Hike the Gower Gulch Loop in Death Valley [Guide + Map]

Written By: author image Kyle Cash
author image Kyle Cash
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.


Experience all of Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop on this 4-mile hike in Death Valley. Follow my step-by-step guide with a map for the best hike possible!

The Gower Gulch Loop in Death Valley’s Golden Canyon is one of the best hikes in the park.

It’s easy and accessible enough for most people, and it has some epic views along the way that make completing this badlands loop worth the time. So, from what to know, how to get there, and how to do the hike โ€” I’ve got you covered with this guide.

Let’s get started.

Gower Gulch Loop trail information

Here’s what you need to know to tackle this trail:

  • Trail type: Loop.
  • Difficulty: Moderate. The trail is suitable for hikers with some experience. While not overly strenuous, it does have sections that require careful navigation.
  • Length: Approximately 4-5 miles, depending on extensions and routes you choose (6-8 kilometers).
  • Elevation gain: Roughly 800 feet (244 meters). The trail involves some uphill and downhill sections, but nothing too steep.
  • Estimated duration: On average, it takes about 2 to 3 hours to complete the loop, depending on your pace and how often you stop to take in the sights.
  • Best time to hike: Early morning or late afternoon. These times help you avoid the intense midday heat, especially during warmer months. Plus, the lighting is amazing during these hours.
  • Highlights:
    • Manly Beacon: A striking natural feature offering panoramic views of the valley.
    • Badlands: The trail winds through the iconic Death Valley badlands, showcasing unique geological formations.
    • Red Cathedral: An impressive wall of red rock that forms a stunning backdrop.
    • Zabriskie Point Overlook: While not directly on the trail, a short detour to this famous viewpoint is worth the effort.

If you prefer to have a GPX file or follow it on your phone, you can use my map from Strava above or you can check it out on AllTrails!

How to get to the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop in Death Valley National Park

Finding your way to the start of the Gower Gulch Loop and Golden Canyon in Death Valley National Park is straightforward. But planning ahead is important, especially given the area’s remote nature.

A serene twilight sky with shades of pink and blue over the vast expanse of Death Valley's desert landscape, as seen from the Gower Gulch Loop trail parking area.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Location: The trailhead for both Golden Canyon and the Gower Gulch Loop is located along Badwater Road in Death Valley National Park.
  • Driving Directions:
    • From Furnace Creek, the nearest developed area in Death Valley, head toward Badwater Road and make a right onto it.
    • Drive for about three miles. Watch for a sign marking the turnoff to Golden Canyon as you approach. The turnoff is well-marked and hard to miss.
    • Turn left into the parking area. This is where you’ll find the Golden Canyon trailhead, which is also the starting point for the Gower Gulch Loop.
  • Parking: The Golden Canyon parking lot is large but can fill up quickly, especially during peak tourist seasons. Arriving early in the morning ensures you get a parking spot but also helps you beat the heat for your hike.
  • No Shuttle Service: Unlike some other national parks, Death Valley does not have a shuttle service to trailheads. You’ll need your own transportation to get to the start of the hike.
  • GPS Coordinates: If you’re using a GPS device or a mapping app, input the Golden Canyon parking area coordinates: 36.4208ยฐ N, 116.8463ยฐ W.

Remember, cell service in Death Valley can be spotty, so it’s a good idea to download maps or directions ahead of time. With these directions, you’re all set to start your adventure on the Gower Gulch Loop and explore the captivating landscape of Golden Canyon.

Best time to hike the Golden Canyon to Gower Gulch trail in Death Valley

Choosing the right time of year to hike the Gower Gulch Loop in Death Valley National Park is crucial for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Sunset illuminates the rugged terrain of Gower Gulch, highlighting the textures and layers of the eroded hills with a hiking trail winding through the landscape.

Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Avoid Summer Months: Death Valley is renowned for its extreme heat, especially in the summer. Temperatures can soar well above 100ยฐF (38ยฐC), making hiking uncomfortable and dangerous.
  • Ideal Season: Late fall through early spring (October to April) is the best time to hike the Gower Gulch Loop. During these months, the temperatures are more moderate, typically ranging from the mid-60s to 80sยฐF (about 18-27ยฐC), making for a much more pleasant hiking experience.
  • Springtime Bonus: If you hike in late winter to early spring, you might also catch the wildflower bloom, depending on the year’s rainfall. This natural event can add a splash of color to the otherwise stark desert landscape.
  • Check the Weather: Before you set out, always check the current weather conditions. Even in the cooler months, the desert can experience sudden temperature changes.
  • Crowd Consideration: Keep in mind that the cooler months are also the peak tourist season in Death Valley. If you prefer a more solitary hike, plan to start early in the morning to avoid the larger groups.

By choosing the right time of year for your hike, you’ll enjoy more comfortable temperatures and see the Gower Gulch Loop at its most beautiful. Remember, no matter when you go, carry plenty of water and dress appropriately for the desert conditions.

How to hike the Golden Canyon โ€“ Gower Gulch loop hike in Death Valley

So, as you can tell, the hike starts at the Golden Canyon trailhead. It’s a loop, so this is where you’ll begin and end the hike!

Here’s a step-by-step guide to following the Golden Canyon trail and ending with the Gower Gulch Loop.

Golden Canyon trailhead

Beginning in the parking lot, you’ll see the sign for the Gower Gulch trail.

