Cave · Views · Waterfall
Potable water may be an issue at times
In 1874 the silver mining town of Panamint City had a population of over 2000 residents. In the summer of 1876, a flash flood washed down Surprise Canyon and destroyed most of the town. A graded road to Panamint City remained up until 1983 when another storm completely washed the canyon down bedrock leaving many structures and vehicles stranded in the now cut-off town. Nowadays Panamint City reveals itself only to determined hikers willing to make the steep, wet, 7-mile trek to its famous brick smelter smokestack.
Need to Know
Chris Wicht camp is a great place to stage before the hike. Bring plenty of water as the water situation up Surprise Canyon can be dynamic depending on time of year.
The Surprise Canyon Trail
begins at Chris Wicht Camp. Chris Wicht Camp is a great place to stage the night before heading up Surprise Canyon to Panamint City. The trail is a steady 12.5% uphill slog for 7.1 miles to the famous smelter stack that represents entry into Panamint City. You'll get wet feet on this trail, there is no way around it.
The first 3 miles will include multiple waterfall climbs as well as a 200 yard portion of stream that is the trail. There are two good spots for water along the trail, first at Limekiln Spring (mile 1.75) and Brewery Spring (mile 3). After Brewery Spring the next reliable water source will be in Panamint City. For the first 3.5 miles the trail can be tough to follow with dense brush and washouts. Keep an eye out for rock cairns marking the trail, as long as you are heading up the canyon you are heading in the right direction.
After mile 5 the trail becomes much more defined and makes for easy travel the last 2 miles into the city. Once in Panamint city, hikers can explore the town and even spend the night in one of the hiker maintained cabins if desired. Be warned that hantavirus has been found in the area so be mindful if staying in the cabins. Just outside of the cabins and throughout the city are plenty of spots to pitch a tent and a few fire rings. The hike out is far easier than the hike in so make sure to bring out any extra trash you may come across with you.
Flora & Fauna
Barrel cactus, horsetail rush and other desert plants line the trail to Panamint City.
Shared By: Aaron Groves