52 in 52, Episode 3: Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park
Last Updated on January 21, 2022 by Polly Dimitrova
It was just two weeks ago at the time of posting this that my husband got the notice he would be getting a 4 day weekend. 96 full hours to do whatever and go wherever we wanted. We had never considered it before but we landed on a crazy idea: Death Valley! The “Hottest, Driest and Lowest National Park” in the USA. It was the smooth marble rocks of the Mosaic Canyon Trail which intrigued us and became a must on our itinerary. Even though this was a spontaneous, last-minute trip and I did not have much time to research – we absolutely loved the scenery and the grandeur of the canyon. Keep reading for the full guide on hiking the Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park!
Distance: 3.7 miles / 6.06 km
Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet (355 m)
Duration: 2.5 hours
Access: Access is free once you have paid the $30.00 entrance fee to Death Valley National Park
Dogs: Not Allowed
Starting Point: 36.5720835,-117.144312
Note: The Mosaic Canyon Trail, similar to other hikes in Death Valley National Park, is not well marked. You will find a sign at the trailhead, but no markers along the way. We really enjoyed this because it makes it fun and exciting – trying to navigate your way around the dryfalls and large boulders blocking the path. On the other hand, some people that we met on the hike were disappointed by the lack of signs!
How to Get to Mosaic Canyon Trailhead
Located on the opposite side of Highway 190 and the Stovepipe Wells Campground, Mosaic Canyon Trail is one of the easiest and most convenient hikes in Death Valley National Park. Approaching from the West would mean taking a small gravel road to the right just before you reach Stovepipe Wells. Those arriving from the East, on the other hand, will have to pass by the Stovepipe Wells Village first before taking a left. The 2.3-mile, unpaved, Mozaic Canyon Road will take you straight to the trailhead. Despite being a narrow dirt road, you should be able to make it safely in a sedan or SUV as a high clearance vehicle is not required. Driving slowly with a conscious mind is essential, though as it is still a bumpy ride. We even lost our license plate (along the Natural Bridge Road, but the roads are very similar)! Fortunately, a good samaritan in the car behind us picked it up and placed it in our embarrassed hands once safe in the parking lot – we were lucky! The road ends at a relatively small gravel parking area and a sign marks the start of the Mosaic Canyon Trail.
When to Visit Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley
The close proximity to Stovepipe Wells Campground makes the Mosaic Canyon one of the most popular trails in Death Valley. If you are visiting during the warmer months of the year, make sure to start early in the morning – both to beat the crowds and avoid the heat! If you are visiting during the winter (which I am strongly recommending), getting an afternoon start is an equally good option. The Mosaic Canyon Trail was our first hike after arriving in Death Valley and getting a campground spot. We hit the trail at around 2:00 pm and we were pleasantly surprised. We managed to fully enjoy the trail as the weather was mild and the path was almost bare of other hikers. A nice bonus was catching the slowly altering sky colors as the sun was starting to set behind the mountain peaks in the distance.
About Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park
A wide, rocky wash marks the beginning of the trail. Only a few steps are needed before the path narrows and you enter the canyon. Many people find this section the most fascinating of the trail. You will be walking through a slender passage with smooth rocks surrounding you on both sides. Take your time with this part of the hike and try hopping from one side to another. Be sure to take caution though as thousands of years of rushing river waters have shaped these intriguing marble rocks into slippery slides!
Just after half of a mile, the canyon widens again. We noticed quite a few individuals chose this area to be their turnaround point. We didn’t complain as it meant more seclusion for the hikers eager to reach the end! Walking into the wash may not seem so thrilling as the previous section of the trail, but we loved soaking in the scenery of the sheer canyon walls in the distance.
Halfway into the canyon, you will find yourself standing in front of a collection of large boulders blocking the way. Do not give up yet because, with a little climb and squeeze in between the rocks to the left, you will be able to make it through. You will face a few more similar challenging obstacles for the next section of the trail. Scrambling and climbing on top of the smooth rocks is what makes this hike so much fun!
As you continue making your way through the canyon, you will reach another “dead end”. The path naturally follows to the left, however, keep your eyes open for the stone arrow pointing towards a steeper hill littered with rocks and bushes to the right. In between the vegetation, you will find a narrow dirt path which takes you uphill before it flattens out and continues around the rim. Coming up from the side of the passage, you will notice the wide wash beneath the canyon walls. Slowly start descending until you see another rock arrow pointing you in the right direction.
The last part of the hike follows next. After making your way past the last slippery slide carved into the rocks, the remainder of the trail is flat and easy. If you have made it all the way to the end of the trail, you will find a remarkable 25-foot tall chimney from an ancient waterfall. Take your time and fully immerse yourself into the peace and quiet provided by the impressive vertical canyon walls surrounding you. My husband, the rock climbing enthusiast that he is, went on a little adventure of his own – scrambling over some rocks trying to climb higher up the gorge! Keep in mind that there are no official paths beyond this part of the Mosaic Canyon Trail.
