Death Valley National Park is best known for its vast desert, low altitude, and soaring temperatures. But did you know that the park is also home to snow-capped peaks?! Telescope Peak is the tallest point in Death Valley, reaching an altitude of 11,043 feet above sea level, and can be accessed via a strenuous 14 mile hike. Those ambitious enough to reach the summit are rewarded with unbeatable, and somewhat disorienting, views overlooking Death Valley all the way down to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. In this article, we’ve laid out everything you need to know to be prepared to hike Telescope Peak, from where to stay to what to expect on the trail.

Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, and we’ve been road tripping across the United States, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking and exploring new places!

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Telescope Peak Hike in Death Valley

The magnitude of elevation gain, lengthly distance and high altitudes (helllooo altitude sickness) make the Telescope Peak trail a strenuous but incredibly rewarding hike. If you are in Death Valley National Park and want a challenge, this hike is for you!

The views from Telescope Peak are perhaps the best in Death Valley. To the west, the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas, including Mount Whitney, punctuate the skyline. To the east, you can see Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Remember, Telescope Peak rises to an elevation of 11,043 feet, while Badwater Basin sits at 280 feet below sea level.

Now, try to imagine a view encompassing over 11,300 feet. The amount of elevation change visible is disorientating, breathtaking and unlike anything we have ever seen. Certainly, we’ve hiked up higher mountains, but typically the base sits just a few thousand feet below the peak. The view with over 11,000 feet of elevation change is impossible to fully capture in words or photos. You’ll just have to see for yourself!

Telescope Peak Hike Details

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 14 miles from Mahogany Flat trailhead, 17.5 miles from Charcoal Kilns
Elevation gain | 3,320 feet from Mahogany Flat trailhead 4,900 feet from Charcoal Kilns
Total time | 7 – 10 hours
Epic-ness rating | 9
Difficulty | very strenuous

Note: Please be warned that AllTrails lists the hiking distance for Telescope Peak as 12 miles. This is wrong, as the hike from the Mahogany Flat trailhead to Telescope Peak is 7 miles one way (there is even a posted sign at the trailhead that says as much).

During the summer months, the hike to Telescope Peaks begins at the Mahogany Flat campground for a 14 mile roundtrip hike with roughly 3300 feet of elevation gain. However, during the late fall, winter and early spring, the road to Mahogany Flats is closed due to snow, adding an additional 3.5 miles and 1600 feet of elevation to the hike.

How difficult is the hike to Telescope Peak?

Do not underestimate this hike. The hike to Telescope Peak is long, steep and strenuous, particularly if the road to Mahogany Flat Campground is closed. We started hiking around 7:00 AM, and didn’t finish until close to 5:00 PM.

Make sure you get an early start to ensure that you are able to finish before dark.

Weather conditions

During the winter, spring, and fall, the last several miles are likely to be covered in snow, adding an extra element of difficulty and likely slowing your typical pace. We hiked during mid-March, and there were spots with over two feet of snow closer to the peak. For the most part, you can follow in others footsteps to avoid post-holing.

Unless you are hiking during the summer, be sure to pack microspikes and trekking poles, particularly for the last mile. Melting snow in the spring can cause slippery and treacherous conditions. You can technically hike to Telescope Peak any time of year, but we wouldn’t recommend hiking to Telescope Peak during the winter due to avalanche risk and icy conditions.

Altitude sickness

Telescope Peak rises to an elevation of more than 11,000 feet. Naturally, altitude sickness is a serious concern, particularly if you aren’t accustomed to the altitude. If you are staying in lower parts of the park, like Furnace Creek, the change in elevation is extreme.

The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to acclimate to higher elevations before attempting this hike. Camping nearby is a great option – read more about where to stay further in this article.

How scary is the hike to Telescope Peak?

The last mile of the hike to Telescope Peak is steep and fairly exposed (remember, over 11,000 feet of elevation change in view!). It can be a little disorienting and those with a great fear of heights might feel a little queasy. It is a bit worse when there is snow towards the peak, adding an extra layer of adventure (or scariness!).

