A very steep trail leads up the old road that once took workers to and from the famous Keane Wonder Gold Mine. Enjoy fantastic views of Death Valley, close-up views of the aerial tramway that serviced the mine and mill, and a look at gold mines and old machinery.
|Total Distance: 2.6 miles out & back||Elevation Gain: 1,512ft. (1,324ft. to 2,725ft.)|
|Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous||0-5 Mile Difficulty: Very Strenuous|
|View Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars||Author’s Rating: 5.0 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: None||Crowd Factor: Moderate|
|Trailhead Access: 1.2|
Mile-by-Mile: Keane Wonder Mine Trail
0.0 Keane Wonder Trailhead (1,324ft.). Follow the very steep, well-defined trail up the hillside. (36.6680000°, -116.9104500°)
0.1 Trail Junction (1,411ft.). Trails branch left, sharp left, and right. Turn right downhill to the sign near the old mill ruins, but eventually, you want the middle trail that climbs very steeply up the mountainside. If you’re ever in doubt about the trail, follow the pipe that climbs up the mountain. (36.6691984°, -116.9095183°)
0.3 Aerial Tram Tower (1,885ft.). Enjoy the towers and views across Death Valley before continuing up the still-steep trail. (36.6713610°, -116.9078874°)
0.9 Mine with door (2,450ft.). The National Park Service has barred off entry about 10ft. into the mine, so you can go inside a short distance if you want to. The trail moderates a little after the mine, with great views down into the valley below and to the aerial tramway. (36.6781333°, -116.9061667°)
1.3 Keane Wonder Area (2,725ft.). This is technically the end of the trail, but there’s a lot to explore (just make sure to respect all signs and fences and use common sense). The spools of the cable are up on the hillside to the left, a mine (barred off after about 10ft.) is located under that, and the old ore loading system for the tramway is down below to the right (use caution if you scramble down to these ruins, and follow the social trails rather than making new trails down the scree). After exploring, retrace your steps to the parking area. (36.6815167°, -116.9013167°)
History & More
A social trail continues up the mountainside toward the Keane Wonder Mine. While you’re technically allowed to take this trail, be very careful to stay out of the mine area for two reasons: 1) the National Park Service has barred off the mine entrance with a barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence (with plenty of signs about no trespassing), and 2) the mine is very unstable since the tunnel supports were mostly removed during the final days of the mine’s operation. So continue beyond the official end of the trail at your own risk and always respect the NPS’s signs, fences, and guidelines.
In 1903, Jack Keane and his friend Domingo Etcharren traveled into Death Valley to look for gold. Domingo gave up after a while, but on his way out, he discovered a vein of gold. He returned long enough to tell Jack of his find before walking back out to civilization. Jack Keane did some tests and found that the gold was not only high quality, but also easy to extract from the ground. The area was developed by Joseph DeLamar and then by Homer Wilson, who brought the mine into a profitable venture, including building the aerial tramway. By November of 1906, the mine was producing gold.
The aerial tramway was a feat of engineering, especially for its day. Ore buckets were automatically loaded with 600lb. of ore, the clutch was released, and the next ore bucket would be automatically pulled into position to be filled (the weight of the ore carried the buckets down the mountain). At the base of the tramway, the ore was dumped out and the buckets returned to the top of the mountain for more ore.
The gold ore from the Keane Wonder Mine was only partially processed on-site. The on-site 20-stamp mill could extract about 62% of the gold ore; when the cyanide plant was installed, it was able to recover 92% of the gold extracted from the mine. After being partially processed, the ore was transported to Rhyolite for final processing.
Download Trail Map
From Furnace Creek, take CA-190 north 10.6 miles to the junction for the Beatty Cutoff. Turn right toward Beatty. After 5.7 miles of driving north, turn right on the gravel road to the Keane Wonder Mine Trailhead 2.8 miles later.
It is extremely dangerous to enter a mine due to unstable shafts, gasses, and more. Do not enter mines, even if they are apparently open!
Walking on, climbing, entering, ascending, descending, or traversing any mine, structure, feature, or ruin is prohibited.
Toxic chemicals or ore may be present around mine sites. Enter at your own risk.
Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing any mine, structure, feature, or ruin is also prohibited.
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.)
