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 Guides

Detailed Trail Descriptions from Our Guidebooks

Backpacking California: Mountain, Foothill, Coastal, & Desert Adventures in the Golden State (Wilderness Press)
Author varies by trail
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"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." Read more
Hiking Death Valley National Park (Falcon Guides)
Bill and Polly Cunningham
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"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" Read more
Hiking California's Desert Parks (Falcon Guides)
Bill & Polly Cunningham
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"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." Read more

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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

Dec 2018