California – Golden Canyon Hike, Death Valley

Standing on a hill on Golden Canyon hike in Death Valley National Park with clouds and mountains in background.

After driving the 4+ hours to get to Death Valley, you might want to get out and stretch your legs. For this I recommend the Golden Canyon Hike. The Golden Canyon Hike is a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure where you can decide how long you want to hike for and where you want to end up. We made our way all the way back to the Red Cathedral with a stunning view of the surrounding area. The hike we did ended up being about 4 – 4.5 miles with a gentle incline. There were only a few moments of scrambling to get a better view.

Arriving to Golden Canyon TrailHead

The Golden Canyon Hike trailhead is right off of Badwater Road. We went to Badwater Basin and Artist’s Drive in the early morning, so it was late morning by the time we arrived to the trailhead. There were many cars in the parking lot, but still had a few spaces available. We thought this would mean the trail would be busy, but it luckily was not!  The trailhead is pretty straightforward with a big sign and a large entrance to the canyon. If you to explore canyons,  this is a great hike because within the first 20 feet, you are already deep inside the canyon.

At a Glance:

  • Rating: 3 stars (out of 4), would do it again, if I was in the area
  • Intensity: Tennis shoes, clothes to sweat in
  • Location: Death Valley National Park, California
  • Restrooms: At the visitor’s centers, campgrounds, non-flushing toilets at most major sites


  • Follow a canyon carved by rainwater and wind through increasingly narrower sections
  • End up at the Red Cathedral, an enormous red butte that towers above

Recommended for your visit:

  • Plenty of water and snacks, depending on how long you decide to hike
  • Sunscreen

Golden Canyon Hike

Distinct from spacious views in Badwater Basin, this hike will surround you with high canyon walls. The walls have a yellow hue, which is likely where the name originated. You can see the natural forces that eroded the sediment to create the canyon systems. As I mentioned in the intro, the Golden Canyon Hike is a choose-your-own-adventure type of hike with many different paths to explore. This is a lovely option, if you get a little tired of seeing only the canyon walls and want to see beyond.

For the most part, stayed on the largest path for about 1.5 miles. At this point you will see a Red Cathedral junction sign with options to go in different directions (sign below). You could make your way over to Zabriski point or make the hike into a giant loop, so you do not have to double back on your tracks. We decided to continue another half(ish) mile to Red Cathedral.

Red Cathedral

If you decide to take the path to Red Cathedral, you are in for a treat! The trail soon becomes narrow and covered with rock boulders. You will have to duck and climb toward the very end. It feels like you are in Indiana Jones and about to discover something. At the end, the trail opens up to an ENORMOUS red wall. It was hard to photograph us with the walls, because of their scale

If you continue to poke around, you will likely see a small path that leads up the side of the hill. Scramble up the hill for insane views of the terrain you covered en route to your spot. The rocks are a light color, smooth, and rounded, like the ones you see at Zabriskie Point. Still towering over you is the giant Red Cathedral. The variety of sediment and minerals is such an incredible part of Death Valley’s charm.

After catching our breath and had our fill of inspiration from this vantage point, we made our way out of the canyon. The downhill slope helped speed up the way back, which sped up the time until lunch. Always a good thing!

What is your favorite choose-your-own-adventure hike? Let us know in the comments!

Happy Travels,


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