Hiking Telescope Peak: A Photo Guide

Telescope Peak, the tallest mountain in the Panamint Range, is a hard but doable hike. Coming in at around 14 miles round trip is gains about 3,000 feet of elevation before topping out at over 11,000 feet at the summit. Starting from a road that is inaccessible without 4 wheel drive this peak is a great preparation for other high altitude Sierra peaks or just to be able to stand at a summit that has a drop of over 11,000 feet to the lowest point in North America, Badwater, below. This post is simply to spotlight the standout points of the hike to the top of one of Southern California’s most prominent peaks.

The Trailhead and Mahogny Flats Campground

The trailhead starts right at the parking lot for the Mahogny Flats Campground which is a free campground with ten spots that is accessible via a 4 mile dirt road that you should not attempt without four-wheel drive.

Telescope Peak 37

Telescope Peak 34

The trailhead starts out in a forresty area with a decent amount of trees before getting out past the tree line. The trailhead also has a sign that shows you the many types of plant and tree life you will experience on this hike.

Telescope Peak 31

Above the trees

After about a half mile you will see the trees start to become more sparse and make way for he beautiful vistas that will great you during this entire hike. To the left is the area known as Badwater which is -252 feet below sea-level and to the right is the hill that leads to the summit of Rodgers Peak.

Telescope Peak 28  Telescope Peak 21 Telescope Peak 15

This path continues around the mountain until you see Telescope for the first time.

Telescope Peak 19

First views of Telescope

Telescope Peak 23

The first view of Telescope will hit you and make you realize that even though it looks close you still have a long ways to go.

Rodgers Peak

Telescope Peak 10

Telescope Peak 8

Right at the top of this part of the trail about 3 miles in is the hill that leads to Rodgers Peak. Rodgers Peak has a lot of gear and equipment on top of it as well as solar towers. I climbed to the top on the way back but there is not a lot to see other than good views of Telescope Peak.

The Meadows

The next part of the trail is the meadows. This beautiful stretch of flat will go for about 2 miles and will wind around Bennet Peak. It is very sparse but is a beautiful way to shoot photos of the valley 10,000 feet below you and the peaks all around.

Telescope Peak 30 Telescope Peak 25 Telescope Peak 16 Telescope Peak 26

Bennet Peak

The trail goes around the West side of this peak but if you are feeling adventurous you can climb up to the summit. It provides more great views and is a relatively easy climb.

Telescope Peak 18

Calm Before the Storm

The trail continues to meander through the meadows and provides one of my favorite views of Telescope Peak before starting the uphill climb that will be your nemesis until you reach the summit.

Telescope Peak 9 Telescope Peak 38 Telescope Peak 35

The Switchbacks

I have heard that there are only 13 switchbacks in the final push, but it seems like more than that to me. They gain a good amount of elevation but provide beautiful views of the plant life and Badwater.

Telescope Peak 15 Telescope Peak 29 Telescope Peak 1

The trail continues to meander through the meadows and provides one of my favorite views of Telescope Peak before starting the uphill climb that will be your nemesis until you reach the summit.

The Final Push

Once you plateau over the switchbacks you have about 500 yards to the summit. It really is a point summit with only about 20 square feet or so of area to relax on. This push is nice because you can see the end goal.

Telescope Peak 3 Telescope Peak 2 Telescope Peak 6

The Summit

The small summit has one of the most rewarding views I have ever seen. Near 360 degree panorama of the vallies on both sides of you. It is an amazing place to have lunch and relax. There is a summit register in a an ammo box you can sign as well. I even took the below time lapse while up there.

Telescope Peak 5 Telescope Peak 4 Telescope Peak 39

Like I said before the drop to Badwater from the summit is around 11,500 feet. To put this drop in perspective, the actual drop from Everest summit to the North side start is around 13,000 feet and the drop at the lowest point of the Grand Canyon is around 6,000 feet. So this drop allows you to see double the normal area you can see at the Grand Canyon, making it a spectacular view to say the least.

Telescope Peak 33

After that you simply head back the way that you came.

