The northern end of 135 mile long Death Valley is dominated by one mountain more than any other. The peak towers high over visitors to Death Valley National Park who drive the popular road from Stovepipe Wells to Scotty’s Castle, rising 7500 feet in just 7 miles on its eastern side. The summit marks the highest point in the Cottonwood Mountains forming the western boundary of Mesquite Flat, and it also ranks as the second most prominent location within the larger Panamint Range
with 4,013 feet of mean prominence (and the second most prominent in the national park). A trip to the top is short and steep, and it is well rewarded with excellent views up and down the valley, west to the Last Chance and Saline Ranges, and ever further west to the Inyo Mountains and the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
Though the route is steep, Tin Mountain is nontechnical (class 2) and routefinding is generally easy. In fact, throughout most of the route you can see your vehicle as it sits on Racetrack Road far below you. While the exercise and views make the hike worthwhile in itself, additional highlights in the immediate area surround you. Worthwhile short to half-day trips include Ubehebe Crater
, Ubehebe Peak
, The Racetrack
, Scotty’s Castle
, Ubehebe Lead Mine north of The Racetrack, and the Lost Burro Mine in Hidden Valley.
Tin Mountain from Racetrack Road
Route Map Teakettle Junction
Though Tin Mountain could be climbed from Scotty's Castle Road in Death Valley, this approach is much longer and the peak is almost always reached from Racetrack Road. Racetrack Road is unpaved but well graded (though often washboarded) and as of early 2011 it was not at all challenging for even low clearance vehicles (despite NPS warning signs specifying high-clearance requirements).
(36.87212° N, 117.49915° W)
From Highway 190 in Death Valley head north on Scotty's Castle Road from just east of Stovepipe Wells. After 33 miles turn left at the signed junction to Ubehebe Crater bearing left again after 2.8 additional miles (this is where the drive from Big Pine/Eureka Valley joins). Continue west and then south following signs to The Racetrack. Follow Racetrack Road for 10.8 miles from the Ubehebe Crater loop to a point wide enough to park on the road, making sure you are fully on the roadbed.
Alternatively Racetrack Road can be reached from the south via Hunter Mountain/Hidden Valley Road. High clearance is needed for this route and four wheel drive is advisable over the Hunter Mountain area if there is any chance of wet or inclement weather, and it may be impassable for periods during the winter months (highest elevation is 7140 feet). There are excellent mining remains and dispersed camping opportunities throughout the drive and it is very highly recommended if you have the right vehicle.
To reach the trailhead via Hunter Mountain Road, head north on Saline Valley Road from Highway 190 east of the Darwin turnoff. After 15.7 miles bear right onto Hunter Mountain Road above Grapevine Canyon. Follow the main road towards Hidden Valley, keeping right at a fork seven miles from Saline Valley Road. There are several side routes to mines along the way, the highlight being the Lost Burro Mine in Hidden Valley, 21.5 miles from Saline Valley Road. The roads ends at Teakettle Junction on Racetrack Road 3.2 miles later. Follow Racetrack Road north for 8.7 miles to the trailhead area.
The West Ridge of Tin Mountain
Trip statistics from Racetrack Road:
Class 2, 3.1 miles one-way, 4100 feet elevation gain out with negligible gain on the return
To begin hike over easy desert terrain from the parking area to the base of a ridge to the northeast. There are two major washes in the immediate area, one wide and less than 30 feet deep (when near the base of the mountain) oriented primarily east/west and another slightly deeper but narrower wash to the north that takes off in a northwest direction. Depending on your parking location, you should cross through the first wash and meet the ridge near the second one at the base of the mountain (the ridge lies in between, with some red colored rock on each side and a much steeper gully leading to the wash on the north side). Though it may be difficult at first to make out the ridge from a distance, the washes should make this very easy as you approach.
As you climb the ridge it heads northeast, with a good use trail visible much of the way. The rock is somewhat loose (if you were climbing), but fairly solid to walk on throughout if you keep near the top of the ridge. At 6600 feet the ridge turns southeast and at 7400 feet it approaches the steepest portion of the climb. The ridge reaches an excellent viewpoint above a level area at 8200 feet from which it is still possible to make out your vehicle 3300 feet below. Continue up the much more gradual slope, soon contouring right and into a sandy wash before gaining the summit ahead to the northeast.
Tin 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, and if you approach Racetrack Road from Hunter Mountain/Hidden Valley 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 Tin Mountain are best done in the cooler months of fall, winter, and spring. In the winter months some snow can easily be present at the higher elevations, but generally will not be an obstacle unless attempting to drive in from the Hunter Mountain/Hidden Valley direction. Snow and ice can make the drive over Hunter Mountain (elevation 7140 feet) impassable during portions of the winter months.
The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park
One of highlights of Death Valley National park is dispersed camping. Roadside camping is permitted at the trailhead vicinity on Racetrack Road and most other locations at least two miles from the nearest paved road (be sure not to pull off the road in this area). Exceptions include some high use areas and portions of the Death Valley floor and Racetrack Road from Teakettle Junction south to Homestake Dry Camp near The Racetrack, for complete details see the Death Valley Backcountry Camping Page
. Be sure to bring enough water for the duration of your stay if dispersed camping.
There are also numerous locations for established campgrounds throughout the park. Mesquite Spring near Scotty's Castle (full amenities) and Homestake Dry Camp south of The Racetrack (very primitive, bring water) are the closest options. More details are on the Death Valley Campgrounds Page
“Although tin ore has been found in varying amounts in several localities in the state, the name has been applied sparingly. Tin Mine Canyon and Creek are found in Riverside Co., and Tin Mountain in Death Valley NP.” – Erwin Gudde, William Bright, California Place Names (2004)
Death Valley from the Summit of Tin Mountain
Noondueler - Nov 11, 2011 11:39 am - Voted 10/10a small correction
Though(t) the route is steep, Another superb page Chad.
mrchad9 - Nov 11, 2011 12:49 pm - Hasn't votedRe: a small correction
Diggity done. Thanks for reading it Noondueler!