Keane Wonder Mine Trail
On our 2020 visit to Death Valley National Park, the Keane Wonder Mine Trail was high on my list of “must-do” hikes. I’d hiked it at least three times back in the early 2000s, but then the area was closed for hazardous waste cleanup. As much as I was thankful not to be breathing cyanide dust (and I wondered just how much worse it was when they started cleanup vs. when I’d last hiked it), I also wondered what changes had happened to the trail. There were rumors of a rerouted trail and stabilization of structures, so I put on my hiking boots, and we started up the trail not so very early on a bright and sunshiny morning in mid-November.
Actually, all was not warm sunshine and Death Valley’s classic heat. A cold front had come through the night before, and the wind was still fierce. The trail itself is quite exposed, so even the warm sunshine couldn’t compete with chilly air and gale-force winds. We just about froze!
The trail begins with a sign warning you of the dangers of the trail. Read them, agree with your conscience that you’ll stay on the trail, and head up. It’s pretty steep from the first.
The Mill Site is only 0.1 miles up the trail. Signs talk about the Keane Wonder Mine’s history. This was where the stamp mill processed the ore before it was taken to Rhyolite to be made into gold bars. A cyanide processing plant was once nearby, just down the hill; the chemicals were used to extract gold from the tailings left over from processing the initial ore.
Most people don’t go much further than the mill site. I can’t blame them; the trail is a crazy one. I’d guess it was the old road up to the mine, and apparently, vehicles of that day didn’t mind insanely steep grades.
But if you want to continue, go back to where you turned to go down to the mine site and take the right-most main trail that won’t take you back down to the Mill Site. There is another main trail that goes off just to the right of the trail back down to the parking area. This trail is fairly level and goes off around the rib of the hill. It ends, eventually, at some other ruined buildings, and while interesting, it doesn’t take you up the Keane Wonder Mine Trail. In fact, if your trail isn’t fairly wide and very steep, you’re probably on the wrong trail. You’ll also be more or less following a pipeline up the mountainside.
Keep walking upward. Views become excellent down onto the northern part of Death Valley and across to the mountains on the western side.
At about mile 0.3, the trail comes up to a couple of the thirteen towers from the aerial tramway. These are very cool to see, and it’s another turn-around point for many people. But the trail after this moderates a bit, which is a good thing – it’s hard to keep going up a trail that steep!
The next interesting feature is a wooden door set into the cliff on the left of the trail about mile 0.9. This is a mine entrance. I have no idea why the wooden door was necessary. And while I’ve found it workable, blocked open, and blocked shut on various treks up the trail, this time the door is official and you can go a short distance into the mine! The shaft is barred off after a few feet, but it’s pretty cool to be inside a real gold mine.
Keep hiking upward. You’re mostly just walking along the side of the hill here, so while there is a grade, it’s nothing like the first part of the trail. About 0.15 miles after the mine with the door, you’ll pass a little rib of rock that protrudes out into the canyon. You can see where people walk out on it to get pictures of the aerial tramway. If you follow the vague social trails down below the rib of rock and slightly to the left, you’ll come to the break over station that helped the ore buckets reach an especially long distance between towers.
Keep walking upward the last stretch to the top of the aerial tramway at about mile 1.3. A mine is nearby to the left and the top of the tramway is to the right. A path to the left of the mine leads up to spools of wire – I don’t know exactly what these were used for, but they’re pretty interesting to see.
There is no apparent official trail down to the top of the aerial tramway, but if you walk a good distance to the right, you can safely descend a social path (don’t try going straight down since it’s very steep). Once down at the terminal, you can inspect what’s left of it – including ore buckets and gears and whatnot.
Each bucket could carry 600lb. of ore. They were loaded automatically, and the weight of the full buckets coming down the hill was enough force to bring the empty buckets back up without using electricity.
From here, I continued up the old road/trail as it wound east around the hill and then north. I only went about a tenth of a mile, but I found an old wheelbarrow, some old ruins, a few mine shafts, and other historical junk.
I don’t necessarily recommend coming up here, and if you do, be sure not to trespass behind the fences that keep people out of the Keane Wonder Mine. The mine itself is very unstable and you should never go inside of it or any other mine in the area unless the park service specifically says it is safe to do so.
Retrace your steps back down to the parking area. The hike isn’t long, but it is steep. Given the historical stuff you get to see along the way, I highly recommend it!