View of Telescope Peak from Badwater Basin

Getting to the trailhead

There are 2 possible locations from which to start the hike depending on the time of year and/or type of vehicle you are driving:

Mahogany Flat Campground

Mahogany Flat campground is the official trailhead for Telescope Peak. From here, the hike to Telescope Peak is 14 miles and 3300 feet of elevation gain roundtrip. However, the dirt road to Mahogany Flat is rocky and steep. It is typically closed from mid-October to late March due to snow.

If you plan to hike in the spring or the fall, be sure to check the NPS website or call to see if Mahogany Flat Campground is open.

Plan to start your hike from Mahogany Flat if:

  • You are hiking from April through September AND
  • You have a high clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicle. If you have high clearance, but not 4-wheel-drive, you may be able to make it if you are comfortable with driving on rough roads.

Charcoal Kilns

The alternate starting point is the Charcoal Kilns parking lot, which is your only option when the road to Mahogany Flat is closed. To get to Charcoal Kilns, you will take Upper Wildrose Road, a bumpy but passable dirt road. Keep in mind that starting from Charcoal Kilns adds about 3.5 miles and 1600 feet of elevation roundtrip.

Plan to start your hike from Charcoal Kilns if:

  • You are hiking from October through March OR
  • You are driving a low clearance, 2-wheel-drive vehicle

We hiked on March 27th, and the road to Mahogany Flat campground was still closed when we started out in the morning. Much to our dismay, the park rangers had just opened the road when we returned in the afternoon!

Telescope Peak Map

The map below displays the following:

  • 2 possible trailheads: Mahogany Flat campground and Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
  • 3 nearby campgrounds: Wildose, Thorndike, and Mahogany Flat (read more about where to stay before hiking Telescope Peak further in this article)
  • To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.

Starting the hike to Telescope Peak

From Charcoal Kilns to Mahogany Flat

If you are starting the hike from Charcoal Kilns, the first 1.7 miles to Mahogany Flat is a steep, boring walk up a dirt road, adding around 1600 feet in elevation gain to the hike. There’s honestly no way around it – this part sucks!

Mahogany Flat Trailhead

The official Telescope Peak trailhead is located across from the Mahogany Flat Campground. Look out for this sign pointing you to the trailhead.

The eastern ridge to Rogers Peak

Once you reach the trailhead at Mahogany Flat, you will immediately begin gaining elevation as you make your way along the eastern ridge facing Badwater Basin. The first mile leads through a sparse forest, with occasional views of the mountains in the distance.

Soon enough, the trees begin to thin out, leaving unobstructed views overlooking Death Valley to the east. The trail becomes progressively more exposed as it turns towards Rogers Peak to the west, with steep drops down to the valley floor visible.

This section may be slightly nerve-racking for those with a fear of heights. Nonetheless, being able to see snow covered ridges and sandy desert in the same frame is a truly unique and breathtaking experience.

Arcane Meadows

At 2.3 miles from the Mahogany Flat trailhead, the trail will begin to level out as you approach the Arcane Meadows. The Arcane Meadows are a rocky field of desert brush and sweeping vistas. As you approach the meadows, the most incredible view comes into sight, and you catch your first glimpse of the snow-capped Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains hovering over Panamint Valley in the distance.

Arcane Meadows also makes for a great place to camp if you are turning the hike to Telescope Peak into a backpacking trip.

Western Ridge past Bennet Peak

After reaching Arcane Meadows, the next 1.5 miles remain relatively flat, making for a nice reprieve from the consistently steep grade to this point. Enjoy it will it lasts – the climb is not even close to over yet! You’ll make your way along the western side of the ridge, hugging the side of Bennet Peak, with incredible views of the Sierras along the way.

Eventually, the trail turns back towards the east and Telescope Peak comes back into view, making it clear just how much further you have left to climb!

