Smith Mountain is located in Death Valley National Park near the southeastern end of Death Valley. The summit is normally approached out of remote Gold Valley (see road conditions below) and though the outing is short and easy, the drive is enjoyable with the proper vehicle and offers a good way to escape the crowds at the park’s more well-known locations.
The mountain is the second most prominent in the Black Mountains, and is located on the west side of the range looking over Death Valley. The views of the park from the slightly lower western summit are outstanding, including a precipitous drop of over 6000 feet in less than three miles to the valley floor (over 200 feet below sea level). The view includes the salt flats in Death Valley, Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range to the northwest, and nearby Funeral Peak across Gold Valley to the northeast.
The trip only takes half a day, and if your schedule allows it is best visited in the morning when the day is cool and the lighting good for Death Valley lying a short distance west. Nearby activities that can be combined with a day on Smith Mountain include a visit to Dantes View
, a hike up the South Ridge
of Funeral Peak
, or a drive on backcountry roads to some of the numerous mining remains in the area.
Telescope Peak and Death Valley from Smith Mountain
Smith Mountain Route Map
The easiest route up Smith Mountain is the east or north sides from Gold Valley in Death Valley National Park. The summit can also be reached from Badwater Road in Death Valley, the latter option starting below sea level and requiring an additional 3900 feet elevation gain and 2 miles roundtrip.
(36.02664° N, 116.64463° W)
Greenwater Valley Road is passable by most any vehicle, but the remaining drive is best undertaken with a high clearance one. The driving is not difficult at all, but there are a couple of eroded areas where the road passes through washes and high clearance is helpful. Very short portions are steep and sandy, and four wheel drive is recommended though perhaps not required for some drivers. This said I have seen two wheel drive, low clearance vehicles on roads far worse than this one, and I am sure a determined driver with little concern for their mode of transport could make it happen here. Much of the road is actually quite good, and can be driven at 20+ miles per hour with the right vehicle. Though four wheel drive is recommended, I would not hesitate to attempt it without it, just be properly cautious (MoapaPk
reports successfully navagating the 2wd route with a Saab Outback... see his summit log entry
To reach Greenwater Valley Road (also called Furnace Creek Road) from Highway 178 turn north 5.8 miles east of Highway 127 near Shoshone or 5.0 miles west of Salsberry Pass. If driving from the north, turn south from Highway 190 towards Dantes View approximately 11 miles east of Furnace Creek. After 7.5 miles on the road to Dantes View, turn left to Greenwater Valley Road (signed for Shoshone).
From Greenwater Valley Road turn west onto unmarked Lost Section Road. This turnoff is 17.6 miles south of the northern end of Greenwater Valley Road (where you turn off the road to Dantes View) or 10.6 miles north of Highway 178. Keep track of your mileage or use a GPS, otherwise the correct turnoff may not be obvious.
Follow Lost Section Road for 2.5 miles to an intersection and turn left. The next 5.5 miles passes through a drainage area, and if four wheel drive or high clearance is necessary this is where you will use them. After 5.5 miles (8.0 miles from Greenwater Valley) turn left if you have four wheel drive. Continue 1 mile to a T intersection, turn right, and pull over after another mile when you reach hill 3965 to your right.
If lacking four wheel drive, bear right at the aforementioned intersection 8.0 miles from Greenwater Valley Road and enter Gold Valley on the better road. In 3.0 miles take a sharp left off the main road and drive 1.5 miles to hill 3965 on your left.
Funeral Peak across Gold Valley
Trip statistics from Gold Valley:
2.7 miles one-way, 2200 feet elevation gain out plus another 100 feet on the return
The route up Smith Mountain is extremely straightforward, you can ascend just about anywhere on the north or east slopes on cross-country class 1-2 terrain (note that the actual summit is not in view until near the end the route). The standard route heads east across the desert for one mile to the obvious canyon indicated on the route map. Neither the desert nor canyon is extremely brushy, so simply continue up the base of the canyon keeping to the main drainage as it forks. Bear left at the final fork if uncertain about the main drainage, and climb towards flatter ground near the summit.
Climb to the saddle on the south side of the summit plateau and up the east slope of the final hill to the summit. While the highpoint is the east summit, the better views, benchmark, and register are all located on the slightly lower western summit. The western summit is about 10 feet lower, involving a drop of only 70 feet or so and a five minute walk from the true highpoint.
The Black Mountains
Smith Mountain is in Death Valley National Park and an entrance fee is required. Please see the Death Valley Fee Page
for full details. Note that the fee stations are at the entrances to the main valley, so if you approach Gold Valley from the south or east no fees are collected.
Wilderness permits are not required but backpackers may obtain them for free at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center or Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station.
Campfires are prohibited in Death Valley outside developed campgrounds.
Death Valley National Park
P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, California 92328
Current ConditionsCurrent NOAA / National Weather Service Forecast
When to Climb
This is the California desert and consequently trips to Smith Mountain are best done in the cooler months of fall, winter, and spring.
Dispersed Camping in Death Valley National Park
One of highlights of Death Valley National park is dispersed camping. Roadside camping is permitted in Gold Valley and most other locations at least two miles from the nearest paved road. Exceptions include some high use areas and portions of the Death Valley floor, for complete details see the Death Valley Backcountry Camping Page
. There are plenty of options within Gold Valley including nearby Willow Spring.
There are also numerous locations for established campgrounds throughout the park. Three campgrounds in Furnace Creek (Furnace Creek, Texas Spring, and Sunset) are the closest options. More details are on the Death Valley Campgrounds Page
“Named by the Merriam expedition in 1891 for Francis M. (‘Borax’) Smith (1846-1931), president of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, ‘who aided the expedition in Death Valley in every possible way’ (Palmer).” – Erwin Gudde, William Bright, California Place Names (2004)
Death Valley and the Black Mountains