An Easy Guide to Hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley

It was Day 4 of our Death Valley Spring Break road trip. We spent the morning exploring Badwater Basin, Devil’s Golf Course, and Artists Palette on Artists Drive. After a quick lunch during a pit stop on Artists Drive, we decided to spend the last afternoon of our Death Valley Trip hiking the beautiful Mosaic Canyon. Buddy and I are sharing an Easy Guide to Hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley.

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Mosaic Canyon Trailhead sign. Gray gravel parking lot and brown hill in background. Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley. MPA Project Travels.
Mosaic Canyon Trailhead

Mosaic Canyon Trail is a 4-mile round trip out and back trail rated moderate to difficult by the National Park Service. To access the trial head, hikers will take a 2.3-mile unpaved road located immediately south of Stovepipe Wells Village. A four-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary for access as the road is usually passable by the average car. However, the National Park Service does not recommend the road for RVs. A large gravel parking lot at the trailhead provides ample parking. We found many of empty parking spaces when we visited on a Saturday afternoon

Mosaic Canyon Trail is known for its colorful canyon walls and beautiful marble narrows. The trail ends with a stunning dryfall. Mosaic Canyon Trail is a fun and, at times, challenging hike. There were many hikers on the trail the afternoon we visited. But we did find moments of quiet and solace among the beautiful marble canyons. We finished the round-trip hike in exactly two hours. Just as the sun was lowering behind the mountains.


5 Tips for Hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley

1. Prepare for Heat

The best time to visit Death Valley is during the fall, winter, or spring months, before the heat kicks in. Visiting Death Valley during cooler months means that it is less likely that you will experience high heat during your hikes.

If you must visit during the summer months, please follow the precautions that you will find posted throughout the national park. It is recommended to hike before 10am during the hot months. And carry plenty of water. Please do not hike in extremely hot temperatures. It is very dangerous and can be fatal.

Temperature in Death Valley

The heat begins early in Death Valley. In April, the average temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Then desert heats up averaging in the 100s Fahrenheit/40s Celsius and above from May through September. October remains hot with the average temperature 93 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, visiting Death Valley National Park between November through March for cooler temperatures is your best bet.

Also, regardless of when you visit, check the weather. Flash floods can occur in Mosaic Canyon and other canyon hikes in Death Valley when it rains.

Two men dressed in black shirts and shorts walk towards the camera in the middle of the frame. A high canyon wall is behind them. Mosaic Canyon Death Valley. MPA Project Travels.
Buddy and Sal hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley.

We visited the park in the middle of March. The temperature was perfect for hiking! The highs during our stay were in the mid to upper 80s in Fahrenheit, which we found pleasant. It was warm in the midday sun and chilly in the mornings and at night.

We hiked Mosaic Canyon Trail from 4-6pm on a Saturday afternoon. It was warm at times, but overall, a great temperature for a hike! Although, please take this advice with a grain of salt. We live in the Sonoran Desert and enjoy warm dry climates. Some travelers may find the upper 80s quite warm. If you are a traveler who experiences temperatures in the high 80s as warm, hiking Mosaic Canyon Trail in the cooler temperatures of the early morning is a great alternative!

2. Look for arrows

Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley does not have guideposts on the trail! This can lead to confusion, especially in the latter part of the hike. In some places, multiple paths emerge from one point on the trail, and it is unclear which one to take. Other times, it appears as if the trail disappears completely.

But, if you look down, you will find your solution. Arrows!

About halfway though Mosaic Canyon trail, when the path becomes unclear, you will find an arrow made of rocks pointing you in the correct direction. The arrows appear at the first marble boulders that you need to climb to continue the trail.  Arrows continue from that point on, guiding you towards the dryfalls at the end of the trail.

A boy with brown hair and glasses in a green shirt and beige shorts looks down at a large arrow made of small rocks. Mosaic Canyon trail Death Valley. MPA Project Travels.
Buddy admiring a large arrow made of rocks on the Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley.

When we hiked the Mosaic Canyon trail, we were amused to find the first rock arrow. Earlier in the hike, I commented on the lack of guideposts on the trail. The rock arrow guiding us up a series of slippery marble rocks was a fun discovery!

We did not expect to see more arrows made of rock leading the way as our journey continued. Because I am not accustomed to looking down when I hike, I missed a few. Luckily, Buddy and Sal caught them.

However, not all the rock arrows are well put together. Some can easily be overlooked. We missed a key arrow guiding us down into the arroyo. And instead took a steep dead end trail up the side of the canyon. When hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley, keep an eye out for the rock arrows. Even the ones that may not quite look like an arrow.

