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Telescope Peak
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park
telescope peak
Pinyon pine forest near the trailhead (view south)

Overview

This is a strenuous, 6.25-mile hike that runs from the trailhead into the Death Valley Wilderness Area and up to the summit, the highest point in Death Valley National Park at 11,049 ft. The trail starts at Mahogany Flat Campground, runs out and around Rogers Peak while climbing steeply for about 2 miles to a saddle, follows a ridge for about 1.4 miles on gentle grades, then climbs steep ridges and a series of switchbacks for about 2.9 miles to the summit. The views from the summit and many points along the ridge are spectacular (Death Valley and mountains in Nevada to the east; Panamint Valley and the High Sierras to the west).

Link to map or elevation profile.

telescope peak
SE flank of Rogers Peak (view E towards salt flats)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a steep and narrow, but pretty safe trail when it is clear of snow. Stay off the ridges and the summit if lightning threatens. Because of the way snow accumulates on the ridges, winter ascents might require ice axes, crampons, ropes, and mountaineering experience. Beware of altitude sickness, as the peak is some 11,300 feet higher than the surrounding valleys.

There is no water at the campground, trailhead, or on the trail. Get water at Wildrose Campground.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and please try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this hike is long, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. This hike runs up into the Death Valley Wilderness Area, so pay particular attention to respecting the land.

telescope peak
Arcane Meadows (view W to trees with campsites.

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Death Valley National Park, about 4 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Death Valley, then continue on westbound Highway 190, past Stovepipe Wells to Emigrant Canyon Road. Turn left onto Emigrant Canyon Road and drive up into the mountains, eventually arriving at the Telescope Peak Trailhead. Park here; this is the trailhead.

The last 0.7 miles to Mahogany Flat Campground might require a 4WD vehicle or a hike.

telescope peak
Telescope Peak (view S from Bennett Peak.

The Hike

From the trailhead parking area (Table 2, Waypoint 1), walk south and uphill past a small trail sign, which is behind a larger sign with information on the local ecology. Don't walk down and across the slope on a use-trail and don't walk past the gate on the Rogers Peak Road. About 5 minutes out (0.24 miles), you will encounter a trail register in the middle of the trail.

The trail runs around the east and south sides of Rogers Peak as it climbs at a consistently steep angle to Arcane Meadow at the top of the ridge (Wpt 2). Initially, the trail runs through a pinyon pine (1 pine needle per bundle) woodland with lots of shade, but that soon gives way to steep sunny slopes with scattered pinyon and low-growing sagebrush. Along this section, there is some shade along the trail. From the outset, there are great views down into Death Valley.

telescope peak
Summit ridge at about 10,200 feet (view south)

At Arcane Meadows, the broad saddle between Rogers and Bennett peaks, the trail levels out, more or less, as it runs south and contours around the west side of Bennett Peak (Wpt. 3). From this side, you can look down into Panamint Valley and out to the Mt. Whitney region in the High Sierras. Along the side of Bennett Peak, you first encounter limber pine (5 needles per bundle; needles stand out from branch), a high-elevation pine species, and there still is lots of low-growing sage, buckwheat, and lupine. There is little shade along this section of trail.

telescope peak
The route follows the ridge (view north towards Bennett, Rogers, and Wildrose peaks (view north)

The trail returns to the barren and windswept ridgeline at the saddle between Bennett and Telescope peaks (Wpt 4), crosses over onto the east side of the ridge, and begins climbing towards Telescope Peak at a moderate grade. At about 10,000 feet, you begin to leave the limber pine and start to encounter gnarled, old bristlecone pines (Wpt 5) (needles: 5 per bundle; heavy and dark green; lay against branch), another high-elevation species of pine that includes the oldest living organisms on earth. After about 10,000 feet (4.9 miles out), the trail steepens, becomes rocky and uneven, runs up a steep narrow ridge, and switchbacks up the very steep northeast face of the summit. The trail hits the crest of the ridge near a knob on the north end of the summit, then makes a spectacular (but entirely safe) traverse along the crest to the true summit (Wpt 6).

telescope peak
Telescope Peak (view south along summit ridge)

Vegetation on the summit is much like the rest of the route, with a few, gnarly old bristlecone, a few low-growing sagebrush, a cheesebush-like shrub, lupine, and a few wild currents, but mostly it is bare rock.

Along the route, watch for Panamint Chipmunks, Sagebrush Lizards, Rock Wrens, Clark's Nutcrackers, and Red Crossbills.

Return to the trailhead by following the trail back down, or return via Bennett and Rogers peaks.

telescope peak
Summit (view E to Badwater, 11,300 feet below)

For backpackers, there are a number of places to camp along the trail, although there are few good places to pitch a tent. Several of the campsites are stockade-type sites with log-and-rock windbreaks. The first good site is in a stand of pinyon pine due west of where the trail crests out in Arcane Meadows (Wpt. 7); the last is on the summit (Wpt 6). Perhaps the two best campsites are on the ridge south of Arcane Meadows (a bench near a white outcrop on north side Bennett Peak; Wpt. 8), and on the northern summit knob of Telescope Peak (Wpt. 9).

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance Cumulative Distance Verified
01 Mahogany Flat Trailhead 493943 4009256 8,133 0.00 0.00 GPS
02 Arcane Meadow at the crest of the ridge 492077 4007488 9,571 2.14 2.14 GPS
03 West side of Bennett Peak 491398 4006666 9,600 0.70 2.84 GPS
04 Saddle between Bennett and Telescope peaks 491973 4005781 9,510 0.67 3.51 GPS
05 Bristlecone pines 492462 4003780 9,968 1.40 4.91 GPS
06 Summit 492061 4002590 11,049 1.19 6.10 GPS
. . . . . . . .
07 Campsite west of Arcane Meadows crest 491985 4007609 9,653 . . GPS
08 Campsite south of Arcane Meadows crest 491850 4007051 9,791 . . GPS
09 Campsite on northern summit knob of Telescope Peak 492069 4002950 11,000 . . GPS

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
Thanks for coming to visit!
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 120423

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