On this page, you can find the full account of our group's hike through the Cottonwood Canyon and Marble Canyon loop in Death Valley.  You will find that we spend more time focusing on the people and events that we experienced, rather than on showing scenic photographs.  However, elsewhere on the site we have included more pictures that we took during this hike and you can view these on the specific report pages for Cottonwood Canyon, Dead Horse Canyon, Upper Marble Canyon, and Lower Marble Canyon.  Enjoy the photos!  And if you ever hike this loop, be sure to prepare well beforehand so that you don't get lost, because it will ruin your trip.  Below we are starting out with some Google Earth maps of the route we took.  Click on the maps to enlarge them for better viewing.  There is also a topo map with the correct passes marked.  Ever since we posted our account of this backpacking trip, fellow backpackers have written in asking some basic questions about the route and journey.  Below, we will try to share with you some of the information that we have shared with others who have written in, which you might find helpful if you are considering this trip.

To properly prepare for hiking this route, you should have a copy of Michel Digonnet's Hiking Death Valley (his 1st book) and read pages 357-374.  There are good maps and mileage info within those pages.  Also, there is a special informational handout on the Cottonwood-Marble loop which you can usually download directly off of the park's web site, or pick up from the Stovepipe Ranger Station or Furnace Creek Visitor's Center.  This handout provides extra details and current information about the route and water flow at the springs.  You may also want to pick up large topographical maps of the area (both the Cottonwood Canyon & Harris Hill 7.5 min. topos).  The handout states that "the recommended direction for the loop hike is clockwise starting up Cottonwood Canyon and returning via Marble Canyon to maximize water locations and minimize contact with other hikers."  The thick vegetation in both Cottonwood Canyon and Dead Horse Canyon is a cause for concern.  Don't blitz straight through the vegetation, but patiently look around for a path around or through the vegetation.  In most cases, you can find a path which will limit the amount of bruises and cuts that you receive.  For camping at Cottonwood Springs and Dead Horse Springs, keep in mind that park regulations state that you must camp "more than 100 yards (300 feet) from any water source that is not otherwise closed."  To camp within these regulations, the only practical way is to continue 100 yards past the springs and look for a spot.  We found a nice sandy area past Cottonwood Springs and a nice flat area at the junction of Marble Canyon and Dead Horse Canyon.  The biggest challenge on the hike is locating Dead Horse Pass to connect Cottonwood Canyon and Marble Canyon.  You will need to use topographical maps, Google Earth imagery, and photographs (such as ours below showing the pass) in order to properly prepare and cross the correct pass.  If you click on the photographs with the red arrows marking the route, you can get larger versions of the photos which you can print and take with you.  Keep in mind that as many as 50% of all backpacking groups have gotten lost looking for the pass and had to turn around, because of the lack of signs and not preparing properly beforehand.  Also, when you are hiking out Marble Canyon on the final day, take the time to visit Marble Canyon's 4th Narrows and the Marble Main Side Canyon narrows to see some very beautiful scenery.  As for getting there, without a high clearance vehicle, you can still park at a spot where hiking and backpacking will work out fine.  Just add on about 2 hours of extra hiking each way onto your trip.  Instead of parking at the junction of Cottonwood & Marble Cyns where high clearance vehicles park, you can park at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon.  It's the spot right where the road drops down into the wash (about 8 1/2 miles from the start of the road at Stovepipe Wells).  You will know you are at the parking spot because there is a steep but short downhill drop, but off to the right there is a large area to park.  There may be other cars there.  You really can't miss it.  That's about it, so enjoy the hike and let us know if you enjoyed this one as much as we did.
Cottonwood - Marble route map 1
Cottonwood - Marble route map 2
Part 1 of 3
Friday morning, our group (consisting of myself, Shawn, Kathy, Conrad, and Brandon) left our small town of Sonoma and made the long drive to Death Valley.  Shortly after arriving, we stopped by the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station to pick up our backpacking permit.  Permits are necessary for quite a few reasons-- because they help the park know how many people are backpacking in the area, let the park know where your vehicle will be parked, get you updated on the current weather and regulations, and provide a record of where you were traveling in case you disappear.  We ran into Brook working at the station, someone who I have both hiked with before and asked advice from regarding hikes.  With our permit in hand, the next morning (Saturday) we drove out Cottonwood Canyon Road and parked at the Marble Canyon Road junction.  The pictures below will show you how we progressed through Cottonwood Canyon until we reached our camp for night one.  A lot more pictures of the scenery in the area can be seen by visiting the Trip Report for Cottonwood Canyon, including Shawn's discovery of a lost cabin in Cottonwood Springs.
