Moonlight Canyon is a word-of-mouth favorite among long-time Death Valley hikers as it contains towering mountain cliffs and a beginning portion of slot narrows deep in the Grapevine Mountains. Difficulties encountered on the hike include finding the correct parking area, route finding to access the canyon, and having to hike a long distance of 7 miles one-way to reach the spectacular 1st major dry fall at the end of the passable lower canyon. 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° 53.452'N, 117° 16.424'W. GPS coordinates for the mouth of Moonlight Canyon are 36° 53.595'N, 117° 15.267'W. GPS coordinates for the turn-off to reach Moonlight Bridge are 36° 54.691'N, 117° 14.171'W. GPS coordinates for the 1st major dry fall are 36° 56.528'N, 117° 11.206'W.
Moonlight Canyon is one of the most seldom-visited and isolated places in the Grapevine Mountains. Not many visitors to Death Valley hike there, but those who do are rewarded by having visited a very special place. The entire length of Moonlight Canyon cannot be seen in a single hike. This is because there are six major dry falls located in between the lower canyon and upper canyon. The lower canyon (which is covered in this report) is much more easily accessible to regular hikers. In fact, a hike through the lower canyon can make for one of the best days you can have in the park. The starting point for the hike used to be where the old water tank was placed on Scotty's Castle Road. However, that water tank is now gone. Even so, the parking area can be easily found by paying attention to the bends in the road. The ideal parking area is located at 1,350 feet in elevation just before there is a sharp curve to the left about 4 1/2 miles after the ideal parking area for Red Wall Canyon. Moonlight Canyon is a long, rough hike that will really test your endurance. But if you can handle it, the payoff is huge. It's 7 miles from Scotty's Castle Road to the base of the 1st major dry fall in the narrows at 4,650 feet in elevation. Many of those miles are spent hiking through an uncomfortable wash with troublesome gravel and rocks while gaining the necessary 3,300 feet in elevation. It's 4 miles from the road to the beginning of the actual canyon, although the wash walls on each side of you rise up much earlier than that. Then it's another 2 miles into the canyon before you reach the narrower gorge area. The final mile is the payoff -- a walk through a pristine narrow canyon with towering peaks above you and unique rock designs all around. The true narrows don't begin until you get very close to the 1st major dry fall. Please note that for safety reasons, we highly recommend stopping at the 1st major dry fall and turning around at that spot. Bypassing the 1st major dry fall requires the use of safety ropes and equipment, and should not be attempted without canyoneering experience. When our group did the hike, we had a canyoneering and rock climbing specialist who brought ropes with him. His name is Patrick and you can read about one of our technical canyon ascents with his assistance under our Rockfall Canyon report. With Patrick guiding us on this hike, we found out that it is not possible to bypass the 1st major dry fall without walking along an exposed ledge with a very dangerous drop-off on one side. Because we do not want to promote the lower canyon beyond the 1st major dry fall, we are not including pictures past this location. We did find that the inner canyon has more narrows, a 2nd major dry fall which can be bypassed, and a 3rd major dry fall which cannot be climbed. When coming down Upper Moonlight Canyon from the top, it is possible to reach the top of the 3rd major dry fall. But it is the section of canyon in between the top of the 3rd major dry fall and the bottom of the 1st major dry fall which is not safely accessible to regular hikers. Safety of fellow hikers is our top priority on this site, and that is why we are warning everyone and discouraging you from attempting to get beyond the 1st major dry fall. Besides, the hike up to that point is long and amazing enough as it is. If you hike Lower Moonlight Canyon, another highlight would be to take the side trip to see Moonlight Natural Bridge. You can learn more about that by checking out our trip report for Moonlight Bridge. And don't forget to also check out our report for Upper Moonlight Canyon. Our hike took place on November 24, 2010. I returned to Lower Moonlight Canyon to visit Moonlight Bridge on April 18, 2013.
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 stop at the bottom of the 1st major dry fall and not try to get past it.
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