Hiking Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop at Death Valley National Park

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

Death Valley is awesome. Layered by stark and dramatic desert landscapes, including expansive salt flats, towering sand dunes, rugged mountains, and colorful badlands, Death Valley has an otherworldly beauty about it. The only thing that I could equate it to was pictures I had seen of rovers on Mars. It is that unique. While Death Valley doesn’t get much hype in the hiking community it seems, I was very surprised how much I liked this specific hike. If you’re wondering whether you should hike in Death Valley, I would absolutely recommend you add it to your list. In this guide, I highlight all aspects of my ~7 mile day hike in Death Valley so you too can enjoy its natural beauty.

Overview of Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop at Death Valley National Park

Located in Southeastern California, Death Valley is often overlooked as a hiking destination. I think that is a big mistake. Death Valley is an awesome place you should absolutely visit. In this section, I’ll help answer several frequently asked questions you may have yourself.

Hiking Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop at Death Valley National Park Map

This is a map (via alltrails.com) of the route I did.

Where to Park

To start this hike, I parked at Zabriskie Point Parking Lot. Here is the Google Map:

Here is the address:

Zabriskie Point Parking Lot
C5CR+93 Furnace Creek, California

Distance Traveled

According to Alltrails.com, I traveled 6.79 miles, which seemed about right. I did get lost on my return going counter clockwise, which added probably close to half a mile to my hike, but I managed to find my way back on the main trail.

How Long Does it Take to Hike?

I arrived at around 1:30 PM after driving from Vegas (about 2 hours). I finished the hike around 4:30 PM, totaling about 3 hours. I did stay for a sunset at Zabriskie Point until around 6 PM, which is a great spot to view the entire area including nearby mountains, Badwater Basin, and mountains in the distance behind Badwater Basin.

Elevation Change

According to Alltrails.com, I climbed 1237 feet of elevation, which is spread out pretty well. The only steep areas I experienced were getting back to Zabriskie Point. It didnt’t feel like I climbed this much elevation because there aren’t any extremely steep areas, which makes for a smooth easier hike.

Death Valley National Park Hike Elevation for Golden Canyon

Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop at Death Valley National Park elevation profile (via alltrails.com)

Difficulty

If you exercise regularly this hike was pretty easy. Be sure to wear the right shoes, specifically for the many small rocks you’ll be stepping on in certain areas of this hike. If you hike this one in the summer, it will probably be much harder because of the intense heat. That being said, it’s not that difficult of a hike in moderate weather (I went in early March and it was absolutely perfect).

Overall, I’d give this hike a 5.5 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

You will need to purchase a pass into the park, but there are no permits for this hike. The parking machine was not working in the parking lot when I went. I asked several visitors in the parking lot, and they said they either didn’t have a parking permit or bought one miles back towards the Western Entrance.

Cost

I drove in from the Eastern side (from Vegas) and did not see any area to purchase a parking permit. Unlike some other National Parks I’ve visited, there is no attendant collecting money at the entrance of the park. However, according to the National Parks website, the cost is $30 per private vehicle (as of March, 2024). I purchased the National Parks pass for $80 to visit any park in 2024.

When to Go

This park is open year round. I loved going in early March due to the perfect sunny and 70 degree weather. Death Valley is the hottest place on the planet, so you may want to avoid hiking this in the summer as it’s very exposed to the sun. I’m sure people do hike this one in the summer, but I’d probably avoid it unless you do it early in the morning before the sun roasts you.

