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SURPRISE CANYON: How to Visit this Lesser Traveled Death Valley Spot

The aptly named Surprise Canyon is a real treat for Death Valley visitors featuring a lovely creek, some small waterfalls, and even burros!

About Surprise Canyon

surprise canyon death valley national park
Two Burros on the Surprise Canyon Trail | Death Valley National Park

The aptly named Surprise Canyon is a real treat for Death Valley visitors featuring a lovely creek, some small waterfalls, and even burros! To get to the trailhead visitors must drive outside the park and then back up the canyon.

Surprise Canyon Trail

Distance: 6.3 miles roundtrip
Time: 3-4 hours

The hike itself is mostly uphill on the way up and mostly downhill on the way back. Every turn features new sites and adventures.

When we hiked this trail we found the remains of two dead burros so be aware.

RELATED: Comprehensive Death Valley National Park Guide


Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Surprise Canyon is early in the morning to take advantage of the cooler temperatures.

RELATED: 16 STUNNING Things to Do in Death Valley National Park 2021


Things to Note When Visiting Surprise Canyon

Entrance Fees: The fee to enter Death Valley is $30 per vehicle. If you plan on visiting more than 1 national park this year we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks or online here). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.

Guide: I highly recommend this one.

Map: I use this one.

Provisions: Make sure to pack plenty of food & water – there are no services anywhere remotely close to Racetrack Playa.

TREAD LIGHTLY: The desert floor at the Racetrack Playa is extremely sensitive so walk lightly. In years past people have driven a vehicle on this surface and despite massive repair efforts undertaken by the park service the damage will take many, many years to full recover.

Sunscreen: For many of us visiting national parks in the summer means lots of sun. Seriously, some of these parks can zap you if you don’t wear sunscreen. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.

Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.

Location: Despite being geographically nearby the Wildrose section of the park the parking area for the trailhead to Surprise Canyon is actually located outside of the park and takes a while to get there.


About Death Valley

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The valley floor of Death Valley National Park

Situated on California’s southeastern border with Nevada, Death Valley National Park spans over 5,000 square miles of otherworldly vistas. The largest national park in the continental United States, Death Valley is a park for superlatives.

Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, the lowest place in North America, and the driest place in the United States. Death Valley is also the largest National Park outside of Alaska.

RELATED: 10+ (FASCINATING) Death Valley National Park Facts You Probably Didn’t Know


Death Valley Video

In the remote far reaches of the Mojave Desert lies the largest national park in the continental United States. Hidden here in the hottest place on earth is another world full of diverse life and colorful landscapes.

Join us as we take life to the extreme and explore Death Valley. Filmed primarily in 8K.​


Death Valley Map

surprise canyon death valley
Will Pattiz

Co-founder of More Than Just Parks. Husband. Conservationist. Currently living in NYC.

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