The Final Ascent

With 3.2 miles left to reach Telescope Peak, you will begin your final climb to the summit. This is where the hike really gets challenging. The trail continues to get steeper and steeper as you approach the peak, reaching a grade of over 40% at times!

By now, you have reached an elevation of over 10,000 feet, so you may start to feel the effects of altitude sickness, particularly if you aren’t well-acclimated to the elevation. Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the entire hike to reduce your chances of getting sick. If you do start to feel ill, the only cure is to quickly descend. We definitely started feeling lightheaded at this point and had more trouble than usual catching our breath.

Trail condition

Depending on the time of year you are hiking, there may be a significant amount of snow on the final 2-3 mile stretch of this hike. We hiked in late March, and the snow was still over 2 feet deep in places near the summit.

Use your best judgement based on your own gear, preparedness and experience in snow and ice to decide whether it’s safe to proceed. You should go into this hike prepared to turn back before summiting if necessary. Avalanches, slick ice, and slippery melting snow are all possible and can pose serious safety concerns.

The Summit

The views from Telescope Peak are absolutely breathtaking. On a clear day, you can see Mount Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous United States, to your east, and Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, at 280 feet below sea level, to your west.

Planning your Telescope Peak hike

In this section, we’ll give you all the details you need to know to plan your hike to Telescope Peak, including when to hike, where to stay before and after the hike, and what to pack.

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. 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! From salt flats to sand dunes, craters and rugged, red, rugged mountains to snow-capped peaks, the landscapes in Death Valley are unique, outlandish and starkly contrasting.

When to hike Telescope Peak

Unlike most hikes in Death Valley, the Telescope Peak trail is best hiked from late spring through early fall, to avoid snow or icy conditions. Most snow should be melted by late April.

Keep in mind that during the summer, temperatures can reach extreme highs, particularly closer to the trailhead, despite the high elevation. Be prepared with plenty of water and sun protection.

While much of Death Valley is unbearable during the summer due to average highs consistently over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Telescope Peak makes for a good option if you find yourself in Death Valley during the summer.

Weather conditions

Be sure to check local weather conditions before starting out. Do not attempt this hike if there are storms in the forecast. If hiking during winter, early spring or later fall, you should not attempt this hike without micro-spikes and trekking poles. Your safety is your responsibility!

What to wear/pack to hike Telescope Peak

Given the extreme climate of Death Valley, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for the Telescope Peak hike with the following items:

  • Layers: Given the amount of elevation change covered on this hike, you are likely to experience a pretty drastic range of temperatures. Dress in layers that you can remove as the sun starts to heat up, and bundle up for the cold winds at the summit. I stay extra warm with my Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hoody.
  • Hiking boots: You will need the traction on the steep sections and support over so many miles! (P.S. I love my Danner Mountain 600’s)
  • Extra water: Pack more water than you think you need for this hike. Drinking plenty of water will not only keep you hydrated in the hot Death Valley sun, but is also the best way to prevent dreaded altitude sickness.
  • Sunscreen: Even in the winter, when temperatures feel relatively mild, the sun in Death Valley is extremely hot. When we hiked Telescope Peak, the high for the day didn’t exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but much to our surprise, we still ended up with a bad sunburn on any exposed skin.
  • Trekking Poles: If hiking from October through late March, trekking poles are a huge help for stability and hiking through snow and ice. That said, we highly recommend using trekking poles regardless of the time of year for additional support on the steep descent. (We both use Black Diamond poles, and can’t imagine tackling a hike like this without them).

If hiking from October through late March, you should also be prepared with the following:

  • Microspikes: These are essential for traction closer to the peak, as the trail is likely to be covered in snow and ice.
  • Gloves, hats and thick socks: Plan for freezing temperatures in the morning and at the summit.

Where to stay before you hike Telescope Peak

The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to spend some time acclimating to the elevation. Camping near the Telescope Peak trailhead is a great way to acclimate, and there are several campground options nearby.

