Offering dramatic views into some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world, the beauty of the Telescope Peak hike will leave you breathless. You'll hike up a well-maintained trail to Death Valley's highest point, Telescope Peak, towering eleven-thousand feet over the lowest point in the USA, Badwater Basin. The trail passes through alpine meadows, amongst ancient bristlecone pines, along rocky ridges, and ends at an epic panoramic peak. Add Telescope Peak to your bucket list if you haven't done it already.
In this Guide:
Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Telescope Peak Hike
The short answer is that this hike is about as far away from anything as you can be. Specifically it's in the western part of Death Valley National Park, the largest National Park in the lower-48. The hike starts from the Mahogany Flat Campground. Use this trailhead address: Mahogany Flat Campground, Death Valley, CA, 92328
The road to Mahogany Flat can be closed from late fall to late spring because of snow. Check the park website before you drive all the way out here.
Mahogany Flat Campground is free, first-come-first-serve, offers pit toilets, but no water.
Gear For the Hike
You're truly in the backcountry here, so prepare accordingly.
Bring all the water you need, including water for before and after the hike. I carry 3L of water on the hike.
Don't confuse Death Valley weather with Telescope Peak weather. It's often 40-60F cooler at these elevations, and frequent wind can make it even colder. And as I mentioned, it's often snowed in and closed for a large part of the year. I usually carry basic winter gear including a puffer jacket, knit hat, and gloves.
Trekking poles will help on the slopes.
The sun can be harsh as it bounces off the desert below.
If there are thunderstorms, lightning will be striking along the ridge, so you'll want to bail quickly.
Gear That I Love Right Now
Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.
The dramatic landscape and incredible views make the Telescope Peak Trail a popular option for backcountry camping. You can overnight it with your car at the Mahogany Flat Campground, or hike to a primitive tent site along the trail, which is free. Permits are optional but prudent in case of an emergency.
There are many places to camp, and I would recommend finding an existing tent site to minimize your impact on this fragile environment. Also note that the Telescope Peak Trail can get very windy; it can be hard to sleep with the winds whipping the way they do. I've highlighted a handful of decent tent sites on the map, and have some pictures of them below.
Telescope Peak Trail Maps
Overall the Telescope Peak Trail is in great condition, maintained by the Park Service, and a one-way shot to the summit without any (official) junctions or side trails. Just hop on the trail and follow it until you get to the summit.
Who were Arcane, Rogers, and Bennett? They were all part of a party that headed west in search of gold and homesteading, back in 1849. Worried about taking the northern route after the tragedy of the Donner Party, they chose instead to take a southern route through the area here. When they reached the Panamint Mountains (where you are now), they assumed they were impassable, and they decided to stayed put. Eventually the party were able to continue on, but not after naming the area "Death Valley," the name which sticks today.
No, Panamint is not named after a breath mint. The mountain range was named after a local Native American word in 1861 by the Darwin-French party.
Telescope Peak is named that because from the summit, it's as if you're looking through a telescope.