Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
7,109.00 ft (2,166.82 m)
Trail type
22.90 mi (36.85 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Surprise Canyon to Johnson Canyon is a 23-mile route that crosses over the Panamint Mountains from west to east. This is a strenuous backcountry route with steep ups and downs and some unmaintained sections. Those who are up for an adventure will find scenic vistas, historical sites, and lush canyons with flowing springs. To the west, views extend across Panamint Valley, and to the east, across Death Valley. It is recommended for experienced hikers who are comfortable navigating rugged terrain within a mountainous desert environment. It is also important to note that unless you are prepared to add additional miles, this route will require a shuttle or carpool to travel from one end to the other, and a high clearance vehicle may be required to reach the mouth of Johnson Canyon. 

The route begins by ascending Surprise Canyon up to Panamint City, a historical ghost town and popular hiking destination and campspot. After passing Panamint City, it heads up and over Panamint Pass and enters Johnson Canyon. Through Johnson Canyon, you descend from around 8,100 feet to -216 in Death Valley.

In Johnson Canyon, like Surprise Canyon, you'll find springs, perennial streams, and historical places, like Hungry Bill's Ranch, which was named after a Shoshone man who lived there with his family in the late 1800’s.

You will reach Johnson Canyon Road shortly after leaving the site of Hungry Bill's Ranch. You will follow Johnson Canyon Road all the way down to a junction with West Side Road at the mouth of the canyon.  


  • You may encounter some motor vehicles along Johnson Canyon Road.

  • If you plan to have someone pick you up at the base of Johnson Canyon, be sure they have a vehicle that can handle rugged backcountry roads.


NPS - Backpacking Death Valley

Ghost Towns of Death Valley

Death Valley Backcountry and Wilderness Access Map

Logistics + Planning



Parking Pass

National Park Pass

Open Year-round



Lush canyon. Historical sites. Expansive views.


Sections of unmainted trail may be tough to navigate.

Trailhead Elevation

1,734.00 ft (528.52 m)

Highest point

8,113.00 ft (2,472.84 m)


Historically significant
Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Geologically significant

Typically multi-day


Permit required




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