Walk around the exterior of a unique desert retreat. This walking tour of the property is free and open to the public with the park entrance fee. To enter any of the buildings, you will need to purchase tickets for a tour of Scotty’s Castle.
|Total Distance: 1.6 mile loop with spurs||Elevation Gain: 285ft. (2,993ft. to 3,159ft.)|
|Difficulty: Easy||0-5 Mile Difficulty: Moderate|
|View Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0 stars||Author’s Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars|
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|Pets: No||Horses: No|
|Best Seasons: October-May||Special Permits: None for the grounds. Tours are required for the interior of the structures and to visit Scotty’s Ranch.|
|Water Availability: None||Overnight Options: None|
|Trailhead Amenities: Restrooms; visitor center||Crowd Factor: Crowded|
|Trailhead Access: 0.6|
Mile-by-Mile: Scotty’s Castle Grounds and Scotty’s Grave
0.0 Scotty’s Castle Trailhead (SW corner of the Garage/Visitor Center) (3,011ft.). Walk straight (due north) along the Garage. At the end of the building (on the far side of the trees), turn right. (37.031921°, -117.340786°)
0.05 Guesthouse on left (3,024ft.). Continue along the path (note that you may not enter any of the buildings (except the Visitor Center) except on a paid, guided tour.) (37.032388°, -117.340333°)
0.15 Stable (3,042ft.). This was one of the first completed structures on the site. Return the way you came, but walk through the trees (on left/south) and past the Fire Cache Building to see the Bunkhouse. (37.032368°, -117.339067°)
0.2 Bunkhouse on left (3,021ft.). Restrooms are on the right. Walk past the Bunkhouse and around the north side of the Garage. Then turn right to follow a path up to the Cookhouse. (37.032066°, -117.340089°)
0.3 Cookhouse (3,037ft.). Return to the end of the path and turn right to the Gas Tank House. (37.032848°, -117.341103°)
0.35 Gas Tank House (3,020ft.). The ornate pump is nearby. Walk south around to the front of the house. (37.032430°, -117.341116°)
0.4 Front of Scotty’s Castle (3,012ft.). “Scotty’s Castle” – named for the con man who entertained guests with his stories, much to the owners’ amusement – was built in the Spanish style. Inside are many plush rooms and 1930s state-of-the-art conveniences, including a water-based air cooling system. The Castle was furnished with hand-wrought iron and tile, antiques, a 1,121-pipe theater organ, and custom-made furniture. Continue along the north side of the pool, then right along west side of the house to see the Solar Heater up on the hill. On your left as you walk is the Powerhouse, which supplied the Castle with electricity via a 7-kilowatt General Electric dynamo hydroelectric generation system powered by an 18-inch Pelton waterwheel. The waterwheel is still used for evening lighting around the Castle. At the hill, turn around and walk around the west side of the swimming pool. Turn right after passing the pool to follow the path to the Bridge and Entrance Gate. (37.032152°, -117.341454°)
0.6 Entrance Gate (2,995ft.). Retrace your steps to a path to the left. Turn left (the Gravel Separator is to the left of the left turn) and follow the trail up to the top of the hill. (37.030844°, -117.341787°)
0.7 Trail Split (3,013ft.). Turn right to the Chimes Tower. Turning left would take you into Tie Canyon. (37.032248°, -117.343343°)
0.8 Chimes Tower (3,040ft.). Originally built to store tanks of hot water, the structure was supplied with 25 carillon chimes that played every quarter-hour. Enjoy the view over Scotty’s Castle, then turn left to follow the twisting path up the hill. (37.032218°, -117.342466°)
1.0 Scotty’s Grave (3,159ft.). Strangely, Walter “Scotty” Scott is buried overlooking the villa, while Albert and Bessie Johnson – the owners – are not. Views are excellent from here over Scotty’s Castle. Retrace your steps back down to the entrance road; turn left to return to the pool. Walk along the southern side of the pool back to your starting point. (37.033593°, -117.342415°)
1.6 Scotty’s Castle Trailhead (SW corner of the Garage/Visitor Center) (3,011ft.). (37.031921°, -117.340786°)
History & More
You must purchase tickets to enter any of the buildings at Scotty’s Castle except the visitor center and the restrooms. Tickets can be purchased in advance at https://www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/233282.
Scotty’s Castle was never owned by Walter “Scotty” Scott. Instead, it was built and owned by Chicago millionaire Albert Mussey Johnson.
In 1904, Walter Scott, a con man, performer, cowboy, rough-rider for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, and prospector, “found” a gold mine in Death Valley. He convinced Chicago millionaire Albert Mussey Johnson to provide significant financial backing for the supposed mine. Long before he visited Death Valley, Albert began to suspect that things were not what they seemed. Upon arrival, he found that he was right, but he also found that the dry climate was good for his health. The millionaire decided to acquire land and build a home in the Grapevine Mountains north of Death Valley.
Construction on the house began in 1922. Initial surveys were inaccurate, and the buildings were mistakenly built on government land. By the time the issue was resolved, Johnson and his wife, Bessie, had lost much of their wealth in the 1929 stock market crash. Construction was put on hold until Walter Scott – “Death Valley Scotty” – convinced the couple to take in paying tourists as guests to fund the rest of the necessary buildings. The “castle” became a favorite with visitors, as Scotty entertained the guests each evening with true and fanciful adventures.
Albert Johnson passed away in 1948, leaving his estate to a charitable organization on the condition that Scotty be allowed to live on the property as long as he wished. The National Park Service purchased the property in 1970. Visitors to Death Valley reveled in touring the property and hearing about its eccentric namesake.
On the evening of October 18, 2015, an unprecedented 3.75 inches of rain – more than a year’s worth of precipitation – fell in Grapevine Canyon, in addition to half an inch of rain from the day before. A flash flood of an estimated 3,200 cubic feet per second rushed down the wash toward Scotty’s Castle.
The 8-mile road up to the castle was almost completely demolished, and the grounds were covered in up to four feet of mud and rocks. The castle, itself, was relatively undamaged, with erosion around the foundation and roof leaks the most significant repairs, but the HVAC system, spring house, pipelines, electricity, and more were completely destroyed. Several buildings – including the visitor center (formally the garage) and the pool – were filled with mud and debris.
The National Park Service and the California State Historic Preservation Office worked together to restore Scotty’s Castle and Death Valley Ranch to its former glory – and to put in flood protection that should keep the castle safer should another flash flood occur. However, their plans were thwarted on April 22, 2021, when the garage, which served as the visitor center – about 37% restored after the flood – burned to the ground for unknown reasons. Plans are to rebuild the visitor center and reopen Scotty’s Castle to visitors in 2023.
The story of Scotty’s Castle can be found in the section titled, “A Short History of Death Valley.” For a more in-depth story, check out https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-scottyscastle/
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Leave No Trace Principles are enforced
Drones and model aircrafts are prohibited
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