The Titus Canyon Grand Loop by Mountain Bike is a huge 65.6-mile loop beginning and ending in Death Valley, California at a rest area just North of the intersection of Highway 394 (Daylight Pass Road) and Scotty’s Castle Road. There is no 2-car assist here. No car parked on each end of Titus Canyon. No one-way trip down Titus Canyon. Instead, the entire loop both up and down is made by mountain bike.
Total elevation gain for this adventure is around 7000ft.
Titus Canyon itself is perhaps the most famous spectacular wild, scenic canyon in Death Valley. Traveling through Titus Canyon by mountain bike gives the opportunity to catch rare photography and 360-degree videos at various points in the canyon. Being on a mountain bike gives a dust-free larger perspective of Titus Canyon as opposed to traveling enclosed in the cabin of a motor vehicle. And it’s easier to stop and catch the perfect photo or video. For more on the overall strategy of Titus Canyon Grand Loop by Mountain Bike below.
Time of Year: I recommend a warmer day in January. For example, on January 15th the night temperature is expected to be around 46 degrees. During this time I’ll be generating body heat while ascending 4,000ft on Daylight Pass Road. The highest day temperature is predicted to be 70 degrees. ((Actual: Through the night and early in the morning as I ascended up into the mountains temperatures dropped into the 30s. The starting temperature in Death Valley and the temperature in the mountains after about 10 or 11am was comfortable, even a little warm. Wear layers and dress accordingly.))
Mountain Bike: My mountain bike is a very inexpensive Schwinn hybrid mountain and road bike. The tires are not as wide as I’d like, which will slow me down a bit on the unpaved roads of the Titus Canyon Grand Loop. Hey, I’m a trail runner, not a mountain biker. I’ll run the bike through any deep gravel stretches. My level of conditioning is such that I’m good for running/walking up to 20 miles or more of this adventure, but hope that is not necessary. ((Actual: I ended up walking all the steep elevation gains on Daylight Pass and on Titus Canyon Road. The bike performed well on the Titus Canyon downhill, but I took the descent very slowly and carefully. I had problems with the very deep gravel near the lower opening of Titus Canyon (could have used much wider tires, but still, the loose gravel was up to 6 inches deep!). On the 3-mile road between the lower opening of Titus Canyon and Scotty’s Castle Road I picked up speed only to wipe out on the deeper grave and sustain some minor injuries just in time for the final 15-mile stretch on Scotty’s Castle Road!))
Tires and Tubes: Extra thick, with tube protectors to resist puncture. Still, I’ll carry a tire repair kit and a spare tube. ((Actual: The tires performed perfectly. No problem here. I highly recommend this strategy.))
Cushioning: Special double spring mounted seat and double cushioned gloves with wrist guards. Unfortunately, the shocks on the front fork are not the best! ((Actual: The cushioning strategy performed well. A few fingers were a bit numb from the jarring, but no other problems. The numbness did not affect functionality and it went away a couple hours after the adventure.))
Back Pack: I’ve found it much easier to carry all my gear on my back vs. attaching it to the bike. This makes the bike lighter during sections where walking and lifting the bike over obstacles is necessary. This also allows me to use the more convenient camelback tube on my backpack to take a drink vs. the less convenient messing with water bottles. ((Actual: This was a must. I highly recommend this strategy. Pushing a loaded bike uphill, especially the 3000ft elevation gain on unpaved roads with loose gravel would have been horrible!))
Food: Only power bars. Travel light. ((Actual: This strategy worked great. However some variety and real food would not have been bad.))
Liquid: About 4 liters water and 1 liter Gatorade. ((Actual: At the end of the adventure I had about one liter remaining. Not bad insurance if things had gone bad.))
Visibility: Strong 1,200 lumens bike mounted head lamp, blinking rear light and two reflective vests: One over my shirt and one over my backpack. This should cover front and rear visibility. For the most part, I want to travel under the light of the stars, lighting the head lamp only in the rare instances when traffic is approaching on the relatively remote Daylight Pass Road in the 2.5 hours before sunrise. I’m expecting only 2.5 hours of darkness between 4-6:30am while ascending Daylight Pass Road…very low traffic at that time. The remainder of the adventure should be in daylight, but I’m actually prepared to navigate 24 hours or more of darkness using the lights I carry. ((I highly recommend this strategy. The lights performed perfectly. During the final high-traffic 15-mile stretch on Scotty’s Castle Road passing vehicles from behind could see me clearly and gave me lots of room. Without the lights — especially the rear blinking light — this would have been a life-threatening stretch.))
Camera: The great Samsung Galaxy phone camera Photoshop editing — the usual for this website. Take the best photos and videos possible with the lightest equipment. ((Equipment performed beautifully. Having the phone in a rugged case, but easily available at all times strapped to a front strap on my backpack was essential. The phone survived the wipe-out better than my body on the gravel road below Titus Canyon!))
Spare Battery: External charger unit good for 2 complete phone charges and recharge bike lights. ((Actual: My phone retained a 95-100% charge throughout the adventure. It was continually hooked up to the battery. I forgot the cords for the bike lights, but they retained their charge all the way to the end of the adventure with a total of 6 hours traveling in darkness. I kept the front light on the lowest brightness to save energy and that worked well.))
