Lower Bighorn Gorge is a popular backpacking destination and includes the wide open and gradually narrowing portion of canyon located between the mouth and the 4th Narrows. Difficulties encountered on the hike include climbing some minor dry falls and being prepared for backpacking long distances with no water sources. A Google Earth map of the hiking route (turned to the northeast for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the mouth of the canyon are 36° 53.876'N, 117° 22.772'W. GPS coordinates for the main side canyon junction are 36° 52.006'N, 117° 23.370'W.
When it comes to backpacking destinations in the Cottonwood Mountains, the Cottonwood-Marble Loop is by far the most popular. However, the second most popular backpacking destination is definitely Bighorn Gorge. The only limiting factor in doing a backpacking trip to this area is the fact that there is no flowing water available from any springs along the way. Because this hike is fairly well known, it is possible that you may encounter 1-2 other backpacking groups when doing this backpacking trip. My first experience heading into Bighorn Gorge was a completely different story. Bighorn Gorge turned out to be one of the longest day hikes that I've ever been on in Death Valley. I spent a whole two years thinking about this hike and researching it before actually doing it. One of the reasons for waiting so long was that Bighorn Gorge is located at such a remote location in the park that it takes a lot of effort just to reach the actual canyon. There were two options that we had as we set out to do this hike. First, we could drive the Racetrack Road, turn left at Teakettle Junction and drive through Lost Burro Gap, then turn left on White Top Mountain Road and drive up to the Dry Bone Canyon parking area. But beyond that point, the final 2.7 miles of driving to the parking area for Bighorn Gorge involves questionable road conditions. Sometimes, White Top Mountain Road is in good condition, while at other time it gets washed out. In addition, even if our vehicle was able to make it that far, it was still a 3 1/2 mile hike with nearly a 2,000 foot elevation drop to reach the entrance point at the head of the gorge. The second option was to hike up into Bighorn Gorge from Scotty's Castle Road. For a long time, that option seemed too farfetched to even consider as a day hike, because of the fact that it is 4.6 miles from Scotty's Castle Road just to reach the alternate entrance point at the mouth of Bighorn Gorge. From there, it is another 3 miles to reach the main side canyon of Bighorn Gorge. But that's not all, it is still another 1 mile to reach the 4th Narrows of Bighorn Gorge, which I had heard were the most beautiful. So all in all, we were talking about 8.6 cross-country desert miles just to reach the 4th Narrows. The 1st Narrows would be an additional 1.4 miles, making it 10 miles one way to see the best of the gorge. After reviewing all the options, we decided to go with the longer route of hiking up from Scotty's Castle Road. Thus we set out by parking our vehicle 13.3 miles north of Titus Canyon Road on Scotty's Castle Road at 7:30am one morning. Two hours later, we had hiked the initial 4.6 miles and entered the mouth of Bighorn Gorge. That was a thrilling moment for us but greater things were to come. Another two hours later and we had hiked the next 3 miles, bringing us to the Bighorn Gorge Main Side Canyon, which branched off to the left. We took the right fork and began heading towards the 4th Narrows. Just before reaching them (as marked in our guidebook), we were surprised to enter what would probably be considered a 5th Narrows. In the 5th Narrows, we had to climb a couple of dry falls (not too difficult), and we began getting our first glimpse of the fossils which would get better and better by the time we reached the 4th and then 3rd Narrows. Because this hike was so long and most people do this as a backpacking trip, I'm going to break this trip report down into two parts -- the lower portion and the upper portion of Bighorn Gorge. After you read this part, be sure and continue the journey along with us by checking out part two which is labeled as Upper Bighorn Gorge on the Main Page. If you are going to attempt to hike Bighorn Gorge from the bottom, like we did, you are better off doing it as an overnight backpacking trip. This would allow much more time for exploration and enjoyment of this beautiful canyon. I later returned to Bighorn Gorge on two other hikes, with the most recent hike taking us back through the lower canyon (see our Lost Canyon report for more details). Our hikes of Lower Bighorn Gorge took place on December 1, 2008 and April 4, 2014.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT