Twenty Mule Team

5 Star Route / Published November 2021

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

If you are looking for a tourist route, you found it. Twenty Mule Team Canyon is iconic Death Valley, with views so awesome you’ll be stopping frequently to snap photos. Toss in Zabriskie Point, which is a super short hike to a look point, and you’ve got a fun, short excursion.

As you wind through the Twenty Mule Team Canyon it’s hard to imagine the complexity of hauling borax out of the area with such a massive wagon team. But from 1883-1889 they hauled their loads 163 miles down primitive roads, from the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek to the railhead near Mojave.  The trip took an unthinkable ten days.

Adventure / Gravel Route

Lollipop: 7 miles / 700 ft gain
Technical Difficulty: Easier
– Surface: ~ 40% gravel, 60% paved
– Tire Size: 40mm
eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: Death Valley National Park, CA

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.

When we like to ride this …

October to April, when the temperatures are reasonable.

The Start

Zabriskie Point parking area. Pit toilets. No water.
Lat / Long: 36.420912, -116.809878


Terrain and Riding. What to expect …

A highly scenic and unique gravel ride. Short in distance, accessible to most riders. The climbing is very moderate, usually less than 4% grade with the exception of two short bumps, they pitch up to over 10%, but can be walked.

The ride starts and finishes with a short segment along Highway 190. There is a good shoulder.

The gravel sector winds through colorful, eroded badlands, slightly uphill. Afternoon and morning light cause the erosion in the hills to become highlighted and shadowed, creating spectacular contrast and ample photo opportunities. 

Highlights & Anchor Points

Zabriskie Point / At Start

The spectacular views from Zabriskie Point are some of the most photographed in Death Valley National Park. Named in honor of Christian Zabriskie, a prominent figure in the heyday of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, Zabriskie Point affords an elevated vista from which to marvel at the badlands below. These yellow and brown striped hills have been shaped by the powerful force of water, and even during dry times, the path carved by this water is unmistakable. Gazing beyond the badlands, views of the salt flats covering the floor of Death Valley are visible in the distance, with the hulk of the Panamint Mountains towering above. [National Park Service]

From Zabriskie Point
Twenty Mule Team Canyon / Miles 1 to 4

These badlands have been the setting for scenes from popular films including Star Wars Episode VI. Scenes from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, were filmed here. Do you recognize the landscape around Jabba the Hutt’s palace? [National Park Service]

Twenty Mule Team Canyon
Twenty Mule Team History

For many people, nothing symbolizes Death Valley more than the famous Twenty Mule Teams. These “big teams” pulled massive wagons hauling borax from the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek to the railhead near Mojave, a grueling 165 mile, ten-day trip across primitive roads. Although the teams only ran for six years–1883 to 1889–they have made an enduring impression of the Old West. This is primarily due to a successful advertising campaign promoting 20-Mule-Team Borax Soap and the long-running Death Valley Days radio and television program. Today the twenty mule teams are only a fond memory, but you may see two of the last remaining wagons here in Death Valley. One is in front of the Furnace Creek Ranch and the other is at Harmony Borax Works. [Read more from the National Park Service]

Technical Difficulty[what this means]

Roads: Low
The gravel road is hard-packed and well maintained by the Park Service. On this segment, there are two short, steeper pitches, in excess of 10%. They are less than 200 feet in distance and can be walked.

Navigation Challenge: Low
Two turns, both signed.

Locale Risk: Low
Slightly removed from one of the main highways into the park. Expect some traffic along the gravel sector.

Food & Water

None

Other Notes

  • We rode this on a Salsa Cutthroat adventure bike with Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge 2.2″ tires. We were over biked.
  • This is one of the more frequented dirt roads in death valley, expect light vehicle traffic.
  • We recommend a red blinky light for both the paved and gravel riding.
  • The gravel sector is one way.

Comments

Revision History

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The Ride!


Podcasts

Coming soon …

  • The story of Twenty Mule Teams

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