One of the most popular backcountry roads in Death Valley is Titus Canyon. Stretching 27 miles, it is an awesome place to explore by Jeep, truck, or Sprinter van! For years I have seen some really cool photos of friends riding their adventure bikes through there. It has always been on my list of places to visit, but I have yet to work it into any of my adventures until now. It was time to scratch it off the list and go check it out in the Sprinter van. Having checked the Death Valley National Park website and signage beforehand, I was confident we could make it. Afterall the park service even stated you don’t need 4WD unless it has been raining, so we went to check it out.
Things to Know Before You Go
- There is zero cell reception in the canyon. Be sure to bring a SPOT, Garmin In-Reach device, or satellite phone for emergencies.
- Summer is not a great time to go. Death Valley is way too hot to explore during this time of year.
- There can be many others traveling through the canyon, however, the park service rarely patrols it.
- It’s a one-way road except the last 3 miles on the west end. You enter Titus Canyon Rd from HWY 374 near Rhyolite.
- It takes a few hours to travel through the canyon depending on how long you spend sightseeing and exploring.
- Always bring emergency supplies.
Check Out Rhyolite First
Since you are right there, you must check out Rhyolite Ghost Town. Starting out as a mining camp in 1905, it quickly grew as gold seekers and developers moved in. But by 1911 mining operations stopped due to lack of profitability. The town was already a ghost town by 1920.
Accessing Titus Canyon
The Titus Canyon Trailhead is just 6.2 miles south of Beatty. The road is 100% unpaved. The first 6 miles before you enter the canyon can be very washboarded. About halfway down this section, I was really hoping the rest of the 27 miles got much better. The integrity of our van build was seriously getting tested! Fortunately, the road did get better.
The scenery quickly changes from rolling desert hills to rocky mountains.
Looking to the left of the road and off in the distance, you see the many layers of terrain and mountain ranges.
At the 12.5 mile mark, the descent begins. This is where it starts to get scenic and fun.
Dropping down into the canyon, you can see tailings up on the hillside from old mining operations.
Smack dab in the middle of Titus Canyon is the ghost town of Leadfield. Old metal shacks and foundations remain intact from a once-booming town in 1926. There were 300 people living and mining lead and copper.
Petroglyphs in Klare Spring
This wash area is a natural spring. Native Americans came to this spring to hunt bighorn sheep and left behind petroglyphs pecked into the rocks.
The Canyon Narrows
This is, by far, the reason Titus Canyon is so popular. The final mile and a half of the road twists and turns through the narrow canyon. They say this is the most rugged section of the road, but we didn’t have any issues at all. There were a few big rocks to avoid and some loose gravel, but I did not ever think we were in any trouble without 4WD. The huge, steep canyon walls are impressive and such a cool place to drive through. There are many cool little off-shoots to check out along the way so don’t rule out short hikes and explorations.
And just like that, the canyon ends! It opens up to the wide-open desert. If you wanted to access only the narrows, you could park at the exit of the canyon on the west end and hike in, but I highly recommend the drive.
Would I Do it Again In the Van?
Heck yes! It was a piece of cake in the 2WD Sprinter. There were a couple of tight switchbacks at about the mid-way point before we dropped into the canyon and one or two little sharp-edged dirt steps to get up, but unless there has been some heavy recent rain, it was super easy for the van. I could see the conditions being much worse after rain, but even the recent light rain didn’t damage the road or make it difficult. I would also avoid going when it is super hot. Death Valley can be a dangerous place in the summertime. (Duh)