Features: Due to its low elevation and desert environment, fall, winter, and spring are excellent times to visit the Amargosa River. Hiking opportunities along the Amargosa abound near the small towns of Tecopa and Shoshone, south of Death Valley National Park. The Amargosa in this area is a rare watered oasis in an otherwise dry desert. A portion of the former Tidewater and Tonapah railroad bed in this area provides excellent hiking. This “rail to trail” can be accessed at trailheads near Tecopa, China Ranch, and Dumont Dunes. The Bureau of Land Management, which administers the public lands along the Amargosa, intends to eventually convert the railroad bed into a trail connecting Dumont Dunes with Tecopa and Shoshone.
The Amargosa River originates in Nevada, flows south into California and the Mojave Desert, and then makes a big u-turn north, and flows into Death Valley National Park. It ends at Bad Water, the lowest elevation in the continental United States. Except during floods, the Amargosa is dry for much of its length. But a 24-mile segment between the small California communities of Shoshone and Tecopa upstream of Death Valley typically flows above ground.
People have lived along the Amargosa for more than 10,000 years. The canyon is rich in ancient cultural values as well as more recent historic features. It is the route of the Old Spanish Trail, which was used by pioneers as well as famed explorers John C. Fremont and Kit Carson. The now defunct Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad parallels much of the river and served the Death Valley mines in the early 20th century.
This unique desert river nurtures riparian habitat that supports more than 260 bird species, including three endangered birds (least Bell’s vireo, southwest willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo). Found nowhere else in the world, the endangered Amargosa vole is lives in wetlands along the river. The river is also home to the rare Amargosa pupfish. Habitat along the river is extremely diverse, ranging from willow and cottonwood forests, mesquite bosques, alkaline meadows, and spring-fed plant communities.
- From the town of Baker on I-15 (about 64 miles northeast of Barstow), exit at Hwy 127 and take the highway north 48 miles to Old Spanish Trail Highway.
- Turn right (east) on Old Spanish Trail and drive 5.4 miles through the small community of Tecopa to Furnace Creek Road.
- Turn right on Furnace Creek road and drive 1.8 miles to China Ranch Road.
- Turn right on China Ranch Road and follow the signs 2.1 miles to China Ranch. China Ranch Road is a high grade gravel road.
Trail Directions: The best way to access the Amargosa River is via the China Ranch Date Farm near the town of Tecopa. China Ranch is Inyo County’s only working date palm farm. A trail leads from the Farm’s store (a great place to buy date bread and date shakes) approximately 2 miles to the Amargosa River.
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.