Titus Canyon

5 Star Route

This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.

Take a peek at the video on our route guide (in the right-hand panel) and you will be scheming to ride Titus Canyon (follow the link for a geat description written by the National Park Service). It’s one of the deepest, narrow canyons we have ridden through, you simply can’t believe the rock formations and how the road slices through the Grapevine Mountains. A ghost town and petroglyphs also add to the fun.  

And who is Titus? “The canyon is named for Morris Titus, who, in 1906, left the Nevada boom town of Rhyolite, near the California border (now a historic ghost town), with a prospecting party. While the prospectors were camped in the canyon, water supplies dwindled. Titus left in search of water and help, but was never seen again.” [The Los Angeles Times]

But a word of warning:  it’s one tough ride and it’s the most popular jeep road in Death Valley.  (Hey, those Jeepers will be your new best friends if you run out of water!)  

We promise that even gravel purists won’t complain about the miles on pavement (a nice break from the rugged miles through the canyon). But check the route details and you’ll find a shuttle company that can make the ride a whole lot easier.  Or maybe one of those nice Jeepers could haul you to the start of the gravel.

Adventure / Gravel Route

Loop: 61 miles / 6700 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 45% gravel, 55% paved
– Tire Size: 55mm / 2.2″ or larger
eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: Death Valley National Park, CA
– Published: November 2021

Terrain & Technical Difficulty[what this means]

Overall: Moderate+

Riding: Moderate+
Sustained climbing at 6 to 8% on the initial paved sector. The gravel sector climbing is mostly moderate at 4 to 6% with one sector of 1-mile at 9%. On the descent, there are spots of chuck and loose rock (i.e. baby heads). Also, depending on the last maintenance done, the canyon sector could be sandy and soft. The most significant risk is not having enough water along on the ride. We recommend a 55 mm (2.1″) tire or larger.

Navigation Challenge: Low
There are several turns, all signed.

Locale Risk: Moderate
National Park backcountry. We saw ~ 10 vehicles on the gravel sector. The paved sectors have light traffic.

When we like to ride this …

October to April, when the temperatures are reasonable. Note, the route starts at 200 feet (almost sea level) and climbs to 5200 feet. We recommend an early start, an hour or so after sunrise, to take advantage of the cool temps. The last hour will be in the heat of the day and in the heat of the valley. Save some water for the finishing paved miles.

The Start

At the parking pullout near Scotty’s Castle Road and Daylight Pass Road. Pit toilets. No water.
Lat / Long: 36.648504, -117.042952

Legend

Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road

For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.


Ride Details

What to expect. Rugged desert terrain. Significant climbing. A five-mile sector of canyon riding that is unbelievably beautiful. A stop at a mining ghost town and some petroglyphs.

Daylight Pass Climb and Descent / Miles 0 to 20 / Paved

This is a ride where adjusting tire pressures will be critical to your enjoyment. For this first sector, we recommend that your tires have that hard, stiff road-like feel. For us, on 2.1″ tires, we aired up to 30+ psi, front and rear.

As you leave the parking lot, the climbing kicks in immediately. Be prepared, it is 13 miles with 4100 feet of gain (average gradient of 5.9%) to Daylight Pass. The climbing is continuous and at a very steady gradient.

The climb starts up through a paved wash with distant views of the Grapevine mountains. As you move higher into the climb you are riding up and through the mountains, finally to Daylight Pass.

Most of the Grapevine Mountain chain is in Death Valley National Park. The mountain range is about 22 miles (35 km) long and lies in a northwest-southeasterly direction along the Nevada-California state line. The range reaches an elevation of 8,738 feet (2,663 m) at Grapevine Peak. Daylight Pass is at the southern end of the range. [Wikipedia]

From the pass, you have a gradual descent of 7 miles dropping 900 feet into the open, barren Amargosa Desert.

The Amargosa Desert is an arid desert habitat between the northern Great Basin and southern Mojave Desert ecosystems. The seasonal Amargosa River course runs through the desert. The first community in the Amargosa Desert was founded circa 1905 as the result of extensive borax mining in the area. In 1907, two railroads started to service the borax, gold, silver, lead and other important mineral mining and processing operations in the surrounding region. As mining yields and economics changed, the railroads became less viable. The Las Vegas and Tonopah line was abandoned in 1918, and the T and T was shut down on June 14, 1940. [Wikipedia]

For us, miles 15 to 25 were the mental crux of the ride, 10 miles of mostly flat, barren landscape, with the mountains way off in the distance.

