting rocks and cliffs.
At mile 1.0, the Golden Canyon Trail strikes right while the Red Cathedral Trail goes left up the wash. Turn right to ascend the badlands. Be sure to look back down on Golden Canyon as you climb – the views get better and better the higher you go!
A viewpoint trail 0.4 miles beyond the junction allows you to hike 0.2 miles out to an overlook of the badlands and Golden Canyon. It’s beautiful! This makes a good turn-around spot for a 3.2 mile hike if you’re not planning on hiking up to Zabriskie Point, the Badlands Loop, or Gower Gulch.
Beyond the viewpoint junction, the trail winds 0.6 miles down to a junction with the Badlands Loop. This is the official end of the Golden Canyon Trail. Many people who come this far choose to either 1) go left up to Zabriskie Point or 2) turn right to descend Gower Gulch. If you feel up to it, I’d suggest going left up to the Gower Gulch/Badlands Trail Junction and turn right down Gower Gulch back to the Golden Canyon Parking Area.