3. Do the full hike, or not

Mosaic Canyon Trail begins as a smooth hike with a slight gain in elevation. However, about 1.4 miles in, the trail requires scrambling over large slippery marble rocks. And this is just the beginning. After scrambling up the first dryfall, you will climb more rocks and boulders. Also, the paths and trails diverge into steep trails carved into canyon walls.

The latter half of the trail is not for everyone. If you travel with littles or if you are not comfortable scaling slippery boulders, skipping the end of the trail is a great option. If you choose to hike the first half of the trail, you will not miss out on any of the beauty! Mosaic Canyon Trail’s notable narrows are near the parking lot, and you will pass through them on the way into Mosaic Canyon.

A boy in a black sweatshirt and beige shorts walks away from the camera surrounded by white marble canyon walls. Mosaic Canyon trail. Death Valley. MPA Project Travels.
Buddy walking in the Narrows at Marble Canyon in Death Valley.

During our Mosaic Canyon Trail hike, we noticed that the majority of fellow hikers chose to hike the first 1.4 miles of the trail skipping the scaling of the dryfalls and large boulders. We, however, chose to hike to the trail’s end.

4. Plan for slippery rocks

If you chose to hike to the end of Mosaic Canyon Trail, plan for slippery rocks.

The dryfalls and boulders that you must scramble to reach the end of Mosaic Canyon Trail are mostly made of marble. This makes them slippery. Especially in the crevices the rocks that hikers use for gripping. Climbing down the marble rocks on the return journey is also tricky. The rocks are very slippery, and it is easy to fall. Be careful climbing up and down the marble dryfalls and boulders.

Facing away from the camera, a boy in a green shirt and beige shorts scrambles over dryfalls in a narrow canyon. Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley. MPA Project Travels.
Buddy scrambling over dryfalls on the Mosaic Canyon trail in Death Valley.

While scrambling up the slippery marble rocks, Buddy slipped a few times, but nothing serious. At one point in time, while scrambling over a boulder, I had a difficult time getting up a marble rock because of my short stature – I could not reach the nearest grip! But luckily, Sal helped me up.

Coming down the rocks was a different story! Treating the marble dryfalls like natural slides, we slid down most of the rocks on our behinds. Some of the dryfalls are sizable and you can gain a lot of momentum going down as you slide. Be very careful on your way down.

A view from on top of a dryfall, a slippery marble rock. Two men appear walking away from the camera on the trail in the distance. Mosaic Canyon Death Valley MPA Project Travels.
My view before scrambling down a slippery dryfall at Mosaic Canyon.

5. What to bring

These are just a few recommended items. Please personalize this list, adding to it what you see fit.

The basics: Sunscreen, a water bottle, a hat, and a first aid kit like the HART Outdoor Day Hike First Aid Kit available at REI. When hiking Marble Canyon, or any other place in Death Valley, bring water, lots, and lots of water!

Bring layers! Especially if you are hiking in the early morning or during the winter. In general, there is about a 30-degree Fahrenheit difference in daytime and overnight temperatures in Death Valley. An early morning hike could begin chilly and then warm up very quickly during your hike. It is best to be prepared and bring layers. A light layer for sun protection when the UV rays are at their strongest is also a good choice.

When hiking, we also always carry a whistle that also has a compass and thermometer, hand sanitizer, a pocketknife.  However, I did not feel the need to bring  bear spray with us to Death Valley. I was happy leaving that at home!


Buddy’s Tips

  • You should always follow the arrows and make sure that they don’t deceive you.

  • Make sure you bring a lot of water.

  • Be prepared for rock climbing, a lot of rock climbing.

  • Near steep areas, be careful where you are stepping and try not to trip. Because you might fall of the edge of the trail near the cliffs or drop offs.

Overall, we had a fun time hiking Mosaic Canyon Trail. Buddy filmed a Movement Postcard at the dryfall at the trail’s end. We especially loved the arrows made of rocks. Unique and quirky, they added made the experience of hiking Mosaic Canyon extra special!

The Movement Postcard also captured the beauty and power of the wind during a Death Valley Sandstorm that we experienced at the end of the hike. It was the perfect end to our Death Valley adventure.

Have you hiked Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley? If so, did you reach the end of the trail? What did you think Let us know if the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “An Easy Guide to Hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley

  1. Mosaic Canyon looks like a fun hike! Thanks for the note about the slippery rocks — I will definitely keep that in mind when I make it there 🙂

  2. What a beautiful place! Can’t wait to visit there someday. I especially enjoyed the movement postcards! So creative and so enjoyable to watch. Can’t wait for the next movement card! 😊👍

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