Elevation Gain (ft)
The Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop takes you through beautiful badlands that are the remnants of an ancient lakebed. The colorful layers (or strata) are a visual clue to the different geological deposits that surround you as you hike. Highlights include an upclose view of Manly Beacon and a spur trail to the Red Cathedral rock formation on this moderate hike that is one of the most popular in Death Valley National Park.
Location: Death Valley National Park, California, USA
Trailhead: Golden Canyon parking lot, 2 miles south of Hwy 190 on Badwater Road; pit toilet
Length: 4 mile loop + optional .5 mile roundtrip spur to Red Cathedral; +800 ft.
Trail Type: Loop
Warnings: Make sure to bring plenty of water as well as sun and eye protection. Avoid hiking during periods of heavy rain.
Starting at the Golden Canyon trailhead parking lot, head east into the badlands that will be your colorful home for the next 4.5 miles. The handy work of water and wind over the ages is on full display in this eroded landscape full of side canyons and washes. Continue on the trail for 1 mile through the yellow powder cake landscape to a junction with the Red Cathedral spur trail. I recommend taking the spur not only to get closer to the reddish hued cliffs of the apply named Red Cathedral, but also for the slightly elevated perspective you get of the surrounding badlands. It is worth the .5 mile round trip.
Once you return back to the junction, continue on your way southeast toward Manly Beacon, another highlight of the trail. The trail lets you get up close and personal with the natural landmark that features so prominently in views from the famous Zabriskie Point. This first half of the trail is the most scenic part, in my opinion, so enjoy the views, explore some of the social trails around Manly Beacon and stop to have a snack, if it isn’t too hot.
Continue on the trail to a marked junction 2.3 miles into the hike, including the Red Cathedral spur trail, and take a .2 mile connector trail to Gower Gulch. From here you will be heading east toward some salt flats in Death Valley north of Badwater Basin. You will be walking in the main drainage of Gower Gulch and there is no formal trail. Follow the wash as you descend west in the direction of Badwater road. After about 1.25 miles you will run into a 25-foot dry fall, which you can skirt by following a path on the right.
Finally, follow the trail, which parallels Badwater Road, and head north to the trailhead parking lot and finishing the loop. Make sure to keep your eyes on the ground for interesting patterns in the parched and cracked earth.