National Park Service Visitor Information.

Backcountry Hikes

Cottonwood/Marble Canyon Loop Hike

Distance 26 to 32 mile loop with at least 12 miles of the hike on a primitive dirt road
Time   3 to 5 days
Start   8 miles NW of Stovepipe Wells at mouth of canyon, or 11 miles NW of Stovepipe Wells at the Marble Canyons junction if you have 4x4 high clearance
Elevation gain   3,500 feet
Vehicle access   first 8 miles high clearance; next 3 miles to Marble Canyon junction requires 4x4 high clearance. Marble Canyon juction may be hard to locate and unsigned
Difficulty   moderate to strenuous depending on level of experience and physical cond.
Trail   no trail to speak of except 12 miles of dirt road, then either a gravel or brushy wash or cross-country route. No signage or route markers.
Water   dependable in Cottonwood Canyon and usually available in Deadhorse Cyn.
Permit   pick up free permit at Furnace Creek Visitor Center or Stovepipe Wells
Topo maps   Cottonwood Canyon & Harris Hill, 7.5 min. (both necessary for a safe hike)
Other maps   Either the Death Valley AAA or Harrison map. Watch your odometer mileage closely as the Marble Canyon juntion may be unsigned & difficult to locate
Highlights   flowing water, cottonwood trees, wildlife, deep narrow canyons and wilderness

Valuable Information and Warnings

  • The recommended direction for the loop hike is starting up Cottonwood Canyon and returning via Marble Canyon to maximize water locations and minimize contact with other hikers doing the loop.
  • Thick vegetation and brush chokes the wet areas of Cottonwood Canyon. A path around the vegetation can be found sometimes on the north side and often on the south side of the wash. Follow the path of least resistance. Camp away from flowing water.
  • About 300 yards beyond upper Cottonwood Spring turn right (north) up a dry wash, then hike another 2 miles looking closely for the unmarked pass on your right. This low spot on the ridge is where you start the route toward Marble Canyon. There is no marked route or clearly defined path, just zig zag your way to the pass.
  • Along the cross-country route, the path on the east side of the pass is fairly clear, just follow it down into the basin, then cross the basin above the 4200 ft. spring (no recoverable water) to the ridge, then follow the path easterly along the ridge past the first steep descent into Deadhorse Canyon, then pass in front off a small hill, then descend 600 feet to Deadhorse Canyon (via a less steep drainage).
  • DO NOT try to descend the canyon that drains beyond the dry spring at 4200 ft., (it flows in a southeasterly direction back toward Cottonwood Canyon). It has impassable dry falls.
  • Deadhorse Canyon below the spring is choked with vegetation, follow the path on the left slope or west side of the canyon hiking downhill. Easy hiking the rest of the way down Marble Canyon with potential explorations up several side canyons.
  • As of December, 2005 the Deadhorse Canyon spring has been dependable for the past several years but could dry up in severe drought years.
  • This loop hike is the most popular backpacking trip in the park. Please respect other campers by camping out of sight and sound of your neighbors.
  • The wilderness desert environment can be unforgiving. It is your responsibility to be fully prepared. Be sure to consult a Ranger if you need more information.
  • Practice Leave No Trace camping ethics.
Cottonwood/Marble Canyon Loop Hike
Telescope Peak
Wildrose Peak
Suggested Backpacking Routes

Things to See & Do
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