What? : This is probably the most popular hike at Death Valley. The gold / yellow color canyon walls and eroded hills are the main attraction at this easy hike. There are several options to hike here, most chose the out and back 3 mile long option but you can have here a longer loop hike.
Where? : Golden Canyon Trailhead located 2 miles south of CA-190 on Badwater Road. The entranced is well marked and there is large parking lot.
When? : The recommended time to visit here is late fall, winter and early spring, summer is just too hot.
This will help you plan your road trip to this area and your Death Valley visit:
- Death Valley
- Death Valley Road Trip
- The Road from Mojave to Lone Pine
- My Eastern Sierra blog directory
- Lone Pine to Death Valley - hwy 190
- Mojave Desert – Highway 127 from Death Valley to Baker
- Beatty Nevada and Rhyolite Ghost Town
- Death Valley – Titus Canyon Drive
- Death Valley – Ibex Dunes and Saratoga Springs
- Death Valley – Striped Butte Valley 4x4 Drive
- Death Valley – Sidewinder Canyon
- Death Valley – Badwater
- Death Valley – Artist's Palette Drive
- Death Valley – Zabriskie Point
- Death Valley – Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
- Death Valley – Ubehebe Crater
Due note 1: Take enough water with you. I don’t recommend any hiking in the lower elevations of Death Valley during the hot summer months. It can be 90f degree at early spring… just think of 120-130f in summertime…
Due note 2: The trail is marked with clear signs, but it will be good if you will have a paper map or even better GPS application.
Due note 3: There is minimal to no cell reception in this area of the Death Valley.
Due note 4: There is very little shade anywhere in Death Valley so use Sunscreen even in winter months.
Due note 5: Stay out of the canyon if it is raining or threatens to get heavy rain because of flash flood dangers, especially do not get into the slot canyons in such
Due note 6: I start my hike here early in the morning and it was already hot (even in early March).
Due note 7: This is one of the most popular hikes in Death Valley so do not expect to be the only one here. The hike is relatively long, so you do not feal the crowed. This is especially correct if you are doing the longer Gower Gulch Loop, the chances are that you will be there by yourself.
Due note 8: A toilet is available in the Golden Canyon parking lot.
Due note 9: If you are hiking this trail during April/May or Sept/Oct, the mid-day highs temperatures can be 90-105’F, so start the hike before 10am.
Due note 10: When visiting or hiking at the Death Valley use several layers as clothing. You can start your day with cold temperatures during early morning sunrise to a very hot midday (even at fall, winter, and spring). At the afternoon it can warm but at sunset temperature plumage and it can be near freezing.
Due note 11: Pets are not allowed on any trail in Death Valley National Park, even if carried. Do not leave your animal in your vehicle. You may walk your pet on dirt roads.
My thoughts: I hiked this loop hike starting at Zarbiskie Point after sunset viewing and at the first section going down at Gower Gulch, I did not see anyone, by the time I arrive to the Golden Canyon parking lot it was full, and many other hikers were in the canyon. It was a fun 7.4 miles hike; the canyons rock formation is interesting and there is a lot to see.
I will propose below 3 slightly different hike covering this area and you should do what suitable for you.
Most people hike only the Gold Canyon hike, I will recommend adding the Gower Gulch loop to your hike. Overall loop is 2 miles longer but it adds to your trip Gower Gulch canyon that is completely different canyon than Gold Canyon.
If you are short in time than the “classic” Gold Canyon is the second best.
I did a longer version of this hike combining all 3 of them, starting at Zarbiskie Point, hiking into Gower Gulch, going to Gold Canyon trailhead, hiking up to Red Cathedral and from there back all the way up to Zarbiskie Point.
This is a 7.3-mile hike, and it took me 3 hours.
There are few hiking options:
· Gold Canyon to Red Cathedral and back (3 mile, 1.5-2 hours)
· Gower Gulch Loop (5.1 miles, 3 hours)
· From Zarbiskie Point to Golden Canyon (4 miles, 2-2.5 hours, for this hike you need 2 cars)
1. Red Cathedral Hike:
This is 3 miles out and back trail that considered as moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 1-2 hours to complete. This is a very popular trail, so you'll likely encounter other people while hiking here.
The hike up Golden Canyon is gradually uphill through the river canyon with towering white and golden rock walls on both sides.
The canyon in its first 1.2 miles cut through mixed eroded white, yellow, and brown Marl, carbonate minerals, clays, and silt rock formations that create a “yellow moon like” picture.
This area does not grow any plants, things that add to it unique view.
Although uphill it is easy to hike the moderate sloop trail in the canyon floor.
After 1 mile you will see on your right another trail that is getting into one of the side canyons. This is the trail for the one doing the Gower Gulch loop or people going to (or coming from) Zarbiskie Point.
For getting to the Red Cathedral, you need to keep walking in the main canyon.
At some point the main canyon narrow down, this is right at the last section of the hike, if you walk up to here keep walking to the end.
Some rock scrambling, bypassing boulders and climbing small dry waterfalls is needed, this is the “fun” section of the hike.
After very short section you will reach the bottom of the impressive Red Cathedral.