Route description from the end of Cottonwood Canyon Road to the end of Marble Canyon Road. Does not include road walking segments.
Cottonwood Canyon Road End -> Cottonwood Springs: 3.5mi (5.6km)
The hike up the canyon is generally easy to moderate as you make your way through the cottonwoods and over numerous water crossings. Near the end of the canyon at approximately 3.3mi (5.3km) from the end of Cottonwood Canyon Road, a steep and narrow path up the south (left) wall leads you up and over a rocky outcropping and then down the other side into a beautifully forested area with old growth cottonwood trees. Continue up the canyon, but pay close attention as the canyon opens up and vegetation becomes less prevalent. If you?ve reached a large rock cairn, you?ve gone too far. This confusing area is where you need to look for a faint footpath to the north (right side) up the hill and out of the shallow drainage toward the dense vegetation surrounding Cottonwood Springs. Signs of burro and wild horses in the area are good indicators that you are in the right area. Stock up with water here, as this may be the last source depending on spring flow. Filter or treat all water and look for fantastic campsites nearby just north of the springs. Camp at least 100ft/30m (100 yards for pack animals) from all water sources.
Cottonwood Springs -> Deadhorse Canyon: 6mi (9.7km)
From Cottonwood Springs start hiking north up the long valley that parallels the mountain range to the east. As you hike up the valley, you pass a few old desert markers that helped point the way for miners during the mining boom of the early 20th century to the camps of Keeler and Goldbelt as well as water sources such as Cottonwood and Jackass Springs. Continue up the valley past the historic markers, but keep an eye on the ridgeline to the northeast looking for a low saddle that offers passage over the range. The base of this pass is approximately 3.5mi (5.7km) from Cottonwood Springs where you follow a moderately steep gully up to the saddle.
The saddle is perched between high hills and offers great views back down into the valley from which you came. The route from the saddle to Deadhorse Canyon is the most confusing part of the entire route. From the saddle, start heading northeast (downhill) for 1mi (1.6km) until you reach the head of a densely vegetated canyon. This canyon is not Deadhorse Canyon, which is the next canyon to the north. To access Deadhorse Canyon, head down the densely vegetated canyon for 0.1mi (0.16km) then hike uphill toward the saddle between two small hills on the northern side. From the saddle, hike down a steep gully which dead ends into Deadhorse Canyon, to find spectacular camping near the large cottonwood trees. A seasonal spring is located 0.25mi (0.4km) down Deadhorse Canyon to the north (right).
Deadhorse Canyon -> Marble Canyon Road: 6.5mi (10.5km)
Heading down Deadhorse Canyon, the route crosses the seasonal stream numerous times as it flows over exposed bedrock through the scenic canyon. In less than 800ft (243m) a vertical 8ft (2.4m) dryfall must be climbed down. The left side of the dryfall may be the easiest due to the many handholds on the canyon wall. The right side is more of a gradual descent, but the footing is dangerously loose. Another 0.4mi (0.6km) beyond the dryfall is the often overlooked confluence of Marble Canyon. Upper Marble Canyon subtlety joins Deadhorse from the northwest (left), and is worth a side trip if you?re looking to explore additional sets of canyon narrows in this remote desert playground.
From the intersection on, heading downhill you are hiking in Marble Canyon. With its towering walls and deep corridors, Marble Canyon is home to some of the best narrows in the entire park. From the confluence with Deadhorse you pass through three separate sets on your way to Marble Canyon Road. The upper set less than 1mi (1.6km) from the intersection has uniquely colored walls of marble adorned with recurring black and white stripes in zebra like fashion.
The middle set of narrows are located another 2.5mi (4km) down the canyon and are the most impressive. The deep passageway winds tightly beneath high overhanging walls of smoothly polished limestone stained with caramel colored streaks. Spend some time here and enjoy the solitude and quiet of this remote canyon paradise. You may notice its character change with the angle of the sun providing excellent opportunities for photography. Lucky and quiet hikers may even catch a glimpse of life here in Death Valley in the form of the various owls that call the canyon home.
The powerful scenery in the canyon may seem indestructible and permanent, but it is in a constant state of change due to periodic flash flooding. During heavy rains, it?s possible for flood waters to funnel large amounts of debris through the narrow canyon with incredible force. An enormous chokestone blocking the passage between the middle and