Established Campgrounds

There are 3 established campgrounds in Death Valley at high elevation which provide easy access to the Telescope Peak trail: Mahogany Flat, Thorndike, and Wildrose. All 3 campgrounds provide fire rings, picnic tables, running water and primitive toilets. The campgrounds are first come first served – no advance reservations are available.

Mahogany Flat Campground

The ideal spot to camp before tackling Telescope Peak is at the Mahogany Flat Campground, located just across from the trailhead. This puts you at the highest possible elevation, at just over 8,000 feet, before starting the hike.

However, Mahogany Flat Campground closes in the winter due to snow on the access road and it is the last of the 3 campgrounds to open in the spring. When it is open, Mahogany Flat is the most popular option, so arrive early to secure a spot.

Thorndike Campground

If Mahogany Flat Campground is closed or full, your next best bet is Thorndike Campground, located one-mile from Mahogany Flat at an elevation of 7,400 feet. Thorndike Campground is typically open by late March.

Wildrose Campground

Finally, if both Thorndike and Mahogany Flat campgrounds are closed or full, your last resort is Wildose Campground. Wildrose is located 1.7 miles from Mahogany Flat, at an elevation of 4,000 feet – significantly lower than the other two campgrounds, but still relatively close to the trailhead and better than nothing in terms of acclimating to the elevation.

We stayed at Wildrose Campground because the other 2 were closed and just barely managed to snag the last spot at around 4:00 PM on a Friday afternoon!

Dispersed Camping

Luckily if the campgrounds are full, there are many options for dispersed car camping throughout Death Valley, including Upper Wildrose Road, the road leading to the Telescope Peak trailhead, off of which Mahogany Flat, Thorndike and Wildrose campgrounds are located. Simply look for a turn out, pull over and set up tent!

While you won’t have the amenities (running water, fire pit, restrooms, etc) of a campground, dispersed camping is almost guaranteed to be quieter and more peaceful than a campground. In fact, we’d take dispersed camping over a campground any day!

You may find a complete list of roads where dispersed camping is permitted in Death Valley here.

Telescope Peak as a backpacking trip

If the thought of a 14 – 18 mile hike with 3300 to 4900 feet of elevation gain seems like just too much to fit into one day, you have the option to turn the Telescope Peak hike into a one-night backpacking trip, camping at Arcane Meadows.

While backcountry permits are not required in Death Valley, you can submit a free, voluntary permit to inform the park rangers about your plans in case of a search and rescue or other emergency. The permit form is available online here or at the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station or Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Although the backpacking permit is voluntary, it’s very easy and worth filling out for the peace of mind.

Other Death Valley Resources

Looking for another adventurous hike in Death Valley? We think you may find some of these resources useful:

For all things California: California Travel Guide

Are you planning to hike Telescope Peak in Death Valley? Let us know if you have any questions about the hike in the comments below!

6 Comments on “How to Hike Telescope Peak: the Tallest Point in Death Valley

  1. Nice write up!
    We volunteer with NPS at Furnace Creek. This hike is definitely a challenge. The altitude change, from -282 to 11000+, will take it’s toll. I do the Wildrose peak. And, even that gets your heart going.
    Hoping to get a couple of days off this year to acclimate to the altitude, then try Telescope.
    Greg

    • It’s quite a challenge, but so worth it! The views are incredible. We haven’t done Wildrose yet, but would love to get back to Death Valley to try it – looks awesome! What kind of volunteer work do you do at Furnace Creek?

      • Hi,
        We are Camp Hosts. We work there from mid-January to mid-April. Three days on, three days off. It gives us a lot of opportunities to go hiking and sight seeing.

  2. A great acclimating plan: camp at Wildrose. Travel up to Kilns where there’s a TH for day hike to Wildrose Peak, a lightly traveled trail, then return to camp for the night. You’ll be ready for Telescope the next day. Both hikes enthralling.

    • A great idea! We didn’t get to Wildrose Peak, but it looks incredible. We’d love to get back to Death Valley to do it!

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