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Upper Fall Canyon
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park
Upper Fall Canyon
upper fall canyon
Above the 20-ft pour-over, looking down. The route follows ledges on the south wall and returns to the wash at this point (view west).

Overview

This is a long hike through a truly spectacular piece of narrow, water-polished canyon in the Death Valley Wilderness Area. The route follows the Lower Fall Canyon route to the lower pour-over, which block easy passage. This route passes the pour-over by climbing a 4th-class crack on the wall of the canyon and running out some narrow ledges. From the top of the pour-over, the route passes the best of the narrow, water-polished gorge in about 10 minutes, although there are more narrow sections above. About 6 miles out and 3,000 feet up, the canyon is blocked by another pour-over that is not so easily passed. The entire route follows Fall Canyon, and the hiking is fairly strenuous because the gravel is loose all the way up.

Link to an area map or a trail map.

upper fall canyon
Water-polished narrows just above the 20-ft pour-over (view east).

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this route requires some moderate rock-climbing skills. Although the climbing is not technically difficult, it is a bit high, and the downclimb looks pretty bad from above. Other than that, this is a fairly safe hike, but stay out of the canyon if rain threatens, even if it falls high in the mountains, because of possible flash floods. The canyon is narrow, and in many places there would be no place to escape the floodwaters.

Much of the canyon is too deep and narrow for accurate GPS readings. In addition, there is an anomaly in this area for maps based on Microsoft Terraserver-USA.com technology that I think is the result of a misalignment among map projections along the east side of California. The result is that the Terraserver map-tiles don't align properly and don't display the correct GPS coordinates. USGS topo maps are OK, but rely on your own instincts, route finding, and map reading skills here it there seems to be a problem; don't put too much weight on the technology.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and please try to Leave No Trace of your passage. This is a hike into an isolated canyon where rescue would be difficult, so be sure to bring the Ten Essentials.

upper fall canyon
Water-polished narrows just above the 20-ft pour-over (view east).

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Death Valley National Park, about 3.5 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Death Valley. From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 712), drive north on Highway 190 for 17.4 miles to Scotty's Castle Road (Site 763). Turn right onto Scotty's Castle Road and drive north for 15.0 miles to the Titus Canyon turnoff (Site 761). There is a large sign at the intersection. Turn right onto Titus Canyon Road and drive east for 2.7 miles. The rocky road runs up the bajada to the parking area at the edge of the mountains. The road is a bit rough, but it is fine for all vehicles (except not trailers as there is nowhere to turn a trailer around). Stop in the parking lot just before the "one way, do not enter" sign (Site 760). The parking lot is at the end of the two-way road; the road is one-way, downhill, above this point. Park here; this is the trailhead.

upper fall canyon
Above the narrows, the canyon sometimes is narrow and rocky (view east).

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), follow use-trails north across the bajada to the mouth of Fall Canyon (Wpt. 03), and then follow the canyon upstream for about 2.5 miles to a 20-ft pour-over that blocks the canyon. See the description of the Lower Fall Canyon route for details on this section of the hike.

When you get to the 20-ft pour-over (Wpt. 05), there is no question as to where you are. This pour-over clearly blocks the canyon, and there is no way past it at this point.

To pass the pour-over, hike back down the Canyon about 50 to 100 yards. On the south side of the canyon (left side hiking back down), watch for a pile of rocks on a ledge about 10-12 feet above the wash. Climb onto the pile of rocks and climb the 4th-class crack and ledges until you climb onto a use-trail that leads back into the Canyon. The route looks hairy from above, especially on the way down. Follow the narrow use-trail as it runs over a high point (about 150 ft above wash) and then drops back down to the top of the pour-over.

upper fall canyon
Above the narrows, the canyon sometimes is wide (view east).

Just above the pour-over, the canyon narrows into a truly spectacular narrow section of water-polished limestone. This remarkable section is fairly short, and in about ten minutes you'll be above the narrows and back into a wider section of canyon. By about 40 minutes above the pour-over, the canyon is wide enough canyon to get good GPS coverage.

From there, continue up the canyon. There are sections of narrow canyon and sections of wide canyon, and overall, the place is spectacular.

upper fall canyon
This pour-over can be bypassed, but another 50 yards upstream blocks the canyon.

About three miles above the lower pour-over (6 miles from the trailhead), you arrive at the upper pour-over, which is about 20-ft high (Wpt. 06). Although not tall, this pour-over is well polished and looks difficult to climb. I got there late in the day and all alone, so I didn't try the climb.

I've been told that a bypass route goes around the pour-over on the north side a few yards back from the pour-over, and that the pour-over isn't too hard to climb. However, about 50 yards above this pour-over is another, which is, in fact, difficult to climb or bypass.

Enjoy the place, eat lunch, relax for a few, and return to the trailhead by following your footsteps back down the gravel wash.

Table 1. Highway Coordinates (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site Location Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
0712 Furnace Creek Visitor Center 36.46159 116.86574 512030 4034954 -186 Yes
0760 Titus Canyon Lower Parking 36.82199 117.17321 484552 4074937 917 Yes
0761 Scotty's Castle Rd at Titus Canyon Rd 36.78771 117.19063 482991 4071137 169 Yes-2
0763 Hwy 190 at Scotty's Castle Rd 36.63910 117.03531 496843 4054636 104 Yes-2

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
01 Trailhead 484523 4074919 940 GPS
03 Mouth of Fall Canyon 484621 4076021 1,211 GPS
05 Lower 20-ft pour-over 486875 4077625 2,500 Map
06 Upper 20-ft pour-over 489815 4080583 3,800 Map

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120423

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