Titus Canyon Road / Miles 20 to 46 / Gravel

As you turn onto the gravel at mile 20, we recommend dropping air pressure. For us, that was about 15 psi front and 18 psi back.

This is an entirely one-way road with the exception of the first 3 miles, when you come to the Nevada California border, the beginning of Death Valley National Park. It is marked by a sign and a cattle guard.

Initially, the riding is classic Death Valley dirt road: single lane, some larger chunk, some smaller gravel, most of it’s rounded, some loose sand. You can typically find a good line by looking to the outside edge or center.

Go low with the air!

At ~ mile 4 the road transitions into the hills and begins to climb more, 5% gradient. At mile 29.5 you summit a ridge, descend 500 feet and begin a second, more demanding climb. It is not that long, but it’s consistently 8 to 10%. And the road is also more beaten up, as cars claw their way up the grade. The summit is Red Pass. It is all downhill from here, 5500 feet.

From the high point down to the mining town of Leadfield is the roughest and most technical section, the road is rocky and steep. Once you enter Titus canyon, it is much more forgiving and the gradient is much less. So it’s quite fast riding.

At about mile 35.5 is the ghost town of Leadfield, a mining boomtown founded on wild and distorted advertising. It was a scam! If you have the time, walk out to the old relics.

Just Leadfield, you enter the canyon proper, a wash that has been graded out to be a road. It is absolutely stunning. But depending on the last time the road was maintained and the rains, it could be a working downhill.

Partway through the canyon, the wash widens and there is a set of petroglyphs.

The last three miles of gravel, from exiting the canyon to the paved, is rugged and tiresome. It’s a two-lane road. It’s soft. It’s chunky. It’s got some washboards. At this point, you feel the fatigue of the day.

It took us approximately three hours (ride time) to do the entire gravel sector.

Scotty’s Catle Road / Miles 46 to 61 / Paved

The last miles are on the paved flats of the valley floor. Remember, this will be in the heat of the day.

At ~ mile 53, there is a pull-out. Here rock, sand, and other debris washed from the mouth of the canyon formed a broad apron of rock, called an alluvial fan. The apron or rock at this kiosk is worth the stop, just to take in the enormity of it.

That black ribbon is your road!

A bit further along, if you look to the right, you can see the highway from Stovepipe Wells climbing up and over the Panamint Mountains, it is quite impressive.

To finish out your ride, at ~ mile 56 on your left-hand side there are some impressive colored dunes / sculptured rock. Satellite photography shows these holding back the rock and sand from the alluvial fans.

Sculpted Rock
Food & Water

None. Go prepared! In mid-November, we consumed 70 ounces carried in a Camelback and two additional water bottles.

Ride Notes
  • Death Valley is classic Southwest desert riding with more of a jeep road feel than a classic gravel road; it can vary from hard-pack with embedded rock to loose and course to soft wash sand and washboard. The surfaces are ever changing based on based on maintenance, rains, and time of year. Thus, error on the side of too much tire, rather than not enough. We recommend 50mm / 2.1” tires or larger and an adventure gravel bike versus a more traditional all road gravel bike. Larger, softer tires will handle the wash best. We rode this on a Salsa Cutthroat adventure bike with Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge 2.2″ tires.
  • For the most current road condtions in the canyon give a call to the National Park Service. Highly recommended!
  • This is one of the more frequented dirt roads in death valley expect light vehicle traffic.
  • We recommend a red blinky light for the paved sectors.
  • Check the weather before you go. The paved sectors can get windy! This ride is exposed to both wind and sun.
  • The gravel sector is one way. And this is the only way you want to ride the route due to (possibly) some really soft sand and wash.
Ride Options

An option is to shuttle the route, avoiding the long opening climb. Farabee’s Jeep rentals provides shuttle service. The start location is then at the park border along the beginning of Titus Canyon Road, just before the cattle grate and park sign. (39 miles, 2500 feet of gain, 6000 feet of loss)
Parking Lat / Long: 36.855150, -116.878227

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Revision History

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The Ride!


Podcasts

The Story of Leadfield & the Titus Canyon Road

Here how the Titus Canyon Road came to be and the boom/bust of the mining town of Leadfield. (30 min)

Coming soon …

  • The story of the Desert Tortoise.
  • The story of the petroglyphs.

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