All that is left is to go back the way you came and take the same trail back to the parking lot. This is the way.
For those of you who love venturing off-the-beaten-path – I have an interesting suggestion for taking the way back down. You would need to follow the same way until you reach the first large widening after emerging from the narrow canyon when you were coming in. As you start approaching the closing passage, you will notice a dirt path climbing up the canyon walls to the right.
This small footpath is very steep, as it takes you on a sudden ascent up the hill. The terrain is completely covered in gravel, making the climb even more difficult. Do not give up, though, because the breathtaking scenery from top of the cliff will leave you in awe. There is no better way to experience and appreciate the grandeur of the canyon than hiking up its walls! What once used to be a river bend, is now a remarkable dry wash nestled beneath the colorful canyon walls! Take a moment and soak in the magnificence of the Mosaic Canyon.
Note: If you have fear of heights, it might be better to stay a few steps away from the edge as the cliffs dramatically drop straight into the canyon beneath your feet. You may want to take a seat, but keep in mind that the rocks here are extremely sharp with a cutting feeling once touched.
Once you are ready to continue, you have two options, you can either take the way back down to the canyon wash or you can keep climbing up until you cross the ridge. Choosing the second route will take you on another little adventure! Being on the other side of the ridge will open a new remarkable scenery before your eyes. The view of the vast desert valley surrounded by mountain peaks in the distance was absolutely striking! It was at this moment when we truly acknowledged the tremendous size of Death Valley National Park.
After taking our time and enjoying the views, we noticed a tiny footpath winding in between the rocks and bushes, which we guessed, hopefully (and correctly) might take us all the way back down to the parking lot. Mainly based on intuition and the general direction of going down, we managed to make it, however – the path kept disappearing here and there. Also, keep in mind that this trail descends abruptly and can be a bit slippery.
Both my husband and I agreed that this hike was a tremendous surprise of unexplainable beauty, rugged adventure, and youthful fun sliding down the dryfalls. The end intention of the hike, being the 25-foot chimney, is incredible but the journey was just as fantastic! This was only the start of our adventures in Death Valley National Park so be sure to come back and follow along with the next few episodes of our journey to complete 52 in 52! In the meantime, you may also want to JOIN THE 52 HIKE CHALLENGE!
Looks like an amazing hiking trail. I love that there are some more challenging parts to it. And the views are spectacular. Definitely going on my bucket list!
Yes, Mosaic Canyon trail is definitely a must-visit when in Death Vally!
What an incredible hike! I love that you ventures slightly off the beaten path (it’s cool that there is hardly any vegetation to tramble on anyway!) and see the fabulous views from up high. I LOVE the photos where the sunshine is starting to light everything up above the shadows. What a trail!!
Yes, we always venture and find the off-the-beaten-path while keeping in mind the environment. So we still follow paths that have already been made they are just less known.
I just discovered your website and you have so many informative articles. Saved most of them for my future trips. Great work!
Wow – what an awesome hike in Death Valley National Park! We love seeing hiking inspiration off the beaten path. Death Valley is on our bucket list. Thanks for sharing!
Death Valley was not high on our bucket list – but we were wrong, so many beautiful landmarks. We always look for off-the-beaten-path as well 🙂
This looks like such a unique hike with great views. I love the landscape you get to hike and climb thru!
We really enjoyed this hike and loved the views as well. Ahahah, yes, we always look for little paths to explore!
The rock formations are so unique here! It always makes a hike more interesting when there are pretty views to look at.
Yes, it was incredible to see all of these dryfalls – definitely a landscape that you do not stumble upon every day!
This looks like an awesome trail! Death Valley National Park is still on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing! Xx Sara
It is definitely worth the visit! 🙂 Happy you liked it Sara!
This looks like an incredible hike! I really want to visit Death Valley, so I will save this for when I do!
Chantelle, Death Valley is definitely worth the trip. Mosaic Canyon should be high on your list for sure 🙂
I love reading about your hikes off the beaten path! That is how we like to explore too! Mosaic Canyon is beautiful. Thanks for the great share!
Linda (LD Holland)
Having never been to Death Valley National Park, we definitely have it on our U.S. road trip plan. And we will be sure to plan enough time so we can hike the Mosaic Canyon Trail. Some great views to enjoy. Good to know that the 25 foot chimney is just one of the great things to see on this hike.
To be honest, Death Valley National Park was not initially very high on my bucket list, but I was so wrong. We definitely loved the Mosaic Canyon Trail!
This looks like such a beautiful hike. I appreciate the tip to continue past the big boulders. I’m a bit scared of heights, but I’d love to see the dry river bed on the alternate route back!
I am glad that you enjoyed it. Yes, absolutely – nothing too scary. One small step at a time and you would make it before you know it! 🙂
I’d love to visit Death Valley. It looks so wild! I love exploring places like this. Thanks for the inspiration.
Glad that you found some inspiration in this article, Sharyn!