Golden Canyon - Gower Gulch Loop, Golden Canyon Trailhead, Death Valley National Park, California
Golden Canyon - Gower Gulch Loop - 4.2 miles
Golden Canyon Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||4.2 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||-138' - -138' (510' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+648' net elevation gain (+743' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Golden Canyon - Gower Gulch Loop - 4.2 Miles Round-Trip
A navigable maze of vibrant badlands, washes and gullies connect Golden Canyon with Gower Gulch to form a moderate loop beneath Death Valley's iconic Zabriskie Point. Visitors will enjoy varied terrain and stunning views on this geologically insightful trip through a surreal desert landscape. The following description begins in Golden Canyon and travels clockwise:
Enter Golden Canyon and follow the gravel wash on a steady uphill grade. Numbered markers in the wash correspond to the Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail pamphlet available for purchase at the trailhead and visitor center. Notable in this first section are multiple layers of sediment ranging in size from boulders to fine-grained sand and silt. Pressure from periodic burials fused once loose material into solid conglomerates; subsequent uplifts and erosion have exposed the distinct and diverse deposits before you.
The canyon-trail forks right in .7 miles, steepening to Interpretive Sign #10 (right side) and the turnoff for Zabriskie Point (1 mile : 157'). Here you'll bear right, climb out of Golden Canyon and begin an undulating trek through the multi-hued badlands below Zabriskie Point. Before turning off, those with time may consider continuing up-canyon .25 miles on an unmarked path to viewpoints directly beneath the Red Cathedral.
The Cathedral's vertical cliffs are comprised of conglomerate material similar to exposed layers near the mouth of Golden Canyon, once the loose debris of an alluvial fan. Oxidation has given these walls a distinct crimson color, a sharp contrast to the lighter hues of badland formations directly below.
The main trail leaves Golden Canyon and rises quickly with improving views of the topographically complex landscape through which you're passing. The trail crests beneath Manly Beacon and bends south (1.45 miles : 510'), dropping circuitously through rugged terrain to the Zabriskie Point - Gower Gulch junction (1.85 miles : 370'). Continue straight toward Gower Gulch on what is now an unmarked route.
If uncertain at any time, simply follow the natural downhill flow of minor drainages and gullies to the markedly wider, distinctly gray gravel wash floor of Gower Gulch cutting east-west through the badlands.
The designated path spills into Gower Gulch (2.05 miles : 290') and bears right downhill. Lightly colored badland mounds and fins gradually cede to higher canyon walls (2.8 miles : 165') notable for their darker, heavily mineralized color pallet. The pace quickens and canyon narrows through rugged slots (3.05) that require several easy scrambles down dry falls.
The gulch abruptly ends at an impassable 25' dry fall at the base of the Amargosa foothills on the edge of Death Valley (3.35 miles : -80'). Here an informal but clear path bends north above the drop-off, undulating mildly along the bajada for .85 miles back to the trailhead (4.2 miles). Views across Death Valley's salt pan toward the Panamint Mountains are sensational on this final stretch.
- N36 25.238 W116 50.795 — Golden Canyon Trailhead
- N36 25.385 W116 50.372 — .5 miles : Continue up canyon
- N36 25.478 W116 49.916 — 1 mile : Red Cathedral - Zabriskie Point split; bear rt
- N36 25.355 W116 49.580 — 1.45 miles : Trail crests below Manly Beacon; bear right
- N36 25.159 W116 49.344 — 1.85 miles : Gower Gulch junction; bear right
- N36 25.009 W116 49.539 — 2.05 miles : Reach Gower Gulch; bear right
- N36 24.758 W116 50.329 — 3 miles : Travel through colorful narrows
- N36 24.663 W116 50.414 — 3.35 miles : End of gulch; bear north along foothills
- N36 25.005 W116 50.686 — 3.75 miles : Heading north back to trailhead
- Those with time and ample preparation should consider reaching Zabriskie Point. Doing so adds approximately 2.4 miles to the roundtrip distance.
- This loop trail is crossed by innumerable washes, gullies and side canyons, many tempting but potentially precarious. Even minor deviations can quickly lead to major navigational challenges. Keep your bearings and remain on-trail at all times.
- Borax mines line Gower Gulch and dot the badlands above. View from a safe distance. Mine entry is prohibited
- Canyon walls and badlands - soft mudstone conglomerates - are inherently unstable and not suitable for climbing. Flash floods are infrequent but can be devastating. Monitor incoming weather carefully. Rain can soften the trail, create mudslides and further destabilize cliff edges.
- Much of this trail is exposed to sun, heat and wind. Extra water and full sun protection are year-round musts.
- Zabriskie Point is named for Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century.
Directions to Trailhead
The Golden Canyon Trailhead is located on the east side of Badwater Road, 2 miles south of the Badwater Road - Highway 190 intersection.
Death Valley National Park
P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, CA 92328