Death Valley – Hiking Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch


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.

Google Map Link


When? : The recommended time to visit here is late fall, winter and early spring, summer is just too hot.


Few blogs links that provides additional information.

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.


The visit:


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.

The towering red rock pillars are above you.

You can walk to the left, a short scramble trail will take you out of lower section to a small ledge, from here you can see the valley and canyon below you.

You can also turn left and walk up the slop to another viewpoint.

From this point you need to turn around and hike back the same way down the main canyon.

Now you can go back to your car the same way you hiked into the canyon or do a much longer hike to Gower Gulch.


2. Gower Gulch Loop

From this point (trail junction) this loop hike is addition of 3.2 miles all the way back to Golden Canyon parking lot.

Overall, hiking from Golden Canyon parking lot, visit Red Cathedral and hike into Gower Gulch Loop is 5.2 miles long, you should plan that it will take you 3 hours to complete this hike.


After hiking to Red Cathedral and coming back to the trail junction torn into the side-trail (turn left when coming down from Red Cathedral).

This is the same trail that connect also to Zarbiskie Point.

From this point the trail get into a side narrow slope and soon it gets out to the open and climb to the base of the tall and visible Manly Beacon (the most dominant element seen from Zarbiskie viewpoint).

Overall, this short 0.3-mile section is short but with a steep climb up the mountain side.

From Manly Beacon base there is a nice view to all directions, there is also another viewpoint to the west on a nearby mountain top, but I did not walk there.

From here you will start to go down.

After hiking 0.4 miles from the highest point, you will reach trail junction, here you need to turn right in the direction of Gower Gulch. If you take the trail left, you will climb up the hill and from there you can hike to Zarbiskie point.

Once you turn into Gower Gulch another 0.3 mile will bring you to the main Gower canyon. Here turn right and hike down the canyon.

From this point all the way to the Golden Canyon Parking lot you have 2 more miles to go, most are downhill.

Gower Gulch canyon rock formation is different than the one you saw at Golden Canyon, rockier and more different colors.

The canyon base is covered to pebbles and small rocks, in some narrow canyon sections you will need to climb down small waterfalls. This is not so much technically challenge and you can always find a foothold to go down the short steep sections.

After hiking for 1.2 miles in the canyon, enjoy the nice rock formation on the canyon wall and maybe even the shade if this early in the morning you will reach the canyon opening to the Death Valley area. At this point there is a 30 feet tall dry waterfall. Enjoy the nice view from this point.

From the last waterfall the trail is taking the right side of the sloops and soon you will get to the valley opening and start to hike north, you can see the road down below, the hike in this section is going parallel to the road.

Additional 0.9 mile will bring you back to the parking lot you start your Golden Canyon hike.



3. From Zarbiskie Point to Golden Canyon:

The beauty of this hike is that you start with the amazing landscape picturesque view from Zarbiskie Point and you are hiking “into the picture”, where most of your hike is downhill.

Overall, this is 4-mile-long hike, plan for at list 2 hours.


For this one-way hike you need 2 cars:

Drive with your group to Zarbiskie Point parking lot and let all your group member to unload.

Drive with 2 cars to the end point at Golden Canyon parking lot, this is 5.7 miles drive, it will take you 20 min to drive to the endpoint and back to Zarbiskie Point after leaving one car at the end point.

Now you can start your group hike…

From Zarbiskie Point parking lot go to the viewing point, after enjoying the view walk back to the parking lot and take the trail on your right. This trail gets into a side canyon and soon you will hike down in series of curves following the canyon.

After 0.4 mile where the canyon is open-up you will see a clear sign that mark your turn right and up the hill.

Make sure not to go straight into the main canyon river bad, this is Gower Gulch


Once you turn right you will start to climb the exposed hill, few turns will bring you to a nice viewing point. From here you can enjoy the view to the west, lower perspective of Manly Beacon (the most dominate mountain just in front of you).

Keep hiking on the trail, hike down the slope and at the lower section you will connect to another trail. This is the Gower Gulch Loop; this is exactly 1 mile from your starting point.

Here you need to turn right to the direction of Manly Beacon and climb to the base of it.

From here, at the base of Manly Beacon you can have another view stop, another, and last, high point viewing to the west.


Walk down and after 0.3 miles you will reach the Gold Canyon main trail.

Here you can turn right and hike 0.4 miles up the canyon to Red Cathedral, this is highly recommended trail. Or, from here you will hike down the Gold Canyon to your cars (1 mile hike).