Grave Canyon is a little-known canyon in the central Cottonwoods which contains two major forks with at least four sets of beautiful narrows and two lightly-flowing waterfalls in the South Fork. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to access the canyon, managing a very long and rough fan hike to reach the canyon mouth, some minor climbing obstacles within the canyon, and a major dry fall which will stop most hikers at the beginning of the 3rd Narrows. A Google Earth map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 36° 51.703'N, 117° 16.253'W. GPS coordinates for the north and south fork junction are 36° 50.246'N, 117° 20.531'W. GPS coordinates for the major dry fall at the beginning of the 3rd Narrows are 36° 49.456'N, 117° 21.548'W.
Grave Canyon was quietly planned as the featured hike of my Spring 2010 trip to Death Valley. I had kept the destination under wraps during most of the planning stages in an effort to surprise everyone with its existence after completing my hike. I had been told by a reliable source that it was an amazing canyon and that I should check it out. And Grave Canyon delivered in a big way as the wonders contained within the canyon walls left me speechless in complete awe. How could such an incredible place be kept under wraps for so long? And how could a place of such beauty and majesty be unknown to just about everybody? Those were the questions I was left to ponder upon the conclusion of our hike through several miles of the South Fork of Grave Canyon. As you can see on the included Google Earth route map, Grave Canyon splits into two major forks a short distance in from the mouth. We left the North Fork unexplored because our hike took place through the South Fork. A while after my hike, I talked to a hiker who actually explored the North Fork and he said that there were a couple of major dry falls which most people could not safely climb. So I currently don't have any plans to go back out and document the North Fork anytime soon. But the South Fork was amazing. I must say, though, that hiking up to Grave Canyon from Scotty's Castle Road (the parking area is in between the parking areas for Red Wall Canyon and Moonlight Canyon) is tremendously difficult. Most of the time there is no clear, easy path. Instead, the hiking is across endless drainages and over painful rocks in the washes and on the hillsides. There was a small stretch of easy hiking that we found by trying our best to stay on the left hillside while going up towards the mouth. Because of the tremendous difficulty and effort to reach it, the best way to see Grave Canyon would probably be as a 1 or 2 night backpacking trip. However, while we did find flowing water in the 1st Narrows of the South Fork, I have been told that the water does at times dry up. So it is not a reliable source of water. That means bring enough water with you if you hike or backpack it. If you're looking for it on a map, Grave Canyon is the next major canyon south of Bighorn Gorge and it is also north of Dry Bone Canyon. I was joined for the hike by Patrick, a professional climber who has accomplished great things in Yosemite. We ended up exploring some beautiful sets of narrows in the South Fork of Grave Canyon. Each of the narrows was unique in color and character, with high walls most of the time framing them. As for the highlights, in the 1st Narrows we found two gorgeous flowing waterfalls, one of them white and one red and grey. Some hikers may have trouble climbing these two waterfalls. The 2nd Narrows were the longest and featured the highest walls and tightest narrows to walk through. The 3rd Narrows started off with a huge dryfall which is tricky to bypass with some exposure. Most hikers would be wise to stop at the base of this dry fall and turn around for the day for the sake of safety. Besides, just seeing the first two narrows is a great accomplishment. Being that Patrick was with me, we were able to fully explore the 3rd Narrows and 4th Narrows before having to turn around. But please stay safe and do not attempt anything in this canyon which makes you feel uncomfortable in any way or pushes the boundaries of safety. Our hike took place on March 11, 2010.
This hike contains sections of climbing, exposed bypasses and/or high dry falls and may require safety ropes and equipment in order to complete the entire hike. Those without the proper training, experience, and safety gear should not try to get past the major dry fall at the beginning of the 3rd Narrows.
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