Upper Rainbow Canyon has epic, grand scale canyon scenery with towering cliffs colored by beautiful rainbow bands along with four major dry falls. Difficulties encountered on the hike include figuring out a necessary bypass to make it into the upper canyon, using caution around the edge of major dry falls and when by cliffs along the rim trail, and not doing anything which feels unsafe if trying to get into the middle canyon. A Google Earth map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. (Please keep in mind that the bypass routes marked on the Google Earth map are not exact but general guesses from memory.) GPS coordinates for the parking area are 36° 21.735'N, 117° 34.995'W. GPS coordinates for the top of the 1st major dry fall are 36° 21.901'N, 117° 34.239'W. GPS coordinates for the top of the 2nd major dry fall are 36° 21.745'N, 117° 34.216'W. GPS coordinates for the top of the 4th major dry fall are 36° 21.473'N, 117° 33.456'W.
Rainbow Canyon is one destination in Death Valley which I always thought had an awesome name but never expected to actually end up visiting to carry out a hike. The reason why is that it has always been known as a canyoneering canyon, having four major dry falls which all require rappelling down with lengthy ropes to continue. Rainbow Canyon is well known to all regular park visitors, as just about everybody has looked down into it from the overlook at Father Crowley Vista Point. However, the canyon name is not as well known, since the hike has never before been recommended in a guidebook (as of the time of this writing). To break things down, Rainbow Canyon is divided into 3 sections -- Upper (mainly known for being accessible to canyoneers, but some hikers can find their way in), Middle (only accessible to canyoneers who rappel in), and Lower (known mainly for easy access for hikers). These three sections are all divided by massive dry falls. The head of Upper Rainbow Canyon basically starts out with the 1st dry fall (100 ft.). Next, Upper and Middle Rainbow are divided by the 2nd dry fall (170 ft.) and 3rd dry fall (90 ft.) which are done as back-to-back rappels. And finally, Middle and Lower Rainbow are divided by the 4th dry fall (20 ft.). I haven't measured these major dry falls myself, but obtained the information from various canyoneering web sites. During my Spring 2010 trip, I had the chance to solo hike the entire canyon over the course of two days. This report is for the upper and middle portions, while another report covers the lower portion. My decision to hike in this area came about when a friend invited me to hike Lower Rainbow Canyon with him. He ended up not being able to make it, but his off-hand mention of Lower Rainbow Canyon raised my curiosity enough to think to myself: "He mentioned Lower Rainbow, well, what about Upper Rainbow?" While I was home during a break from my trip, I did some research and found a climber's report which shared details of a bypass which could be used to get into Upper Rainbow Canyon. This intrigued me, so I spent a few more hours researching the entire canyon, printed out a number of maps, and headed back to Death Valley. When I got there, I used the suggested bypass and this allowed me to get to the base of the 100 foot 1st major dry fall of Upper Rainbow Canyon and also overlook the middle canyon from the top of the 170 foot 2nd major dry fall. And I truly came to appreciate that Rainbow Canyon is unbelievably beautiful, as I enjoyed the view down into Middle Rainbow Canyon with walls colored by rainbow bands towering up to 1,000 feet on each side. Before heading back to my vehicle, I decided to walk the rim trail above the canyon for a while. As I walked along it, I came to a spot where it looked like I could scramble partway down toward the canyon floor. Sure enough, through trial and error over the course of a couple of hours, I figured out how to get down into the Middle Canyon. It was an incredible moment to set foot in the middle canyon for the first time. The scenery is magnificent from above but it is equally as impressive when viewed from the bottom. After this, I hiked up to the base of the 90 foot 3rd major dry fall and then headed down canyon until I reached the top of the 20 foot 4th major dry fall. I then had to rush back up canyon and make my way up the incredibly steep and challenging bypass to get out of the canyon before it was pitch black outside. Before I wrap up this report, I definitely need to share a word of caution about Rainbow Canyon. A hiker with basic bypass skills should be able to figure out how to get into the upper canyon without too much trouble. But reaching the middle canyon as a hiker requires advanced bypass skills and extreme caution. Most hikers will not be able to accomplish this. The map that I included does not show my exact bypass route, but it was drawn based on my memory. I was not using a hiking GPS at that time. So please be very careful and I would highly suggest not attempting this if you don't know what you are doing. In addition, as I am writing this report update in July of 2015, please keep in mind that there could have been additional landslides which have washed out the bypass route that I used back in 2010. So it may not even be passable any more. This was a true Death Valley adventure that I will never forget. Our hike took place on March 10, 2010.
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 not try to use any bypasses to enter Middle Rainbow Canyon.
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