1st Stretch: Ascending from the Floor of Death Valley to Daylight Pass Summit, Then Descending to the Upper Entrance of Titus Canyon Road
I recommend this adventure for a warmer day in January. To make the entire Titus Canyon Grand Loop by mountain bike, my strategy is to park at the small rest area on Scotty’s Castle Road just North of its intersection with Hwy 394 (Daylight Pass Road) hopefully around 4am. This will place me at the base of Hwy 394 (Daylight Pass Road) when the temperature is coldest and I am likely to generate the most body heat ascending around 4,000ft in 11 miles by mountain bike to Daylight Pass from the floor of Death Valley. During this time of darkness the traffic on the busiest stretch of the loop is at its lowest. Regardless, wear a reflective vest and have a head lamp. ((Actual: This ascent took around 4 hours. Only the last 30 minutes was in daylight. I walked the steepest 2/3rds of Daylight Pass Road.))
Once at the summit of Daylight Pass we’re in daylight, the temperature is warming up and it is another 14 miles, mostly downhill to the well-marked upper end of Titus Canyon Road. This stretch is on a relatively straight section of road during daylight for the highest visibility to motor vehicles. ((Actual: Yes, by the summit I was in daylight, but that descent to the upper end of Titus Canyon Road was very cold!))
2nd Stretch: Descent on Titus Canyon Road Through the Lower Opening of Titus Canyon and Down to the Intersection with Scotty’s Castle Road
From the upper end of Titus Canyon Road, it’s a relatively downhill ride for 26.6 miles on the unpaved Titus Canyon Road through the length of Titus Canyon to its lower opening and then down an additional 3 miles of unpaved Titus Canyon Road to its intersection with Scotty’s Castle Road. ((Actual: I was not expecting there to be a 2000ft ascent on the initial stretch of the gravely Titus Canyon Road and then later a 700 foot ascent up Bloody Pass. So, Titus Canyon Road did not prove to be a strictly downhill experience. And, in stretches where it dramatically plunged downward the road was unstable, winding and along the edge of a cliff drop-off, so needed to be taken relatively slowly and carefully. And the deep loose gravel on the final 6 miles of lower Titus Canyon Road also slowed me down.))
3rd Final Stretch: Descent on Scotty’s Castle Road to the Rest Area Just North of the Intersection with Hwy 394 (Daylight Pass Road)
Finally, there is the easiest 15-mile stretch on Scotty’s Castle Road when I’m most tired. This stretch is mostly downhill in the waning light yet still warm part of day, back to my starting point at the rest area just North of the intersection of Scotty’s Castle Road and Hwy 394 (Daylight Pass Road). ((Actual: This went fast, but I was pretty tapped out and ended up walking the bike even on the few slight uphills during the last 5 miles. I just didn’t have enough energy left for any more elevation gain, no matter how slight.))
Total Distance and Time Estimate
The total distance of this adventure is about 65.6 miles. Allowing 5 miles per hour average speed due to steep uphill at first, then navigation on unpaved roads and also allowing for rest time, my estimate for total time is 14 hours, placing me back at my starting point between 5:30pm and 6pm, shortly after sunset.
15 hours: Pretty close to my 14-hour estimate!
Wisdom of This Strategy
By employing this strategy, I’m traveling uphill on paved roads during low traffic time in the dark under the wide-open brilliant Death Valley night sky, then downhill on the unpaved Titus Canyon Road in daylight through the most beautiful stretch — Titus Canyon! ((Actual: This strategy worked perfectly and I highly recommend it for a one-vehicle experience.))
Of course, another strategy would be to have 2 vehicles: Park one at the lower end of Titus Canyon, the second at the upper end of Titus Canyon and travel by mountain bike downhill through Titus Canyon.
However, I believe my strategy promises to be best when you have just one vehicle and are making the entire Titus Canyon Grand Loop by mountain bike. ((Actual: Yes, 100% true!!!))
From Las Vegas take Hyw 95 North to Beatty, Nevada. At Beatty Nevada take Hwy 394 (Daylight Pass Road) into Death Valley. Take a right onto Scotty’s Castle Road and park at the small rest area just North of the intersection of Hwy 394 (Daylight Pass Road) and Scotty’s Castle Road.
My start in Death Valley was warm, around 55 degrees. This really set me off on a good foot. While I thought I’d be able to ride more than 1/3rd of the 4000ft stretch up Daylight Pass Road it didn’t really slow me down to walk the steeper 2/3rds. I noticed my speed riding and made a quick calculation that walking would be about the same speed utilizing less energy. 4 hours for 13 miles up 4000ft was a reasonable speed. And the night sky was spectacular, as was the sunrise! It was a very peaceful and beautiful part of The Grand Titus Canyon Loop. However, rapidly descending from Daylight Pass to the beginning of Titus Canyon Road in sub-40-degree temperature with a wind chill factor bringing it down to the lower 30s was freezing!! For some odd reason, though I could have stopped to add layers of clothing on top of my running shorts and t-shirt, I decided to just go for it. Not a horrible experience…just uncomfortable. And, after the slow 4hr ascent, this 7-mile stretch went very fast.
