Desolation Canyon

Topographic Map of Desolation Canyon Route
Topographic map and route description (600kb PDF) for Desolation Canyon

NPS - Dan Kish

Length: 3.6 mile (5.8km) out and back, round trip
Time: 2.5 hours round trip
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Elevation Gain: 600 ft (183m)
Location: The short unpaved Desolation Canyon Road is located 3.7 miles (6km) south of CA-190 on Badwater Road. Typically passable to sedans.
Parking: Open gravel parking area large enough for buses and RV's.
Closest Restroom: No restroom at site. Golden Canyon parking lot 1.7 miles (2.7km) north has a vault toilet in the parking lot.

GPS Data: GPS data for the unmarked route is for supplemental purposes only. Take a map and compass when exploring the trail-less wilderness.
  • GPX file: (universal format for use in most mobile applications and GPS units)
  • KML file: (used with some mobile applications and Google Earth & Maps)
A green wilderness barrier with symbols prohibiting motor vehicles and bicycles at the start of a canyon hike.
Desolation Canyon runs along the western edge of the Black Mountains where a maze of drainages reveals colors reminiscent of neighbor Artist's Palette. This unmarked cross country route is a great trip for hikers looking for an entry level cross country adventure.

NPS - Dan Kish

Route Description

From the parking area there are two obvious canyon drainages. Avoid the small canyon to the south; instead begin hiking east toward the Black Mountains. You are entering designated wilderness.
A mountain canyon beneath a cloudy blue sky.
Desolation Canyon taking shape.

NPS - Dan Kish

Rounding the corner, the canyon begins to take shape. Head south, hugging the mountains on the left as you follow the wash farther into the Black Mountains.
A narrow canyon with red, yellow, and green colored walls beneath a cloudy blue sky.

NPS - Dan kish

Entering the canyon, the colorful walls quickly grow high above as the wineglass shaped canyon begins to take shape and constrict around you.

Venturing gradually uphill through the corridor of the main canyon, many interesting but short side canyons offer opportunities for exploration. The maze of canyons provides hours of possibilities for adventure, but may also become confusing. Hint: This canyon has been shaped by flowing water, generally downhill is the way back to safety.
A dry waterfall blocks passage inside a narrow canyon.

NPS - Dan Kish

One mile into the main canyon, you encounter an 8ft (2.4m) followed soon after by a 6ft (1.8m) high dryfall. Climbing up may seem easy, but proceed with caution, especially when hiking alone. Climbing back down is always more difficult.
A narrow canyon with yellow, red, and green colored walls beneath a cloudy blue sky.

NPS - Dan Kish

The remainder of the hike shares many features of its neighbor Artist’s Drive. Colorful walls and unique geological formations define the horizon.

Be sure to keep right at the next two canyon intersections before following the gradual route up to the ridgeline for the expansive view of Death Valley over 600ft (183m) below. Artist’s Drive is the paved road below you. Return via the same route.

Rock Rainbow:
Shades of color are due to a mix of minerals, mostly forms of iron.
  • Red/Orange = Hematite
  • Yellow = Limonite
  • Green/Blue = Chlorite, Nontronite
  • Purple = Hematite

Common Flora:
  • Desert Holly (Altriplex hymenelytra)
  • Rock Nettle (Eucnide urens)

Last updated: January 13, 2018

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