Wildrose Peak resides on the northern end of a group of peaks that form the top of the Panamint Mountain Range, which runs down the west side of Death Valley National Park. The 9,064-foot peak is about seven miles north of Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park at 11,049 feet. Wildrose sports an expansive view of the Panamint Mountains, Badwater Basin, and the surrounding desert landscape. The sweeping summit looks as far west as Mount Whitney and the High Sierra. A scenic 8.4-mile round trip trail to the summit provides an arduous but enjoyable hike. This is a perfect outing in the late spring and summer when temperatures down the valley crest 100 degrees.
The trail begins at the Charcoal Kilns at an elevation of 6,800 feet. Step inside one of these well-preserved structures, which converted lumber to charcoal for nearby silver miners at the end of the 19th century. When you are ready to go, find the trailhead to the north of the first kiln. From here it is 2,200 vertical feet to the summit, but you won’t have to wait that long for good views. Those come ¼ mile from the start, at an outcropping that looks out over Wildrose Canyon and the road you just drove up from Wildrose Campground.
The single-track continues north across the rock ledge, ascending quite gradually. The southern side of Wildrose Peak appears as the trail curves to the right, heading east with the contours of the mountain through a forest of Pinyon pines.
Suddenly the trail decides to stop being so gentle and gradual, and starts aggressively climbing toward a low point in the ridgeline, 1.9 miles from the start. Crest the ridge and reap the benefit of the effort, an outstanding view east over the other side of the mountain into the depths of Death Valley. The salt flats below almost resemble fields of snow, like those found on the Wildrose Peak Trail in the winter months.
The trail turns to the left heading north toward Wildrose. Instead of continuing up the west side of the ridge, the trail takes a slightly roundabout (and possibly more scenic) course. You actually lose a bit of elevation hiking along the eastern side of the ridge before ascending switchbacks up a rise in the ridge. Enjoy the view of Rogers Peak to the south as the trail straightens out and arrives at a saddle below the peak. From here, the summit is 1.1 miles and 900 feet away. Get ready to climb.
The relentless switchbacks are rewarded by ever-improving views. After 0.95 miles, the slope you have been climbing reveals itself to be a false summit that is 50 feet shorter than the actual high point. This would be disappointing if the last 0.15 miles to the actual summit weren’t so pleasant. Take the easy stroll north across the ridge to the true top of Wildrose Peak.
Panoramic is one word to describe the views from this bald summit. Epic might be another. To the south are higher peaks in the Panamint Range — Rogers, Bennet, and Telescope. To the east are the long-stretching salt flats of Death Valley. To the north are the lower Panamint Mountains with their abandoned mining remnants. And to the west is a dramatic line of snowcapped mountains, the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The way down is the way you came, so take a well-earned break atop Wildrose Peak before returning to the kilns. There are no junctions to worry about on Wildrose Peak Trail.
To get to the trailhead: From Stovepipe Wells, head west on Route 190 for 9 miles. Turn left (south) just past Emigrant Campground on to Emigrant Canyon Road. Drive 21 miles to Wildrose Campground, and continue another 7 miles to the parking area at the Charcoal Kilns. The last 4.5 miles are unpaved graded gravel (which may close in winter).
Trailhead address: Emigrant Canyon Road, Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA 92328
Trailhead coordinates: 36.246696, -117.076303 (36° 14′ 48.10″N 117° 04′ 34.69″W)
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