Hike Desolation Canyon

Desolation Canyon in Death Valley National Park is a 3.6 mile out and back trail through canyons that made of colorful badlands. The canyon wall colors are made from minerals in the rock. A slot canyon is a long, narrow channel with sheer rock walls on either side. They are amazing to wander though as long as there aren’t any signs of rain which can cause a flash flood. This is typically not a cause for concern in Death Valley where rainfall is a rare.

Note: This canyon has a lot of sun exposure so best to do early morning, or when the weather is not too hot. Bring plenty of water.


  • Trailhead location

  • An unmarked, graded dirt road leads to Desolation Canyon parking. Free to park, you can take a sedan but drive very slowly.

  • Out & Back Trail Hike: Loop 3.6 miles

  • Rated: Moderate (There is a bit of rock scrambling you have to do to traverse the canyon, but nothing too extensive)

  • Elevation change: 600 feet

  • No restroom at trailhead

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The Hike: Desolation Canyon

The trailhead is clearly marked, but past that you follow the river wash into the slot canyon. There are two canyons as you walk towards the mountains, stay to the right and notice the track marks from previous hikers.

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This is the view below looking back towards the parking area.

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As you enter the canyon there isn’t a trail, just a path between the mountains like you see below. Walk along this path.

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As you hike deeper into the canyon, the walls on either side of you get higher. There are a few offshoots you can take to explore, but that can become confusing. If you’re not an avid adventurer, I recommend staying on the main wash. If you do become disoriented, remember that this path was once formed by flowing water, so a usually a gradual downhill is the way back.

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As some points, they narrow like below.

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There are also a couple of locations along the way where you need to rock scramble, this lift below was about 6 feet high. Make sure you have good traction on your shoes, and proceed with caution. These aren’t too difficult but the last thing you want to do is roll an ankle, especially if you are hiking alone.

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The farther you walk down the path, the closer you’ll get to the Artist’s Drive, and the more colorful rock walls you’ll see. Because of the severity of heat on the day we went, we only went about 2-2.5 miles into the canyon then turned around to walk back. Full directions are here on NPS if you want to do the entire 7 mile trail (out and back). Alternatively you can also do the Artist’s Drive to see these colorful mineral mountains.

Return the way you came back down the river wash.

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Returning down the trail towards the end will look like below. Keep on the trail and you will end up back at the dirt parking lot.

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This was a great hike to go on if you enjoy slot canyons. If you only want to choose one slot canyon to hike in Death Valley, Mosaic Canyon was our favorite.

For a full list of things to do check out my post 3 Days In Death Valley National Park.

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