Plan to hike before or after midday in the spring, summer, or fall, unless you're in the mood for a masochistic baking. Carry plenty of water, wear protective clothing, and keep an eye out for black widows, scorpions, snakes, and other potentially dangerous creatures. Some of the best trails are unmarked; if the opportunity arises, ask for directions.
Darwin Falls. This lovely 2-mile round-trip hike rewards you with a refreshing waterfall surrounded by thick vegetation and a rocky gorge. No swimming or bathing is allowed, but it's a beautiful place for a picnic. Adventurous hikers can scramble higher toward more rewarding views of the falls. Easy. Access the 2-mile graded dirt road and parking area off Hwy. 190, 1 mile west of Panamint Springs Resort, Death Valley National Park, CA, 92328.
Natural Bridge Canyon. A 2-mile access road with potholes that could swallow basketballs leads to a parking lot. From there, set off to see interesting geological features in addition to the bridge, which is ¼ mile away. The one-way trail continues for a few hundred meters, but scenic returns diminish quickly and eventually you're confronted with climbing boulders. Easy. Access road off Badwater Rd., 15 miles south of Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park, CA, 92328.
Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. This trail, a ½-mile boardwalk circuit, loops through a spring-fed wash. The nearby hills are brown and gray, but the floor of the wash is alive with aquatic plants such as pickleweed and salt grass. The stream and ponds here are among the few places in the park to see the rare pupfish, the only native fish species in Death Valley. Animals such as bobcats, fox, coyotes, and snakes visit the spring, and you may also see ravens, common snipes, killdeer, and great blue herons. Easy. Off Hwy. 190, 14 miles north of Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park, CA, 92328.
Titus Canyon. The narrow floor of Titus Canyon is made of hard-packed gravel and dirt, and it's a constant, moderate uphill walk (3-mile roundtrip is the trail's most popular tack). Klare Spring and some petroglyphs are 5½ miles from the western mouth of the canyon, but you can get a feeling for the area on a shorter walk. Easy. Death Valley National Park, CA, 92328.
Fall Canyon. This is a 3-mile, one-way hike from the Titus canyon parking area. First, walk ½ miles north along the base of the mountains to a large wash, then go 2½ miles up the canyon to a 35-foot dry fall. You can continue by climbing around to the falls on the south side. Moderate. Access road off Scotty's Castle Rd., 33 miles northwest of Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park, CA, 92328.
Mosaic Canyon. A gradual uphill trail (4 miles round-trip) winds through the smoothly polished, marbleized limestone walls of this narrow canyon. There are dry falls to climb at the upper end. Moderate. Access road off Hwy. 190, ½ mile west of Stovepipe Wells Village, Death Valley National Park, CA, 92328.
Telescope Peak Trail. The 14-mile round-trip begins at Mahogany Flat Campground, which is accessible by a rough dirt road. The steep and at some points treacherous trail winds through pinyon, juniper, and bristlecone pines, with excellent views of Death Valley and Panamint Valley. Ice axes and crampons may be necessary in winter—check at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. It takes a minimum of six grueling hours to hike to the top of the 11,049-foot peak and then return. Getting to the peak is a strenuous endeavor; take plenty of water and only attempt it in fall unless you're an experienced hiker. Difficult. Off Wildrose Rd., south of Charcoal Kilns, Death Valley National Park, CA, 92328.