Recommended Gear

Hiking in Death Valley National Park is a wonderful hiking experience. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought in early March, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: Depending on the weather, I’d recommend wearing layers and a light jacket. I wore short sleeves and shorts on this hike, which worked perfectly. However, if you stay for sunset, it got quite cold and I found myself putting my jacket on. So I’d recommend bringing layers. You may want to consider bringing a long sleeve shirt and hat to protect yourself from that desert sun.
  • Hiking backpack with straps: If you don’t have a backpack with straps, I recommend you get one. They aren’t too expensive on Amazon. Your shoulders and back will thank you later. This hike, while not difficult, still has some ups and downs that can pay your body a toll without the proper gear.
  • Portable charger: If you take a lot of photos / videos like me, you’ll want to bring a portable charger for your phone. I also use the alltrails.com app to navigate so having enough battery is important.
  • Water bladder: If you want to save on weight and also help your backpack be more balanced than carrying a big bottle of water in your bag, a water bladder is important. I personally use a 3L water bladder and I drank about half of it on this hike. This hike was pretty warm so I drank quite a bit of water. I was sweating in parts of this hike, especially when it wasn’t as windy.
  • Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes that are waterproof will benefit you if you go in on this trail. While there is probably a low chance of it being muddy since it barely rains in Death Valley, it did rain a few weeks before I went, creating a rare shallow lake in Badwater Basin. You’ll also want shoes that can protect your feet from parts of this trail that is covered with small rocks.
  • Snacks: Who doesn’t like snacks? While hiking, even on a short hike like this, you burn lots of calories. My personal go-to’s on this hike were: Honey roasted peanuts, gummy bears, and protein bars.
  • Bug spray: I didn’t experience bugs on this hike, so this wasn’t really needed. However, you may want to use some just in case, especially in summer.
  • First aid kit: It’s a good idea to bring Band-Aids, a bandage, and some cut cleaning items. I have needed band-aids in the past from slipping on rocks, but I did not on this hike.
  • Sunscreen: Most of this hike is in the sun. If you forget sunscreen or aren’t covered properly, prepare to burn. I only applied sunscreen once at 1:30 PM because I went counter clockwise. By the time I started the return trek, the sun was mostly low enough behind the hills that I was not getting scorched.
  • Flashlight: If you go anytime near sunset, I’d recommend having a flashlight.

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your Death Valley hiking experience even better:

  • Shoe impact insoles: These can help as you traverse hard rocks along the way.
  • Phone tripod: If you go alone or with a group and want great pictures, a phone tripod is key. I use one on every hike I go on. You may not need to use one very often because there were quite a few people on this trail that you could ask to take a picture for you.

The Play By Play: My Route Hiking Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop at Death Valley National Park

So what’s it like hiking Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop at Death Valley National Park? Read my hiking guide play by play below:

Parking Area

The parking area is relatively large. I could see there being issues with finding a spot in more peak season, but in early March when the weather was absolutely perfect (70 and sunny), there were enough spots available when I arrived at 1:30 PM. I think most people don’t stay long as they walk up to Zabriskie Point to catch a view and then leave. Here’s how the Zabriskie Point Parking Lot looks like:

Zabriskie Point Parking Lot in Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie Point

A few hundred feet from the parking lot is a pretty popular spot called Zabriskie Point. The views up here are great, and it’s super easy to get to from the parking lot. While I did see quite a few people hiking, the majority of people seemed to stay here. Right behind the observation point is a trail that heads down the hill via the Badlands Loop.

Here is the view you can expect to see at Zabriskie Point:

Badlands Loop

The Badlands Loop is the very first part of this hike. I was like a kid in a candy store walking up and down the hills / dunes in this portion of the hike, and it provided quite a few opportunities for photos away from the crowds.

Hiking Badlands Loop in Death Valley National Park

Gower Gulch Trail (Counter Clockwise)

The first part of Gower Gulch Trail will take you towards Golden Canyon Trail. The part one semi-sketchy part of this hike was in this portion of the hike next to Manly Beacon. It was pretty windy, and the narrow trail scales the side of a hill with a pretty steep hill you do not want to fall down. I’d imagine that you’d survive this fall as it’s not straight down, but it wouldn’t be fun rolling like a snowball a few hundred feet down. I unfortunately (or fortunately) didn’t film this section of the hike as I was heavily leaning towards the right side of the narrow trail so I wouldn’t fall down the giant hill. But here is a portion of the trail right after the sketchy portion of the trail:

Once you get through this portion, the trail will take you to the Canyons, which is the start of Golden Canyon Trail.

Golden Canyon Trail

Golden Canyon Trail first starts in low elevation as you walk your way through some beautiful canyons. If I had to take a complete guess as to how this area was named, I’d think it’s because 1) the canyon is a goldish color or 2) the sun shines through certain areas in a beautiful way.

One of my favorite parts of this entire hike was exiting the Golden Canyon Trail and getting my first view of the Badwater Basin, which is epic. I’ll highlight the Badwater Basin in the next section.

Note: If you’re looking to skip this hike and see the Badwater Basin, there is a parking lot here on the Golden Canyon Trail side.

