The Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop in Death Valley shows off some of the most unique landscapes in the park. This moderate hike combines several incredible trails into one spectacular loop, giving you a behind-the-scenes tour of the view from the famous Zabriskie Point. It’s a must do Death Valley hike! In this article, we’ll lay out what to expect to help you prepare and decide if this hike is right for you.

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Hike Details | Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop + Zabriskie Point

Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop Hike

The Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop is a Death Valley classic, featuring some of the most distinctive landscapes in the area. A 1.4 mile roundtrip detour from the loop hike leads you to Zabriskie Point, one of the most popular viewpoints in Death Valley, offering a stunning view of Manly Beacon, a massive sharply pointed rock formation, and the surrounding striped hills of the Badlands.

The Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop gives you an up-close experience with the amazing landscapes that can be seen from Zabriskie Point. While the views from Zabriskie Point are stunning, you don’t want miss out exploring all that lies below!

Trails that make up the loop

This hike combines four smaller trails into one perfect 6.8 mile loop. Each of the trails may also be hiked independently if you have less time or are looking for a shorter option. However, the full loop gives you a complete tour of the area and is manageable in terms of difficulty. The four trails combined in this loop include:

  • Gower Gulch: 2.2 miles through a narrow rocky gulch (the least exciting part of the trail in our opinion).
  • Badlands: 1.4 mile trail through stunning striped hills connecting Gower Gulch and Golden Canyon to Zabriskie Point.
  • Zabriskie Point: 1.4 mile roundtrip detour from the loop trail to an excellent viewpoint overlooking the Badlands and Manly Beacon.
  • Golden Canyon: 1.8 miles through a sandy canyon that leads past the base of Manly Beacon and into the Badlands

There is a separate parking lot with access to a short paved 0.2 mile walk up to Zabriskie Point, so expect crowds for this part of the hike. Nonetheless, we loved adding Zabriskie as a short detour to this loop hike because we got to see Manly Beacon (the most prominent rock formation from Zabriskie Point) up close after seeing it from a distance – it’s even more impressive from below!

Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop Hike Details

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 6.8 miles (+1 mile optional detour to Red Cathedral)
Elevation gain | 1100 feet
Total time | 3 – 5 hours
Epic-ness rating | 8
Difficulty | moderate

Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop Map

The Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop hike is located off Badwater Road, in the southern part of Death Valley just a few minutes from Furnace Creek and Badwater Basin.

The loop route is highlighted in blue on the map below. You can find more details on each of the trails that make up the loop on the National Park Service website.

Which direction should I hike?

The hike starts at the Golden Canyon Trailhead. You can complete the loop clockwise, starting with Golden Canyon, or counterclockwise, starting with Gower Gulch. We recommend starting counterclockwise with Gower Gulch, as we felt the scenery here was the least exciting, and we prefer to save the best for last!

Note that the trail to Gower Gulch does not start from within the Canyon. From the parking lot, the trail leads along the outer edge of the canyon to your right facing the entrance to the canyon.

How difficult is the Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop?

The distance and elevation gain make this loop a moderately strenuous hike. The most challenging part of the hike is likely to be the heat and lack of shade, so made sure you are dressed appropriately and carry plenty of food and water.

The trail is easy to follow and well marked. However, there are several false trails that diverge out into the canyon which can be misleading. Many of these paths have been formed by hikers going off trail to explore the area.

The true trail is marked with stakes and signs, so don’t turn down a trail (no matter how well traveled it looks) that isn’t marked.

Getting to the trailhead

The Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop hike is located just under 10 minutes from Furnace Creek, 15 minutes from Badwater Basin and 5 minutes from Artist’s Drive.

The hike starts from the Golden Canyon trailhead, off Badwater Road. To start with Gower Gulch (recommended), look for the trail to the righthand side of the parking lot, outside the canyon. Otherwise, head into the canyon to start with the Golden Canyon trail.

Gower Gulch

Start the loop with a gradual 2.2 mile hike through Gower Gulch. Fun fact: a gulch is a narrow canyon carved by a stream or dry creek bed prone to flash floods.

The Gower Gulch trail leads around the outside of the canyon, before entering the gulch and continuing up the wash. From the parking lot, Badwater Road will be on in view to your right. A few small rock scrambles are required to make your way through the gulch. Continue for 2.2 miles until you reach the beginning of the Badlands trail.

The Badlands

After exiting Gower Gulch, look for signs for the Badlands trail. The landscape in the Badlands is perhaps some of the most stunning in Death Valley, with striking, pointed hills, striped like the backs of zebras in an array of yellow and golden-brown.

