Standing over 11,000 feet above the lowest spot in North America is Telescope Peak. From its summit, you are rewarded with spectacular views of Mount Whitney to the west and Mount Charleston to the east. This challenging trail offers some unique views of Death Valley National Park as it climbs to this majestic peak.
Getting to the Trailhead
The drive to the trailhead can be a bit of an adventure depending on the vehicle you use and your comfort level with driving on dirt roads. The trailhead for this peak sits within Death Valley National Park (DVNP) next to the Mahogany Flats Campground. For many, they camp here before beginning their hike to the peak.
Coming from Southern California, take 395 north to Trona Road. Continue on Trona Road until it ends at Highway 178. Turning right onto 178 (also known as Trona Road), continue through Searle Valley and through the town of Trona. When you come to the junction with Panamint Valley Road and Trona Wildrose Road, stay to the right. After passing the Wildrose Campground, the next point of interest will be the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. The road beyond the kilns is unpaved and will be rough or closed during the snow. Check road conditions on the DVNP Road Conditions Facebook page for its current status. There is just another 1.5 miles to go until you will reach the trailhead and campground. My Subaru Outback had no issues with the road.
There is a pit toilet at the campground, but no running water at the trailhead. There are ten first-come camping spots and an additional parking space for about five cars outside the campground.
Hiking Telescope Peak
When I hiked this peak, I camped at Mahogany Flats Campground. There was one spot occupied when I arrived, but by morning, about half of the sites were filled. It was windy that evening, so I used my car as a make-shift windbreak. By morning, the winds had calmed down and it was going to be a wonderful day of hiking.
Note: There are some back-country camp spots along the trail to the peak if you wanted to turn this hike into a backpacking adventure. Permits are optional but should be obtained in case of an emergency.
Just opposite the campground is the start of the trail. You should see some signage about the peak and a bit beyond that is a trail register. To the right of the trailhead is the service road that is used for the towers atop Rogers Peak.
The trail will begin a steep but steady climb along the eastern side of Rogers Peak. Initially, you will have some shade from the pinyon pines before it opens up.
You will be rewarded with some sweeping views of DVNP to the east as you continue on.
Once the trail turns southward, Telescope Peak will come into view. Continue your steady climb toward the saddle between Rogers and Bennett Peak.
Here at Arcane Meadows would be one of the spots to camp, although it is a bit exposed. Now that you have reached this saddle, Panamint Valley will become visible to the west. Looking back northward, you can see the towers atop Rogers Peak. There is a faint use trail that can take you up to them if you have the energy.
The next two miles across Arcane Meadows gently pass to the east of Bennett Peak, offering a nice break from your first couple of miles. As you stroll through this section, take some time to look to the west and locate Mount Whitney, as well as White Mountain.
Once past Bennett Peak, the trail will follow the ridgeline toward Telescope Peak, which will have come back into view. The gentle grade that you have been enjoying will begin to increase.
The trail will pass by several ancient bristlecone pines. These gnarled pine trees are some of the oldest living things on the planet! When not marveling at these trees, make sure you take in the view. Off to the east, you can view the Amargosa Range and Death Valley (including Badwater Basin), while to your west the Argus Range and Panamint Valley will be visible.
With about a mile to go to the summit, the intensity of the hike will pick up. Switchbacks work their way up the eastern slope of Telescope Peak. The thinner air and steep trail will give you a reason to take some short breaks while you climb ever higher.
After the switchbacks, you will reach a saddle between a false peak to the north and Telescope Peak to the south. Follow the narrow, but safe, ridgeline to the summit. Once there, sit back and take in the 360° views. Like its namesake, there should be a telescope you can use to get some closer views of the peaks around you.
Once you are ready, just return the same way you came. For the slightly more adventurous, you can make a side trip up and over Bennett Peak.
Caution: Much of the hike is very exposed, so be aware of the weather when attempting this peak.
Telescope Peak Trail Map & Elevation Profile
The trail to Telescope Peak begins next to the Mahogany Flat Campground (8,133 feet). It is open generally from March-November based on if snow is present. There are ten sites available on a first-come basis, each with a picnic table and fire pit. There is a common vault toilet as well. If all these spots are taken, the next closest campgrounds are the shaded Thorndike Campground (6 sites) two miles down-canyon and sunny Wildrose Campground (23 sites) 9 miles away at the mouth of the canyon. Those campsites are also free and also are on a first-come basis. Wildrose Campground does have water available is open year-round.