Surprise Canyon Road

Death Valley National Park, California

Elevation Gain7,247ft
Trailhead Elevation1,074ft
Elevation Min/Max1074/6331ft
Elevation Start/End1074/1074ft

Surprise Canyon Road

Surprise Canyon Road is a hiking, biking, and horse trail in Inyo County, California. It is within Death Valley National Park and Surprise Canyon Wilderness Area. It is 9.6 miles long and begins at 1,074 feet altitude. Traveling the entire trail is 19.7 miles with a total elevation gain of 7,247 feet. The Limekiln Spring and Brewery Spring can be seen along the trail. The trail ends near the Panamint Post Office (historical) (elevation 6,302 feet) post office.

Surprise Canyon Road Professional Reviews and Guides

"If there is one place in Death Valley National Park that makes sense to explore with a backpack, it has to be Surprise Canyon. In a desert world-famous for its extreme dryness and record-high temperatures, this anomalous canyon is blessed with several streams, and for a change you do not have to carry massive amounts of water. It is also exceptionally beautiful. From the end of the road in the lower canyon, you hike through a series of idyllic springs coursed by spirited creeks to Panamint City, one of the most remote and historically significant mining centers in the California desert. Lost in seldomvisited high-desert country, within walking distance of perennial streams, this legendary site is a wonderful camping location from which to explore the area on leisurely hikes for two days."

"Surprise Canyon Wilderness takes in the western slope and bajada of the Panamint Range directly below Telescope Peak. The Panamint Range is one of the most dramatic mountain uplifts in the United States, rising more than 2 miles above Death Valley. The range contains the highest peaks in Death Valley National Park, with Telescope Peak topping out at 11,049 feet and several other peaks rising above 10,000 feet (outside the wilderness). Unlike most higher ranges in the West, there are no intervening foothills. The Panamints rise from the salt pan in Death Valley to the top of the range in just 12 miles, creating one of the steepest slopes of any mountain uplift in North America. Some of the western canyons, including Surprise Canyon, climb as much as 1,000 feet per mile."

"The hike to the ghost town of Panamint City follows a year-round canyon stream through a lengthy, dramatic canyon. Contemporary mining activity mingles with the historic in this remote Panamint Mountain location. The Surprise Canyon hike is located on the very western edge of the expansion area of Death Valley National Park above the Panamint Valley. The BLM Surprise Canyon Wilderness Area lies on both sides of Surprise Canyon Road off Indian Canyon Road.

Here the BLM’s open desert camping regulations are in effect; there are plentiful campsites along the first 2 miles of Surprise Canyon Road before it climbs the alluvial fan.
The Wicht Camp on the topo map straddles the end of the drivable road. A practical piece"

"The vegetation and wildlife of Surprise Canyon is varied and plentiful, due to the presence of water and the elevation change. At the parking area you may spot the famed rare Panamint daisy growing in profusion along the top of the streambank. Birds and burros frequent the lower canyon. The hike will travel through several vegetative zones as it climbs, from the riparian willow groves to creosote scrub community to pinyon-juniper forest. From the destination in Panamint City the lofty cliffs of the mountain range soar above forested slopes. Right from the start the hike up Surprise Canyon is a startling change from the drive through Panamint Valley. Even the bumpy ride up the road to the parking area does not hint at the water and greenery that greet you at Novak Camp. The first half mile from the camp involves repeated zigzags along the shallow stream to dry sections of the largely washed out trail. To enjoy the views of the rugged canyon walls it is necessary to pause between stream leaps."

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Trail Information

Death Valley National Park
Nearby City
Death Valley National Park
Furnace Creek Visitor Center; (760) 786-3200;
Local Contacts
NPS Death Valley Visitors Map; Trails Illustrated Death Valley National Park Map; USGS Ballarat-CA and Panamint-CA
Local Maps

Activity Feed

Oct 2018