Going Big

Inspiring Treks for Experienced Scouts

Telescope Peak, Death Valley

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Difficulty Level:

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Trek Description

Death Valley National Park

Map(s): Death Valley National Park (Tom Harrison maps), though you may want to look up a better topo via caltopo.com, as the Tom Harrison map covers the entire park, and the detail on Telescope Peak is rather poor.

 

While technically not backpacking this trek is EPIC.  At 11,043', summiting Telescope Peak is a big deal for scouts and adults, and the views of Bad Water Basin to the east (lowest place in the 48), the Sierras and Mt. Whitney to the west (highest place in the 48), White Mountain to the north (14k footer), and the vast Mojave to the south are other-worldly.  In June it may be 130 degrees in Furnace Creek (the author of this post has the photo to prove it!) and 70 degrees at the peak.​

Logistically, drive with a high clearance 4x4 vehicle and take Emigrant Canyon Rd south off Hwy 190 inside Death Valley National Park (see map below).  This will be a paved road up until the historic charcoal kilns.  From there a high clearance 4x4 vehicle is recommended to drive to Mahogany Flats campground at the trailhead.  Elevation at Mahogany Flats is 8133' ... meaning it is likely to be 40-45 degrees cooler than at Badwater Basin (and 60-70 degrees cooler at the top of Telescope Peak).  Believe it or not, the summer months are often a good time to try this trek.  Spring and Fall may also work, but just research ahead of time to determine if you have snow conditions at the top.

Car camp at Mahogany flats the day before the trek.  Bonfires are typically allowed in this first come first serve National Park campground.  Rise early in the morning and start the 13 mile round trip hike to allow plenty of time for elevation gain and an enjoyable pace.  The first third of the trek skirts around the eastern side of the slope with amazing views into the Panamint Valley (where many scenes of Mos Eisley and Tatooine of Star Wars fame were filmed).  The middle third traverses the saddle of the mountain with a surprisingly flat(ish) section that makes you feel like you're hiking on the top of the world.  The final third is the approach to Telescope Peak up a series of steep switchbacks and an inspiring ridgeline approach that makes you wonder "how did I get so lucky to be here today?!?".  Snap your photos on the peak, and then backtrack back to camp for a well deserved dinner with your scouts.  Drive home the next day.

Related HAT Awards

Telescope Peak Day Trek Award

Permit Requirements

No permits required.  Mahogany Flats campground is a first-come-first-served site, so arrive early to nab the necessary spots.

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