Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 36.21400°N / 116.706°W
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Elevation: 5503 ft / 1677 m
Sign the Climber's Log


Summit Ridge

Sometimes a little time-killer peak pleasantly turns out to be much more than that. Such could be said of Coffin Peak, a little desert gem close to popular Dantes View in the Black Mountains of California’s Death Valley National Park. The Black Mountains are one of three subranges (the other two being the Funeral Mountains and the Grapevine Mountains) that comprise the larger Amargosa Range.

A look at Coffin Peak on a topographic map suggests an easy hike of about a mile with just a few hundred feet of elevation gain. Depending on the route one takes, though, he or she may encounter four false summits before finally reaching the true one (the most direct route from the trailhead described on this page will go over three false summits). And if one is up for a little detour and the adventure it might bring, he or she can find some fun scrambling, and even a few technical moves, on one of the mountain’s ridges.

And although Coffin Peak from most angles looks (and is) gentle and unremarkable, the mountain has a splendidly rugged and colorful south face characterized by loose, uninvitingly steep slopes studded with rotten, dramatic hoodoos.

The true summit offers spectacular 360-degree views that include much of the Black Mountains, including the Dantes View area (you can see the crowds there while having no one else around you) and Funeral Peak (why some peak actually in the Funeral Mountains didn’t get this name is a mystery to me); the Death Valley salt pan; the highest peaks of the Panamint Range; the Funeral Range, including spectacular Pyramid Peak; and, far to the east, Charleston Peak, the alpine jewel of southern Nevada. Views to the south also take in deep, wild desert and canyon scenery that few people ever see.

Although the peak is a short distance from a paved road, it seems to see few visitors. The summit register, a notebook stuffed into two rusted tin cans, a smaller one inside a larger one, dates back at least to 1972. The writing on the first page was too faded for me to read it clearly, but the first date appeared to be 1968. The most recent signer before me had climbed the peak five days earlier. I wanted to peruse the pages for entries by SP members I would recognize, but it as too windy and the pages were too crumbly for me to do that.
Summit Ridge Outcrop 2

Route Options

The simplest route to the top, one that is nothing more than off-trail hiking, is to follow to ridgeline to east to Point 5410, angle for the saddle between the two summits to the east, head over the southern summit, and then climb another false summit before dropping to a saddle at the base of the true summit. Between that saddle and the last false summit, a trail appears, and it climbs all the way to the true summit, which is 150 vertical feet higher than the saddle. The one-way distance is 1.1 mi; the elevation gain from the start of the hike to the true summit is 333’, but the ups and downs associated with the false summits will add a bit, though not too much, to that.
Summit Ridge Outcrop 3
Summit Ridge Outcrop 1

For some extra adventure, though, follow the wash between Point 5260 (to your right) and Point 5410 (left). When the wash begins to become deeper and steeper, cross it and hike south beneath the ridgeline to your left (this ridge runs south from Point 5410). You will notice a series of outcrops and short cliff bands that offer climbers sporting ways to reach the ridgeline. Head up one of these outcrops or cliff bands (some offer short technical pitches) or until the rocks run out, at which point you can enjoy a Class 3/4 scramble (and great views of trackless lands to the south and of the dramatic southern face of Coffin Peak) for a couple hundred feet, and then hike up the steep slope to Point 5410. Now follow the route described in the preceding paragraph.

The alternative route means 1.6 mi to the summit, with 500-600’ of elevation gain.

Do this one in fall, winter, or spring. Daytime high temperatures in the summer will range from 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit on average. It will likely be windy, but the hot desert winds of summer bring no relief. Even nighttime in the lower elevations is unpleasant in summer; the average lows are in the mid- to upper 80s.

Views from South Ridge Scramble (on Point 5410)

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Summit Views

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Getting There, Red Tape, Camping and Lodging, Links

False Summits of Coffin PeakViews from the parking area...
Point 5260

From CA 190 east of the Furnace Creek area, take the well-marked spur to Dantes View, which climbs for 13 miles to the viewpoint and the start of the hike. Before the road ends, there is a pullout where buses must park (there are restrooms here, too). This is where to park and where to begin the hike.

There is an entrance fee of $20 for Death Valley National Park. There is a self-pay kiosk just south of the Dantes View turnoff. You can also pay at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. Because there are no entrance stations in Death Valley, it is easy to cheat on paying the fees. Remember, though, that your fees help support your parks.

There are no campgrounds along the access road, but you can sleep in the car or camp at least one fourth of a mile from the road. The nearest developed campgrounds are Furnace Creek, Sunset, and Texas Spring, all in the Furnace Creek area, about 11 miles from the Dantes View turnoff. Sites at Furnace Creek Campground can be reserved during the winter months.

Xanterra operates lodging facilities at Furnace Creek Ranch and Furnace Creek Inn. Rates are pricey, especially at the latter, but a stay at either facility often beats camping in the area, where nighttime temperatures are frequently uncomfortably warm.

Death Valley NPS site

Route Topo

Topo map for My AscentBy Matt Horbal