Pothole Canyon contains one of the most magnificent dry falls in Death Valley and some outstanding lengthy narrows within the upper canyon. Difficulties encountered on the hike include having the proper HC (or better yet 4WD) vehicle to reach one of the two ideal starting points on Cottonwood Canyon Road and being able to use a very long bypass if you want to see both the lower and upper canyon on the same hike. Topographical maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the ideal parking area to do the upper canyon hike are 36.578979, -117.315131. GPS coordinates for the beginning of the upper narrows are 36.563428, -117.278410. GPS coordinates for the base of Pothole Falls are 36.568544, -117.274078.
This report documents our visit to Upper Pothole Canyon and the rim of Pothole Falls, considered by park staff to be the 2nd most spectacular dry fall in Death Valley (behind only Windowmaker Dry Fall). Pothole Canyon is the most interesting canyon found within the peninsula-type extension of the eastern Cottonwood Mountains which has risen in popularity over the past five years. While there is no official name for this area, several hiking groups have established the designation Cottonwood Road Canyons (or Ten Canyons region), with Pothole Canyon also being labeled as Canyon 7 (see our report on Spectrum Canyon for additional information and an overview of the general area). There are two ways to visit Pothole Canyon. Both routes are completely different hikes which pass by unique scenery and both are worthy destinations. The first route involves parking about 5 3/4 miles down Cottonwood Canyon Road just before the road turns sharply toward the northwest. From that spot, it is about a 4 mile hike to the mouth of Pothole Canyon. The hike into Lower Pothole Canyon is about 1/2 mile long and contains a breathtaking view from below of Pothole Falls in its entirety. Seeing this view of Pothole Falls is definitely worth the time and effort involved to get there. However, this report does not cover the route into the lower canyon. This report covers the second route, which visits Upper Pothole Canyon but starts many miles further down Cottonwood Canyon Road at a different parking area. The reason that we chose to visit Upper Pothole Canyon was because we were doing another hike in the area on the same day. Also, we had to choose between either enjoying a single view of Pothole Falls from the lower canyon or getting to explore the lengthy narrows of the upper canyon. It just seemed like there would be much more to see in the upper canyon, so that's where we went. Our route to the upper canyon started by parking on Cottonwood Canyon Road about 1/4 mile past the well-known large cave. From there, we had to immediately climb 500 feet in steep elevation in order to attain the ridge above Cottonwood Canyon. This climb to the ridge proved to be a worthy endeavor on its own because of the tremendous views we enjoyed looking both up and down Cottonwood Canyon. Upon attaining the ridge and looking to the southeast, we could see a long plateau that gradually sloped downhill for the next couple of miles. It looked like this was going to be easy walking. However, things didn't turn out that way. We ended up encountering one nasty drainage crossing after another. It was very rough terrain that took a toll on our legs and feet. Especially since this was our second challenging hike of the day. Along the way, we had to climb up two small hillsides in order to attain minor ridges before heading back downhill. We also crossed and walked partially through two major washes, all the while having a nice view of Cottonwood BM to the north and Tucki Mountain to the east. The second major wash eventually deposited us into the wash of Upper Pothole Canyon and we descended into the narrows with great anticipation. Pothole Canyon did not disappoint. In fact, we were extremely impressed by both the variety of scenery and the length of the upper narrows (about 7/10 of a mile). While walking through, you can't help but feel anxious that the amazing scenery could end at any moment by running into a major obstacle such as an impassable dry fall. But time and again, the canyon narrows continue to go through without much hindrance and there was yet more to see. The passable upper narrows actually come to an end at the perfect spot. There are two dramatic views which appear at the same moment. The first view is looking over the edge into the uppermost pothole of Pothole Falls. The second view is a few steps away where you climb up to a small lookout bench which has sweeping views of the lower canyon walls and wash. Caution is definitely in order around both spots. But the views were absolutely incredible and we were so glad that we had chosen to focus on the upper canyon. Some other hiking groups have successfully seen both the lower and upper canyon on the same hike by spending an entire day and using the canyoneering route up the northern ridgeline to connect the bottom and top. However, we only had 4 hours with which to accomplish our hike. And it turned out very successful. We truly enjoyed our visit to Upper Pothole Canyon and hope that many other hikers will get to enjoy this beautiful area in the future. We took a slightly different route back to our vehicle (as you can see on the included topo maps above) in an effort to avoid the endless drainage crossings. That plan was only mildly successful. Our hike took place on February 26, 2017.
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