Little Arches Canyon is an easily accessible canyon located in between Red Wall Canyon and Palmer Canyon which features two spectacular arches, a challenging boulder gorge, and hard-to-reach beautiful upper narrows. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to access the canyon, climbing through the boulder gorge, and using a very challenging long bypass route to access the upper canyon. A Google Earth map of the hiking route (turned to the northwest for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 36° 49.738'N, 117° 13.158'W. GPS coordinates for Arch #1 of Little Arches Canyon are 36° 50.894'N, 117° 11.102'W.
Our February 2014 trip wrapped up with a hike of the major canyon located in between Red Wall Canyon and Palmer Canyon. Surprisingly, a hike through this canyon had never before been documented either in trip reports online or in guidebooks. This despite the fact that the canyon is fairly large, in an easy-to-reach location, and prominently located in the central Grapevine Mountains somewhat close to both Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells. I attribute this oversight to two factors. First, the canyon is surrounded by four major extremely well-known and impressive canyons -- Red Wall, Palmer, Fall, and Titus. Being located next to such significant park attractions, it would be easy to overlook an unnamed, undocumented canyon. Second, I had heard rumors that the canyon was impassable right near the start. I'm not sure where that inaccurate information originated from, but it caused me to hesitate to visit the canyon for at least five years after first considering it. In planning for this trip, I took another look at this canyon since it was in close proximity to Fall's 1st Side Canyon, another hike that I had scheduled. I noticed that there seemed to be some nice narrows in both the lower and upper canyon. But I also noticed that the canyon got very steep in the middle and was likely impassable at some point. Thus, most of my planning for this hike was spent charting out a very long bypass to connect the lower canyon to the upper canyon. Years ago, I never would have thought of attempting such a difficult bypass. But because the upper canyon narrows looked to have such great potential on satellite imagery, I had to do it.
When the day of the hike arrived, it turned out that I was going to be doing a solo hike. So I brought a SPOT personal locator beacon with me. The hike from the North Highway (Scotty's Castle Road) to the canyon mouth was very easy. It took a little less than an hour to cover the 2 1/4 miles to where the hillsides began forming on each side. Upon entering the canyon, the scenery immediately impressed. The early canyon consists of eroded badlands on all sides and includes some neat formations. The most beautiful of these formations are the two conglomerate rock arches. The two arches are very similar in composition, being formed by erosion as water has flowed down channels in the hillsides. The first arch is lower to the ground and makes for great pictures, while the second arch is higher up but equally as dramatic in setting. Because these arches were so impressive, we decided to assign the informal name Little Arches Canyon to this place. We thought the name was fitting for several reasons -- the two arches are one of the defining features of the canyon, calling it Little Arches Canyon would tie in with the name already given to Little Bridge Canyon, the two arches are medium-sized arches (they aren't huge like Telephone Arch but they aren't tiny like random small arches on hillsides), and also using the name Little Arches Canyon would likely draw other hikers to come see it. Beyond the two arches, the canyon quickly narrowed down and had some very nice high walls. One wall was covered with small cave-like holes, while another had interesting natural ripple-like designs. Next up was the place that I call the boulder gorge. The boulder gorge is a challenging section that may stop some hikers. Large boulders the size of cars must be navigated around, in between, and over. There is a route that goes through, at least there was on my hike. At one spot, progressing further required me to crawl through a "rabbit-hole". This rabbit-hole is similar to what is found in Sidewinder Slot #1 and also Utah's Buckskin Gulch. It is certainly possible that at some future point, a flash flood could sweep gravel and debris into the rabbit-hole, thus closing off the passage. But for now, it's open. After crawling through the rabbit-hole, I entered a nice section of shallow, vivid red narrows. The narrows dead-ended in the 1st major dry fall of the canyon. Including myself, all three hiking groups I know of who have hiked this canyon have been stopped by this dry fall. As I was anticipating an impassable obstacle of some sort, I backtracked down the canyon and began my lengthy bypass. The bypass starts by climbing up to the ridge directly above Palmer Canyon. After following Palmer Canyon for a short time, it turns off to the north and continues gaining elevation. The entire bypass took me nearly 2 hours to complete (2 1/4 miles and 1,700 feet of elevation gain), but I finally managed to drop into the upper canyon. For more details on my exact route, check out the map by clicking on the button above. Once in the upper canyon, I hiked down as far as I could. On the way, I passed by what looked like an interesting side canyon which would be worth checking out on another visit. I soon reached another dry fall after about 15 minutes and decided to turn around there. I probably could have made it down, but time was beginning to run out in the day. So I headed back up canyon to check out some narrows that I had seen from the ridge. These narrows turned out to be the highlight of the day and perhaps the entire trip. They were positively spectacular and beautiful. The narrows begin at a major junction, with a side canyon heading off to the right and the main canyon turning left. The height of the walls and the naturally painted colors truly awed me through this section of the canyon. Because this spot is so hard to reach, it's doubtful that many other people will ever see these narrows. In the middle of the narrows was a slightly challenging polished dry fall which a few hikers might have trouble with. Upon exiting the narrows, the canyon continued. However, I was quickly running out of daylight and thus I had to turn around at this spot. As I climbed out of the upper canyon and took the long bypass back, I couldn't help but think about returning to Little Arches Canyon on my next trip to finish my exploration of this spectacular area. For other hikers considering this area, I'm encouraging those without extensive Death Valley hiking experience and route-finding ability to stick with the lower canyon. There is a lot to see there with the eroded badlands, two arches, interesting canyon walls, and boulder gorge. The lower canyon below the boulder gorge would actually make an excellent half-day family hike. My hike took place on February 27, 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