Continue along the Badlands trail for 0.8 miles, before taking a detour to Zabriskie Point. Afterwards, you return to the Badlands for another 0.6 miles before entering Golden Canyon.

Zabriskie Point

After about 0.8 miles, the Badlands trail widens into a broad, rocky gulch. Keep an eye out for signs for Zabriskie Point to the lefthand side of the trail. Do not continue down the rocky gulch – there is no route to Zabriskie from here (we made this mistake and had to retrace our steps!).

To get to the trailhead for Zabriskie Point, you will make your way up a 0.5 mile trail to the parking lot, before walking 0.2 miles up a paved path to the overlook.

Hang out, have some lunch and enjoy the incredible views overlooking Manly Beacon and the Badlands. Then, backtrack along the trail you used to reach the parking lot until you return to the intersection of the Badlands Loop. Now, take a sharp right and continue for 0.6 miles on the Badlands Loop before entering Golden Canyon.

Golden Canyon

After another 0.6 mile through the Badlands, you will reach the intersection of Badlands Loop and the Golden Canyon trail. Stay straight to continue onto the Golden Canyon Trail. Turning to the left will keep you on the Badlands Loop and bring you back to a section of the trail you have already completed.

Golden Canyon is a beautiful stretch of land with rippling wave-like golden-hued walls (duh!), expansive red rock formations in the distance, and a characteristic desert vibe. After about 0.4 miles, you will start a gradual incline to the base of the towering Manly Beacon, before a sharp descent into Golden Canyon.

After about 0.3 mile, look out for the Red Cathedral Spur Trail to the right. Definitely explore this area if you have the time (and energy)! Otherwise, stay straight down the trail and wind your way through the ins-and-outs of Golden Canyon before returning to the trailhead parking lot in about 1 mile.

Red Cathedral Spur Trail

From the Golden Canyon trail, you have the option to take a 1 mile roundtrip detour to the Red Cathedral, pictured in the background of the photo to the right below.

Unfortunately, we initially missed the trailhead for the spur and did no have much time to spend looking for it, so we did not hike up to Red Cathedral. That being said, if you have the time, we have heard great things! You can see the red rock formations in the distance throughout Golden Canyon so it must be cool to seem them so close.

Planning your Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop hike

About Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States, spanning over 3.3 million acres in Southern California and into Nevada. Originally established as a national monument in 1933, Death Valley was officially designated as a national park in 1994. The park is well known as the hottest place on Earth, with the hottest temperature ever recorded of 134°F.

Before planning our trip to Death Valley, we had a vision of the area as a barren desert wasteland and not much else. But there is so much more in Death Valley! We were completely surprised by the vast array of geological formations. From salt flats to sand dunes to craters and rugged, red, rugged mountains, the landscapes in Death Valley are unique, outlandish, and starkly contrasting.

Death Valley Entrance Fees

Entrance to Death Valley National Park costs $30 per vehicle, and tickets are valid for 7 days. Alternatively, you may opt to purchase an annual Death Valley National Park pass for $55, or an annual U.S. National Park pass for $80, giving you access to all national parks in the United States for one year. Find more details about entrance fees here.

When to hike the Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch & Badlands Loop

This hike is best done in the late fall, winter and early spring, when temperatures in Death Valley are moderate. Do not attempt this hike during the summer, as temperatures in the valley can reach extreme highs, leading to dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Tips for a great hike

  • Pack plenty of water, at least 2 liters per person.
  • Wear sunscreen. There is no shade, and the sun in the canyon is very strong.
  • Complete the hike counterclockwise to save the best views for last.
  • Start early to avoid crowds, particularly at Zabriskie Point.
  • Dress in layers. If starting early, it may be chilly in the morning. Keep in mind that it will be hotter inside the canyon, as there is little wind and no shade.
  • There are many false trails from previous hikers exploring the area. This hike does provide great opportunity for off-trail excursions. Just be careful to keep your bearings in mind. The main trails are always marked.

Other Death Valley Resources

Planning a trip to Death Valley? We think you may also find some of these resources useful:

For all things California: California Travel Guide

Have questions or comments about the Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Badlands Loop? Let us know in the comments below!

Sarah Vaughan

Hello! I'm Sarah, one half of the couple behind Two Outliers! In 2023, I quit my job as a Data Scientist to travel around the world on an epic 15-month journey in search of the world's greatest hikes and outdoor adventures. Matt and I started Two Outliers in 2021 as a place for visitors to find concise, accurate, and honest information to plan their own adventures. We hope our experiences inspire you to hit the trail! Happy Hiking! Sarah


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