Entering Titus Canyon Road was, for the first few miles, encouraging. The road had been freshly graded and even though it was slightly uphill, progress was fairly rapid. But then the road narrowed the loose gravel deepened and the angle of ascent dramatically increased. It ended up being a 2000ft initial ascent to an elevation nearly 1000ft higher than Daylight Pass! Still, the walking was enjoyable enough though I had by now traversed about 15 miles or more of this adventure on foot pushing my bike along.
Upon reaching the initial summit at the upper mouth of Titus Canyon the view immediately became more spectacular, wild and majestic. The surrounding hills had shaped themselves into countless intricate sculptures. The day was warming up. This was one of the most enjoyable stretches.
Then I looked down the other side of the initial summit into Titus Canyon. It was about 10 times more spectacular, along with its many side canyons. One could spend days exploring in Titus Canyon and never grow bored, always a new discovery. You could just loose yourself for weeks in the wonder of it all — probably early Spring and October-November in the Fall.
From this point onward, every moment in Titus Canyon was wonderful. Being on a mountain bike it was easy to stop and take pictures and 360-degree videos when I saw something extraordinary, which was a continual experience.
However, I was unpleasantly surprised to see how, after that first long dramatic descent, there was an even greater ascent to Bloody Pass. Already tapped out with over 6000ft of ascent Bloody Pass looked impossible! But by focusing on the spectacular scenery and taking a few rest and recuperation stops along the ascent, it wasn’t too horrible and actually ended up being better than at first imagined.
It’s hard to describe the views along the way in Titus Canyon, but the video and slide show on this page may give some faint idea of the wonder of it all.
A quick note about vehicle traffic in Titus Canyon. The traffic was pretty constant with a 4WD vehicle or dirt bike passing me at least once every 15 minutes throughout–sometimes caravans of vehicles. At such times I stepped aside to give the drivers lots of room. You could see the concern and concentration on their faces as they navigated questionable stretches managing steep, rough inclines, declines and dodging obstacles. It made me glad I was on a mountain bike taking it easy. I will say that everyone was polite and caring and I received countless offers of help and had to reassure drivers that everything was okay! At the bottom of the canyon when I wiped out a vehicle stopped and brought out their first aid kit to help. It’s a generally good group of travelers in Titus Canyon. Most vehicles slowed down to minimize the dust. It was like we were all one unified community in this amazing experience together.
The descent from Bloody Pass to the town of Leadfield was truly radical. I think I lost over 2000ft in a little over a mile! The road was curvy, the sides dropped off to impossibly high cliffs and there were questionable sections with large rocks to navigate. But, with a good set of brake pads and new brake cables descending slowly and carefully did the trick. I stayed on the bike the whole time…except a few brief horrible stretches which I walked, and made it safely to Leadfield.
Pressed for time I still managed to get some good images of Leadfield. You can actually stand in one spot and see the entire town. It would have been great to walk through the 3-4 remaining structures and explore the surrounding hills, but a quick look worked for today. There was quite the throng of vehicles and people stopped at Leadfield, which looked like the place to park, bring out the BBQ and have a picnic.
The lower part of Titus Canyon below the town of Leadfield is by far the most spectacular with high walls on either side formed by layers of rock molded into countless wonderful designs. Water has smoothly polished the lower sections of the walls as I has some of the tributary washes flowing down the walls into the canyon. You could stand in any one spot for a day and not run out of discoveries. The gravel on the floor of the canyon becomes a bit evil and deep, but manageable when traveling downhill. I can’t imagine traveling in a vehicle up Titus Canyon, and don’t think it’s allowed. The whole canyon is a one-way downhill stretch.
About mid-way down Titus Canyon below Leadfield there is a petroglyph display. There’s some modern graffiti including initials and smiley faces defacing the rock, but it’s still pretty clear what is modern and what is ancient. There are a couple good interpretive signs describing the petroglyphs. To see more petroglyphs in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada along with an extensive doctoral discussion on the history and meaning of the petroglyphs go to the Valley of Fire Petroglyphs page on this site. Three other locations I have found petroglyphs in the region are Petroglyph Canyon in Sloan Canyon Conservation Area, White Rock Mountain area in Red RockCanyon National Conservation Area and a Northern Trail on Potosi Mountain. There are many others, but these are the ones I have observed so far.
Incidentally, the most beautiful part of the canyon is accessible to those who park at the lower opening and just walk up the canyon for a few miles. In fact, a great day-long adventure on foot would be to walk the canyon up to Leadfield, explore the ghost town, have a picnic and then return down the canyon on foot. By doing this, you’d get the very best of Titus Canyon without putting your vehicle through the experience. However, there is no substitute for traveling down the entire length of Titus Canyon…and by quiet, natural, wide open mountain bike with continual 360 degree views and so easy to stop at any time to take in the scenery in more detail.
In summary, Titus Canyon is a “must see” for travelers to Death Valley and people who live in the region. I made this entire adventure in one day from Las Vegas including travel time back and forth. It was the upper limits of what one can do in a day, but possible.