The Plants

There are a ton of really cool trees you will experience on this hike, here are some of the standouts.

Telescope Peak 27 Telescope Peak 22 Telescope Peak 20

Make sure to experience this summit yourself if you are a hiker by getting directions below. Also, make sure to bring sunscreen cause it is hot out there!

Center map

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  • These are stunning photos! I love the rugged scenery.

    • Thanks so much for the compliment! I really like your blog as well!

  • John

    Nice photos. Is there any water along the way?

    • Thanks John and no there is not any water on the way.

  • merlyn

    Planning to do this hike on the first week of November. Is it possible by just using my SUV not a 4W drive to go there?

    • When we were there last year the road was crazy but there were people there in SUV’s so I guess it is possible. If the road is too crazy you can always park at the kilns and hike up from there but that will add a good amount onto the trip. I am not sure what the best way would be to check the road conditions before going but it might be worth trying to figure out especially if they have had some rain.

  • sofi

    27Sep14, dark clouds around summit started aroung 10am,..by the time I was at the summit of Telescope Peak it was 1300hrs and just starting to hail, the thunder was rolling, temp dropping by the minute, wind drowning out my thoughts. I was by myself and admit it was very scary, having only a windbreaker, shorts and tennis shoes. By the time I was partly down the switchbacks it was snowing so much I couldn’t see the bends in the trail ahead, and boy was it COLD,..the screen on my Note3 phone/camera went blank, dead, and I couldn’t feel my hands (yep, no gloves) and my tennis shoes were soaked thru with melted snow. Shivering in my ultra-light wind breaker with nothing under but a tank top.Luckily the trail is constructed with great care and easy to follow (thank you unknown trail builders!), but your mind plays terrible tricks on you when you can’t see! Am I going up or down, am I going 180 degrees the wrong way? Are there 2 trails? You’d give your eye teeth to see something, a landmark, even a ridge, or another person, lost or otherwise. As the minutes, hours passed, I became convinced I was on “the wrong trail” and I started wondering if I could survive the night up here without any gear! I wanted to record something or take some “last pics” but my phone screen was dead due to the cold. What was deathly frightening was the thunder, non stop, never a break for hours, just cracking like bombs going off to the left and right. Having no choice I went ahead, jogging until the snow covered the rocky trail and I had to slow way down to not twist an ankle. Finally I caught a glimpse of the Air Force Installation tower, and I knew where I was,..I’ll never ever forget the relief of seeing that tower. I climbed up to the station, looking for a place to shelter for the night,..the pickings were grim, to say the least,..maybe under the solar panels? I was too cold to stay, so I took the dirt road,..that endless dirt road back to Mahogany Flats,..I was beat up mentally,..but by the time I was half way out of Death Valley I was already thinking how I could do it AGAIN, with better gear of course!!!

    • Crazy story, thanks for sharing and I am glad you made it out ok!

  • Bill Meadows

    we did telescope a couple weeks ago…. what a great hike! its tough, but the reward is well worth any discomfort. we saw people making the drive to mahogany in camries! apparently they were rentals(we asked), its a rough road but in pretty good shape.

    can’t recommend it enough! seemed like we walked through about three different weather patterns!

    • ronbannon

      I just did it in a Ford Focus, and years ago drove my wife’s Honda Insight to the top. The hike/climb to the peak during August was very tough for me—the heat and the sun are constant—taking me 8.5 hours.

      • Wow the road must be a lot better or you must be a pro driver. It was crazy when we went. I agree it is a really long hike for sure.

  • Ben Puder

    I was able to make it to the trailhead with a corvette without any problems. Just have to drive slow. 4-wheel drive is preferable but not neccesary.

    • Thanks for the update! The road was crazy when I went but I am sure it does depend on the season and such as well. Such a great hike!

  • Akshay Sathe

    We are planning the telescope peak during thanksgiving time. how is the weather out there? Do we need ice axe or any sort of equipment?

    • It totally depends on the year and how much rain we get. I would recommend check with http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ as they always seem to be a good resource for weather in that area.