Gower Gulch Trail

Gower Gulch Trail picks up again right after the Golden Canyon Trail Parking lot, which is the area you get your first views of the Badwater Basin. This section of the trail was probably my favorite of the entire experience, which is saying a lot. When I hiked this, it was super windy and dusty, which created the illusion that the Badwater Basin went on forever because it hid the mountains off in the distance.

Once you clear the Badwater Basin and start circling around back to Zabriskie Point, you enter canyons again. These canyons are a bit different than the ones on Golden Canyon Trail. This area requires that you do some basic climbing and bouldering to get up to the next portion of the trail, which was awesome:

I got quite a bit lost trying to find the correct channel to walk through on Gower Gulch Trail as it opens up quite a bit after the climbing portions. However, if you get off track, you can keep going. Eventually you’ll find some sand dunes that you can cross through. But if you do it like I did, be careful because they were relatively steep on the way down.

You’ll make our way back on Badlands Loop which takes you to Zabriskie Point. This last trek of the hike is where a good portion of the elevation is, so save your energy. It’s not too bad though!

If you’re like me and you hike in Death Valley towards sunset time, you’ll be wondering where you can catch a good sunset. I researched this and ended up staying at Zabriskie Point to watch the sunset because my GPS was not working in Death Valley.

You can read my full Sunset in Death Valley post for more information and to see what the view looks like.

After Hike Dinner

After hiking in Death Valley National Park, I was in need of some major calories (this was my 3rd day in a row hiking).

I went to Black Bear Diner in Las Vegas located at 7680 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89123, which is about 2 hours outside the park. I was staying in Las Vegas for the night so this place made sense for me, and I was craving breakfast food for dinner! I ordered The Grizz, which is a beast of a meal that includes 2 big pancakes, 3 eggs, sausage links (I switched out an item for even more links), bacon, and hashbrowns. Best of all it only cost around $15, which is pretty affordable compared to many other spots in Las Vegas.

Black Bear Diner in Las Vegas

I didn’t see too many food options anywhere nearby Death Valley, but I also didn’t look too hard as I was eager to get out of the desert and get my GPS back so I could navigate back to Vegas.

About My Experience Hiking at Death Valley National Park

Overall, hiking at Death Valley National Park was great. This was one of my favorite hikes ever, it’s just so unique. It feels like you’re hiking in a Star Wars scene. In fact, parts of the original Star Wars films were filmed in Death Valley. Below I’ll highlight some of my favorite parts, as well as some of my least favorite parts of this hike.

Favorite Parts

Here are a few of my favorite parts of hiking Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop at Death Valley National Park:

Badwater Basin:

Right from the start at the parking lot, the views are amazing. Every time you are required to climb a switchback, it opens up to a new view, which is definitely a morale booster.

Bouldering:

I’m not sure if you’d call it “bouldering” but there are a few areas once you pass Badwater Basin that require you to climb up. I always enjoy a change of pace, so this area was a pleasant surprise.

Overall Uniqueness:

This point is hard to describe unless you see this hike for yourself. I haven’t quite seen anything like it. It was as if I landed on Mars and went for a hike. If the missions to Mars were fake, this is the place they’d be driving around.

Least Favorite Parts

Here is my least favorite part of this hike:

The Route in Parts Wasn’t Clear:

Okay this is super nitpicking, and I could even list it as a favorite part of this hike. I did get lost following the Alltrails map, which gradually took me further and further away from the trail. I decided to keep going, thinking I could cut over at some point. Sure enough, I found my way to the trail, and it ended up being a fun little adventure within the adventure.

Other than that, I wasn’t disappointed by much!

Overall Score

This hike is amazing. It’s super underrated in my opinion. I thought this hike was going to be the least best of the 3 I had scheduled, but it ended up being my favorite (I think, Bryce Canyon and Zion are both amazing too). I give this trail a 9.8 / 10 for its uniqueness. Add in perfect weather at 70 degrees and you have a recipe for success. I loved every moment on this hike.

Final Thoughts on Hiking in Death Valley National Park in California

Death Valley is unique. While it seems not to get much hype online and most people I know haven’t hiked it, Death Valley should absolutely be on your list of hikes to do, provided it’s not crazy hot out. If you want a complete change of scenery from the other beautiful hikes in the area, Death Valley will not disappoint.

Happy wandering to you!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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