Mosaic Canyon Hike, Death Valley
Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
Time: 2.5-3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
Location: Mosaic Canyon Road is located in Stovepipe Wells Village across from Stovepipe Wells Campground. From Furnace Creek, drive for 27 miles on Highway 190 NW. Pass Stovepipe Wells and turn left on Mosaic Canyon Road. Drive 2 miles to the trailhead. The road is generally passable for most passenger cars. Check with rangers about the road conditions if it has rained recently.
Parking: Park in the large gravel parking lot.
Mosaic Canyon Hike Description
From the Mosaic Canyon parking lot, you’ll start up a rocky wash and into the canyon. The canyon will start to narrow within the first quarter-mile. Smooth marble walls of Noonday Dolomite will start to form around you – notice the smoothness of the walls. The grit in flash flood waters scours the canyon walls, polishing them as they go. They’re so smooth, in fact, that you’ll have to use extra caution not to slip.
Proceed farther up the canyon, keeping an eye out of the canyon’s namesake Mosaic Canyon Breccia. Look for small angular fragments of parent rock that has been locked in a natural cement.
Once you’re about 1.3 miles into the canyon, you’ll come to what looks like a natural impasse – a boulder jam. Climb between the boulders on the left side and you’ll find a hidden route and a second set of carved narrows. These surfaces contain colorful brecchia chutes and dryfalls.
Keep going beyond this second set of narrows (0.2 mile) and the route will look as if it has come to an abrupt ending. You’ll see a 20-foot-high slated dryfall between vertical canyon walls. It is not recommended that you climb the dryfall, but instead go back down the canyon about 180 feet and look for the footpath that goes up on the western wall (not recommended for those with a fear of heights). If you wish to take this social trail, you’ll be able to walk up a rocky slop to a bypass trail above the canyon floor and then back down above the dryfall.
Move on through the canyon for 0.3 mile to reach the third set of narrows. Finally, there will be one last bend between tall walls before the finish at a 25-foot dryfall in a natural amphitheater. Return the way you came.
Tip: You’ll be in the shade for a fair section of the trail, but this is the desert, so you can still expect hot, dry sun in sections. Pack lots of water, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and some salty snacks.
This is a great canyon hike for families – it’s kid-sized! The first narrow section isn’t very far into the hike, so the little ones will get a quick reward. Line up just to squeeze through it and listen for those giggles of glee.
Other Area Hikes
Distance: 3-8 miles
Time: 1.5-4.5 hours roundtrip, depending on route
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Elevation gain: 535-834 feet
-Golden Canyon trailhead, 2 miles south of CA-190 on Badwater Road
-Zabriskie Point on CA-190 3.5 miles east of Badwater Road
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Distance: 2 miles roundtrip
Time: 1.5 hours roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Elevation gain: 185 feet
Location: Stovepipe Wells Village 24 miles west of Furnace Creek
Wildrose Peak Trail
Distance: 8.4 miles roundtrip
Time: 6 hours roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2,200 fet
Location: Follow Emigrant Canyon Road off CA-190 past Wildrose Campground to Charcoal Kilns parking lot. Final 2 miles is maintained gravel surface usually passable by most passenger cars.
Other Things to Do in Death Valley National Park
Artist’s Drive & Artist’s Palette
If it’s too hot for hiking, take the scenic, 9-mile Artist’s Drive through canyons and colorful mountains, stopping at Artist’s Palette for a short walk. See up close the dramatic colors of the park’s volcanic minerals. If you’re a Star Wars fan, note that some parts of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope were filmed around Artist’s Palette. The best light along Artist’s Drive is during the afternoon.
Badwater Basin Salt Flats
Save Badwater Basin Salt Flats for sunset. It’s the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Try to get there 40 minutes before sunset in order to hike to the best spots for watching the day’s end – at about the quarter-mile mark, you’ll find the salt polygons for which Death Valley is famous. Reach Badwater Basin Salt Flats via Badwater Road. The basin is about 30 minutes south of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
What Time of Year to Visit Mosaic Canyon and Death Valley National Park?
For obvious reasons, try not to visit during the oppressively hot summer. You can still come and tour the main points of interest by car, but don’t plan on hiking or getting out too often due to extreme heat.
Spring is the best time to visit Death Valley. It’s warm and sunny – but not too hot. You may even see some springtime wildflowers, depending on the previous winter’s rainfall. (Find wildflower updates on the Death Valley National Park website.) For astronomy buffs, there’s a Dark Sky Festival between mid-March and late April. Make reservations far in advance for camping during this time.
Autumn is a good alternative, starting in late October. You’ll encounter warm, pleasant temperatures and mostly clear skies. The camping season and ranger programs open at this time.
Winter – with its cooler days, chilly nights and occasional rainstorms – is also an option. The light is especially beautiful for photography at this time.