Starting point for the backpacking loop is at the junction of Cottonwood and Marble roads (1,180 ft):
Steve and Brandon getting set to start another adventure:
For the first 8.4 miles, we followed the tracks of the Cottonwood Canyon Rd.:
Hiking on the road was relatively easy and fast paced:
Steve stopping by the cave which is on Cottonwood Canyon Rd.:
Heading into the 2nd narrows of Cottonwood Canyon.  (Earlier, we had driven through the 1st narrows):
Conrad resting on the wilderness boundary sign at the end of Cottonwood Canyon Rd.  After going 8.4 miles, we were now at an elevation of 2,830 ft.:
Steve stopping under the branch of a tree in Lower spring:
Brandon making his way through the overgrown brush of Lower spring.  It wasn't always easy, but we found a way to make it through:
A short time after leaving Lower spring, we arrived at Middle spring.  The trees were mostly bare because we were here in the late winter.  At other times of the year, this can be a lush, green place:
Kathy stopping near the place where we first spotted water coming downstream from Cottonwood Springs (the Upper spring):
As we progressed through Cottonwood Springs, we first hiked on the right side, and then crossed over and hiked on the left side:
Regulations require you to camp away from flowing water.  The only practical place to do this in Cottonwood Springs is past the source of the springs, once you emerge from the thick brush.  We found a nice level area a couple of hundred yards away from water:
There were quite a few level sandy spots where we could set up our tents.  It was nice to do so after hiking 12.4 miles and ending up at an elevation of 3,630 ft.:
At the end of the day, we pumped water from the springs and enjoyed our backpacking dinners:
Part 2 of 3
Saturday night it was a little bit cold, but most of us managed to get at least a little bit of sleep.  During the night, sounds of an owl, coyotes in the distance, and other desert critters sometimes awoke us.  Sunday morning we packed up and headed into the upper reaches of Cottonwood Canyon.  The highlight of the day was walking by a group of six wild horses.  One of the horses was a baby, and we were all scrambling to get some nice pictures of it and the rest of the family.  Then came the big challenge.  The question was this-- would we be able to successfully cross over Dead Horse Pass using the correct route, and find our way into Dead Horse Canyon?  Or, would we get lost like quite a few other people do?  At home, I had spent quite a few hours studying maps to put us in the best position possible, and it paid off big time.  We crossed over Dead Horse Pass (4,785 ft.) and dropped directly into the correct canyon without any problems at all.  Once we worked our way down Dead Horse Canyon to flowing water, we found that it was quite windy.  Thus, Conrad and I set up our tents just outside of Dead Horse Canyon, at the junction with Marble Canyon.  That sheltered us from the worst of the wind and allowed for a good night's sleep.  For this day, we had hiked about 6 miles and ended up camping at an elevation of 3,425 ft.  Also, Kathy and Brandon joined me for a hike into Upper Marble Canyon as a side trip.  You can see the scenic beauty of both Dead Horse Canyon and Upper Marble Canyon by clicking on the Trip Reports for those places.
Leaving Cottonwood Springs behind, we began the journey cross country to Dead Horse Pass:
Dead Horse Pass photo 1
After we turned right and were heading even further up Cottonwood Canyon, Dead Horse Pass became clearly visible far in the distance (it is the low point in the ridgeline).  Click on this picture for better viewing if you would like to print it or see it in more detail:
Wild horses happened to be grazing directly in the path we were taking:
The baby horse was our favorite, but we loved all of them.  We walked around them to give them some space:
Continuing to walk directly towards Dead Horse Pass:
Looking back at the others beginning to climb up towards the pass:
The best route to the pass becomes very clear as you get closer to the top:
Looking back once again to admire the snow covered mountains in the distance:
Looking down on our group as they are standing at Dead Horse Pass:
Conrad and Steve standing on the pass before heading down the other side:
The path down was obvious as we progressed down towards the dry spring:
Dead Horse Pass photo 2
Soon, we emerged into a somewhat open area.  When you reach the base of the small hill with two bumps in the distance, you need to turn left to crossover into Dead Horse Canyon.  Turning right here will take you toward a canyon with impassable dry falls.  Click on this picture for better viewing if you would like to print it or see it in more detail:
Here we have reached the dry spring and turned left close to the base of the hillside and are heading back uphill:
Continuing uphill toward our second small saddle of the day:
This is the first view looking down into the side canyon which drops into Dead Horse Canyon:
Around the first bend after starting to head down, this is the view:
Finally, the group here is looking down into Dead Horse Canyon for the first time:
And this was what they could see, a steep descent which was necessary to drop into Dead Horse Canyon:
Our group is now on the canyon floor and walking towards Lower Dead Horse Spring:
The brush was quite thick, so we had to make our way around it whenever possible.  In this picture, Brandon is crossing around a rock to avoid hiking in the brush on the canyon floor:
Eventually we found the flowing water.  The only practical place to camp within regulations was near the canyon mouth.  As you can see here, I have set my tent up in an area which was used by others at the junction of Marble and Dead Horse Canyons:
Part 3 of 3
Sunday night we slept fairly well and woke up Monday morning ready to finish our trip.  We had another 8.6 miles to hike through Lower Marble Canyon and down the Marble Canyon Road to get back to our vehicle.  The two highlights of the day had to be hiking through the 3rd and 2nd narrows of Marble Canyon.  None of us had ever hiked through these before, and we felt a sense of awe and wonder at what we were experiencing first-hand.  A majority of the scenic pictures from this final day are on the Lower Marble Canyon Trip Reports page, but here are some pictures of us backpacking through.  I think I can speak in behalf of the group in saying that backpacking the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop was one of the great experiences of our lives, something never to be forgotten.  And what made it even better was taking the trip with such great friends.
At the Marble Canyon / Dead Horse Canyon junction on Monday morning.  Left to right, that's Conrad, Brandon, Shawn, and Kathy:
We all backpacked down Lower Marble Canyon at different paces, but would stop to meet up along the way:
Steve standing just inside the beautiful 3rd narrows of Marble Canyon:
After going through the 3rd narrows (more pictures on the Lower Marble Canyon Trip Reports page), we continued hiking down canyon:
The next three pictures show you some views of us backpacking through the very famous 2nd narrows:
Shawn stopping at the chockstone blocking entrance into the 1st narrows.  Shawn is basically a professional backpacker who is currently working on completing the Pacific Crest Trail, so we were grateful that he took some time out to backpack with us in Death Valley:
Brandon taking the bypass around the chockstone:
Looking down the rest of the canyon from a vantage point on the bypass trail:
Soon we had passed through the 1st narrows and we exited the most exciting parts of Marble Canyon:
In our final photo, Conrad is backpacking down the Marble Canyon Road towards our vehicle and the end of this backpacking trip:
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