You have the option to hike it counter-clockwise or clockwise. We chose clockwise because we had read it doesn’t involve as much climbing and scrambling. And my fiancee and I planned on doing a run, so this sounded great to us!

So go left into the canyon and follow the path where the canyon narrows for about a mile.

Once you reach about a mile to a mile-and-a-half, the trail splits and gives you a choice.

You can continue on the Red Cathedral trail for a quick detour to the Red Cathedral. We skipped out on Red Cathedral due to time constraints with work, so I recommend visiting if you have the time and don’t miss out as we did! 

The other option (and where you’ll go even if you visit the Red Cathedral) is to take the trail to the right, which takes you to the Gower Gulch Loop trail.

There’s a sign marking the turn-off, and after, you’ll start a steep ascent to Manly Beacon.

Manly Beacon

Manly Beacon has some great views out over the surrounding badlands.

Dramatic landscape of the Badlands seen from the Gower Gulch Loop in Death Valley National Park during golden hour, showcasing the contrasting textures and colors of the eroded rock formations.

Named after William L. Manly, who, along with John Rogers, helped save the members of the ’49er emigrant party that got lost in Death Valley in 1849-50. You can see this point from the Zabriskie Point trailhead for sunrise (one of the top things to do in Death Valley).

There’s also an option .3 mile out-and-back extension where you can go out further on the trail and get even better views of the badlands from the viewpoint.

A hiker stands at a viewpoint on the ridge of the Golden Canyon Trail, overlooking the expansive Death Valley terrain with Manly Beacon in the distance, under a vast blue sky with wispy clouds.

It’s hard to miss the trail, and I recommend following it for even more epic pictures.

After, you’ll continue the way you came along the trail, where you’ll descend into some smaller yellow hills.

Zabriskie Point trailhead detour

Nearing the 2-mile section of the hike, you have another option โ€” the badlands trail to Zabriskie Point.

We also skipped this hiking trail because of time constraints (and we had already caught sunrise at Zabriskie Point the previous morning). But if you haven’t had the chance to visit yet, I suggest adding this bit to your hike.

Variegated mineral deposits create a striking palette on the hills near Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, with a foreground of a gravelly wash and a clear blue sky above.

Keep in mind it’s a 2-mile loop, so it’s a decent chunk added to your hike in Death Valley National Park.

Ultimately, you end up back on the trail you left, and you’ll head back to the Golden Canyon parking area.

So feel free to choose what’s best for you!

Hiking through Gower Gulch

You continue following the trail from here, which leads into the Gower Gulch wash area.

You hike through this for about a mile and a half, following the old river path and dropping down some small rocky drops. Eventually, you’ll pop out of the canyon with views out toward the valley and Badwater Road.

A lone hiker in black attire walks down a rugged trail at Gower Gulch in Death Valley, with a spectacular view of multicolored hills and distant mountains under a soft blue sky.

Follow the trail for just under a mile back to the parking area, and you’re at your car!

It’s not the most exciting or scenic part of the hike, but the relaxing and flat part allows you to hike all the way back and simply enjoy your surroundings.

Safety tips for the hike

The Gower Gulch Loop trail isn’t considered unsafe by any means. But that doesn’t mean you can’t seriously injure yourself if you’re not careful.

A hiker in a white long-sleeve shirt, black shorts, and bright orange shoes stands on a rocky trail in Gower Gulch, Death Valley. In the foreground, a small cairn of stones is neatly stacked, with the barren, folded hills of the gulch in the background under a pale blue sky.

So, here are a few tips to help you have a safe (and enjoyable) time:

  • Navigating the trail: The trail includes uneven terrain and narrow paths. Use trail markers for guidance.
  • Bring proper footwear: Because of the terrain, it’s best to have a good pair of hiking shoes or trail shoes to keep your feet (and you!) safe.
  • Weather considerations: Be prepared for sudden weather changes. Carry adequate water and sun protection.
  • Safety first: Stay on the marked trails, especially in the gulch areas, to ensure a safe hiking experience.

Want more things to do in the area? Check these out ๐Ÿ‘‡๐Ÿผ

Death Valley isn’t the only thing to see in this area.

In fact, it’s LOADED with places to see and activities to do. Here are a few I’ve covered:

  • One Day in Death Valley National Park: Need a complete one-day itinerary for Death Valley? Well, the Gower Gulch Loop isn’t the only thing you’ll do! Check out my article for a complete breakdown.
  • One Day in Joshua Tree National Park: Joshua Tree is a bit of a drive away, but if you’re making this an entire national park trip, it should be on your list! From the Cholla Cactus Garden to Key’s View, this itinerary has everything you need to get the most out of Joshua Tree.
  • Best National Parks Near Las Vegas: Las Vegas is only two hours from Death Valley, and there are plenty more national parks to see in the area if you’re willing to drive. Here are the best ones within 5 hours!

Ready to hike the Gower Gulch Loop?

I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to hike the Gower Gulch Loop.

The views (especially at sunrise), the workout, and the entire vibe were more than I could ask for. And I’m sure I’ll return to do it again!

So, I hope this guide helps you experience the hike just like I did. And I hope you have just as great of a time!

If you have any questions or thoughts, be sure to leave them in the comments! And, if you want more like this, be sure to sign up for my email list to be the first one to get the latest trails and travels in your inbox!

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author avatar
Kyle Cash Owner
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.