Death Valley National Park Day Hikes

Death Valley is home to incredibly varied and beautiful landscapes. In our last post we wrote about its most famous viewpoints and easily accessible spots. In this post, we share day hikes, some of which are in less-visited areas of the park.

Natural Bridge Canyon is a short hike featuring a large natural bridge. It’s an easy way to experience one of Death Valley’s many canyons, which provide endless nooks and crannies to explore.

Anna walks under the natural bridge.
Once past the bridge, the number of hikers quickly drops off, and you have the canyon almost completely to yourself. There’s a boulder to squeeze under and a small pouroff to scramble up before you reach the larger dryfall that ends the trail.

Ubehebe Crater is a volcanic spectacle half a mile wide and 700 feet deep. You can walk the rim of the crater, then follow the trail over to Little Hebe.

Ubehebe Crater
Walking around the rim of the crater
Little Hebe Crater as viewed from Ubehebe

Mosaic Canyon provides a winding tour of unusual geology. The entire trail is 4 miles, but you don’t have to hike the whole thing to enjoy plenty of beautiful rock.

Classic Death Valley National Park Views

When you think of Death Valley National Park, you are probably envisioning Badwater Basin. It’s extremely dry and one of the hottest places in the world.

So that’s why we decided to visit in January! We experienced highs in the 70s, well below the 110+ degree heat you can expect in the summer months. The record temperature in Death Valley is a blistering 134 degrees!

We attended an excellent ranger talk at Badwater. Check out this program or any ranger talk at your next national park. They are consistently fun, informative, and great for all ages.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America
Badwater got its name from a traveler literally writing “bad water” on a map. The water here is too salty to drink.
Salt flats at Badwater Basin

There is so much more to the park than Badwater though.

Channel Islands National Park Day 4

So far our trip has consisted of idyllic backpacking on Day 1, fearsome wind and fog as we hiked across the island on Day 2, and being stranded on the island, holed up in an empty ranger station on Day 3. That brings us to Day 4 when a short break in the weather might finally allow the ferry to reach us before we get cut off from the mainland again.

Overnight the brutal wind gusts felt like they might blow the roof off the barracks as we slept. Fortunately, morning brought calmer winds. We used the ranger station’s internet connection to view NOAA’s marine weather forecast. It indicated that the wind would pick up throughout the day, then stay high for several days. If the ferry left the mainland soon, it might be able to get us off the island today. Otherwise we might have to spend several more days on the island, including Christmas.

All 15 stranded campers gathered in the main ranger station house. Joe picked up the mic. He was getting good at the radio lingo and protocol: “Dispatch, dispatch, this is Santa Cruz visitor…”. The National Park Service and Island Packers ferry service responded over the air.

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Island Packers said they would attempt to make a pickup this morning. If conditions were so bad that the ferry couldn’t make the crossing or dock on the island, then they would turn back around. If the ferry pickup failed, there was talk of calling “Aspen”. We later learned that the USCGC Aspen is a large Coast Guard cutter with a crew of 50.

Somehow the authorities had determined that there were two people still at Del Norte campground (the backcountry campground without water on the far side of the island). If all went according to plan, the ferry would stop at Prisoner’s Harbor to pick them up first. Then they would motor around the island to pick us up at Scorpion Harbor.

We packed up our stuff, then took everything down to the beach to await the ferry. Joe stayed by the radio in case there were any updates. We were anxious given the strengthening winds predicted by the forecast.

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We waited on the beach, scanning for boats and wildlife. We spotted a seal! We’ve seen so much amazing wildlife on this trip.

Channel Islands National Park Day 3

High winds made for a very noisy night on Santa Cruz Island. Gust after gust whooshed down the valley, rocking trees and sometimes cracking branches. As the sun rose, before everyone else woke, Chris decided to explore the cliffs above Scorpion Campground. Up there he found a perfect mix of drama, beauty, and solitude.

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Channel Islands National Park

The wind remained fierce. When Joe and Becky emerged from their tent, it immediately blew away with all their gear still inside. They quickly retrieved the tent and collapsed it, preventing it from turning into a kite again.

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Scorpion Campground

We had planned to kayak through sea caves today, but that trip had been cancelled due to the bad weather. Now our hope was to catch the emergency ferry back to the mainland at noon.

Over the past two days (see Day 1 and Day 2), we heard so much conflicting information regarding ferry times and weather that we didn’t fully trust anything people told us. We decided to be on the safe side. We packed everything up and walked to the dock, planning to wait there all morning in case a ferry arrived before noon.

While we were eating breakfast on the beach, other campers came by and informed us that they called Island Packers and were told that the emergency noon ferry had been canceled. There would be no ferry service to the island at all for today. We were shocked, and to be honest, a bit skeptical because of past misinformation. We decided to hike up to the cliffs ourselves, hoping to find a cell signal to call the ferry service.