Mill Canyon is an unusual isolated canyon which drains the southern slopes of Hunter Mountain and has an abundance of flowing water, pretty waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife including burros, wild cows, and mountain lions. Difficulties encountered on the hike include driving to South Pass if hiking in from the top, dealing with areas of thick brush within the canyon, bypassing the major waterfall, avoiding confrontations with wild bulls and mountain lions, and route finding to navigate correctly if hiking up canyon. A Google Earth map of the hiking route (turned to the northeast for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button above. The parking area for starting at the canyon head is South Pass. The best parking area for hiking toward the canyon mouth is the same as used for the Panamint Dunes hike. GPS coordinates for the major 50 foot waterfall are 36° 29.964'N, 117° 31.126'W.
Mill Canyon was one hike which I had been hoping to take for three long years before finally accomplishing it. Not much information is known about the canyon, being that it is not covered in any guidebook and there has been very little discussion about it on the internet. And the information that was available was basically frightening to think about because of two issues. The first issue has to do with mountain lions. I think just about every hiker like myself who does a lot of solo hiking in Death Valley has legitimate concerns about crossing paths with a mountain lion at some point. It's something I am somewhat prepared for but would prefer not to have to deal with. In the perfect scenario, I would be hiking with a small group and all of us would spot a mountain lion from a distance, take a few pictures, and then the lion would scamper off to another place. Mountain lion attacks are rare in California. I have studied all of the attacks in recent history and know that hiking solo is not the safest way to minimize the danger that they present. But getting back to Mill Canyon, an astounding 3 out of the 5 people we talked to or learned about when preparing for our hike through Mill Canyon all personally spotted mountain lions in or around the Mill Canyon area. That is a 60% ratio, definitely high enough for me to realize the foolishness of solo hiking Mill Canyon. Fortunately, several well known Death Valley hikers volunteered to join me, although only one of them could make it on the date which I had open for the hike. During our hike we did not personally spot a mountain lion. However, we did find confirmed fresh mountain lion tracks and I have included a picture of the tracks with my full set of photographs. In thinking about it, I figured out why mountain lions love Mill Canyon so much. There is an abundance of water, there is very little human visitation to the canyon (perhaps a few hikers a year), and there are always lots of places where they can hide everywhere in the canyon. The second issue which concerned me had to do with a 50 foot major waterfall in the lower canyon. Those who had hiked Mill Canyon before me all reported that it was a nightmare to try to bypass the waterfall, whether they used the direct bypass below the fall, or tried one that was lengthy and on the ridges high above the canyon. As for the bypass, in all honesty I can say that it was one of the easiest bypasses I have ever taken to get around something. We tried the direct bypass which drops down to the left from the top of the waterfall. Sure, it was a little steep and caution was in order, but that was about it. We we were able to get from the top of the waterfall to the bottom in less than ten minutes. But others before us have found it harder, so keep that in mind if you end up doing this hike someday. I was joined for this hike by Patrick, a professional Yosemite mountain climber. We did the hike as a one-way journey, starting at South Pass and ending at Lake Hill. It was a great day and an amazing hike that we will never forget. At the link above, I have included a Google Earth map which shows the route through Mill Canyon, passing all 3 springs which are labeled on topographical maps. Actually, the entire canyon had flowing water during our hike, which I have never seen before in Death Valley. And a couple of final notes of caution. If you are doing this hike as an out-and-back from South Pass in one day, be extremely careful that you don't get lost coming back up the canyon. There are a large number of canyon splits and the likelihood of getting lost coming back is very high. Also, a few hikers have had showdowns with wild bulls guarding the exit at the lower canyon. The canyon is narrow at that point and wild cows and burros like to enter the lower canyon to drink from the water pool below the waterfall. Wild bulls have charged hikers attempting to get through the lower canyon. Although, I did hear that one or two of the wild bulls mysteriously turned up dead at some point after my hike. But you never know when another one will show up, so be careful. Our hike took place on March 12, 2010.
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