Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
Golden Canyon Trail is possibly the most well-traveled of any in Death Valley National Park – and for good reason.
Take a trip down this trail as the sunlight hits the surrounding cliffs, including the amazing Red Cathedral formation, and it’s obvious how the canyon was named.
The trail itself is well-marked and easy to follow and the in-and-out trail to Red Cathedral is about 3 miles round-trip. Add 4 miles if you decide to take the Gower Gulch loop to the south.
The Golden Canyon Trail occasionally drops into a sandy wash or over boulders so good footwear is essential. And just in case you need to be reminded: Probably steer clear of any Death Valley hiking during the sweltering summer months.
Salt flats at Badwater Basin, lowest elevation in the U.S., in Death Valley National Park, California
You won’t get any lower than this. Not in North America, anyway.
Badwater Basin is an open expanse of sand and salt flats 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point on North America. And if you want to know exactly how low you are, scan the rock cliff to the east until you see the sign reading “Sea Level” bolted at the appropriate height.
It is desolate – but far from empty. Given its extreme status, this is one of the most visited spots in the vast Death Valley National Park, where temperatures can reach 130 degrees in the summer. Winter brings more tolerable temps, but the air chills dramatically once the sun goes down.
The salt flats stretch far into the basin, so visitors can walk around at their own pace and direction. And the basin is almost perfectly flat so there is no elevation gain from the bottom of this side of the Earth.
The Dogwood Trail, inside the campground of the same name, is just long enough and just steep enough to rate this a moderate (instead of easy) trail.
The trail itself is well maintained and winds through patches of pine and dogwood trees. It starts near campsite 69 and, depending on which route you take, ends up near the main highway (you can walk back to the campground on the road) or behind the restrooms near campsite 90 (this is the shorter route).
The campground is only open in the summer, and the November 1 date I was there was the last day of the season. The campground itself is perfect for a weekend getaway into the mountains. The restrooms are clean and functional, and the sites are spread out nicely with lots of trees providing privacy from the neighbors.