Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley is a gorgeous hike offering up-close looks at the beautiful marble walls of Mosaic Canyon and the mosaics from which it gets its name. It is one of our favorite hikes in Death Valley National Park!
Hiking Mosaic Canyon Trail is one of the more popular things to do in Death Valley National Park, and if you hike it during the day in season, you’ll likely run into many other hikers exploring the scenic canyon.
Planning to hike Mosaic Canyon Trail on your visit to Death Valley National Park? Read on to discover what to expect, plus things to know before you go!
What can you expect on the Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley?
The canyons of Death Valley National Park are justly famous for their geologic complexity and beauty, and Mosaic Canyon is one of the most beautiful that you can hike on a short trip to the park.
This trail is more about the journey than the destination, so keep your eyes open and enjoy the beauty as you walk. The subtle striations and streaks in the rock, the beautiful colors and textures, and the alternate narrowing and widening of the canyon make this trail very interesting.
Once you enter the canyon, in a short time the walls close in on you and you find yourself walking through a beautiful narrow slot lined on both sides by Noonday Dolomite walls honed to a smooth marble finish.
The marble is so smooth and finished that you’ll find it hard to believe they are the work of nature alone!
Here and there you will also see outcroppings of the mosaic breccia after which the canyon is named: angular pieces of different types and colors of rock cemented into larger parent rocks.
The marble (and mosaic) were carved by flash floods rushing through the narrow canyon again and again over millions of years.
Narrows and Boulder Jams!
About a mile into your walk, you will come to what looks like a boulder jam, but if you hunt, you’ll find a place on the left of the jam to crawl through. When we visited, other hikers had left stone arrows pointing to the opening.
After a bit you will come to the second set of narrows, where a dryfall blocks your way. If you retrace your steps a little, you will see a path going up the wall on the west (you may see stone arrows to guide you!) Walk the path up the slope to pick up the trail past the dryfall.
Next you’ll come to the last narrow passageway, where you will have to scrabble your way over rock surfaces to get to the last tall vertical dryfall in an amphitheater that marks the end of the trail. You return to the parking lot the way you came.
Essential Facts about Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park
Mosaic Canyon Trail is an out-and-back trail, 4 miles round trip. The trail is mainly dirt and sand but rocky in parts.
You will gain 1,200 feet in elevation over the course of the hike, but the incline is largely gradual. While the first mile or so is relatively easy, the trail starts to get challenging at the first boulder jam, requiring climbing, and scrambling over rocks for the remainder of the trail. You may have to use your hands at some places.
Rock surfaces may be slick or slippery with loose gravel, so be very careful as you make your way past the first set of narrows.
Mosaic Canyon Trail is classified as moderate to difficult. If you have problems climbing or scrambling over rocky surfaces, we suggest walking the first mile or so and turning back at the boulder jam. You will still experience the beauty of the canyon and see the marble and mosaic features that makes this hike a must-do!
The trail is best hiked during the cooler months of the year, between late October and early April.
How to get to the trailhead for Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley
An unpaved road called Mosaic Canyon Road leads uphill from the main road through the park (California Highway 190) to the parking lot for Mosaic Canyon.
You will see the turnoff for Mosaic Canyon Road right opposite Stovepipe Wells Campground in Stovepipe Wells Village.
The dirt road is about 2.3 miles long and is generally passable in a sedan. Be warned: the ride is very bumpy. Buses and large RVs are not recommended.
The gravel parking lot is a good size but might still get full during the day in season. From the parking area, you will see the entrance into the canyon.
How long does it take to hike Mosaic Canyon?
We suggest allowing about 2.5 to 3 hours to complete the full round trip. Three hours will allow you to walk the canyon at leisure and take photos of the marble and breccia.
If you plan to walk just up to the first set of narrows, allow about one to 1.5 hours. You could do it faster, but you will want to take your time to appreciate the beauty of the canyon.
What to bring on the Mosaic Canyon hike
The canyon is shaded in the early hours of the day and later in the day, but if you hike Mosaic Canyon around the middle of the day, wear a sun hat for protection.
Sunscreen, SPF Lip Balm and Sunglasses
You are hiking in the desert, so wear sunscreen and sunglasses, and use SPF lip balm for sun protection.
Good Walking Shoes
Wear pliable closed-toed shoes with a good grip, because you’ll be climbing and scrambling up and down rocks in the second half of the trail, and the rocks can be slick and slippery in places.
You need to carry plenty of drinking water when hiking in the desert, even if you plan to hike in the shade.
There is a general store at Stovepipe Wells Village, where you can pick up water if you didn’t bring any with you.
We always bring protein bars, fruit, and trail mix on hikes. Even if it isn’t meal time, it’s fun to munch on a snack after a hike!
Tips for hiking Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park
Hike Mosaic Canyon early or late in the day
If you hike Mosaic Canyon Trail early or late in the day, you will be in the shade for a large part of the hike.
Plus, you will encounter fewer people on the trail at those times. Mosaic Canyon Trail is popular and tends to get crowded during the day.
If you enjoy photography, you will find the light much less harsh early and late in the day. We went in the early afternoon, and I was not happy with how most of our photos turned out.
Hike this trail even if you can only go part way
Don’t fancy the rock climbing and scrambling in the second half of the trail? We suggest you consider going regardless, and just walk as far as you are able.
The most beautiful parts of the canyon come up fairly soon after you start the hike: the dramatic narrowing of the walls, the smooth marble of the canyon walls, and the beautiful colors and textures in the breccia.
Enjoy the views as you exit the canyon
As you walk back out of the canyon, you get beautiful views of the canyon walls and out into the valley, so stop to enjoy them and snap photos!
Dress for the season
If you visit Death Valley National Park in the cooler months of the year and hike the trail in the morning or evening, bring layers, because it can be cool in the shade inside the canyon.
Comfortable long pants will keep your knees and legs protected as you scramble over rocks.
Other California hiking trails you may enjoy
Hike the Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park
Hiking Hidden Valley Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park
Hike the Barker Dam Nature Trail in Joshua Tree
Bird Island Trail in Point Lobos State Reserve
The Best Hiking Trails in Point Lobos State Park
Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in Cambria, California
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