Views of Rainbow Canyon from Father Crowley Vista

The moon over Rainbow Canyon in the early morning, Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
The moon over Rainbow Canyon in the early morning

Father Crowley Vista, also known as Rainbow Canyon Overlook, is little more than a nice parking area and a couple of primitive restrooms on the Darwin Plateau between the western border of Death Valley National Park and the Panamint Valley.  The parking area looks down on “Rainbow Canyon” (also called “Star Wars Canyon”), named for the varied stripes of color in the rock.  While it’s not really a destination unto itself, it does offer a nice view and is worth a quick stop if you’re driving CA-190 in the western part of Death Valley National Park.

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: N/A to 1 mile Trail Type: Viewpoint or out & back Elevation Gain: 0-75ft. Pets: Leashed Fees: $30/vehicle

Clouds over Rainbow Canyon early in the morning, Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
Clouds over Rainbow Canyon early in the morning

We stopped by a couple of times on our last visit to Death Valley – both times for breakfast en route to the Alabama Hills.  Both times, the scenery was great and the lighting was fantastic on the canyon.  In the afternoon, the views would still be all right, though they’d be better out toward Panamint Valley instead of up the canyon.

Views to the Panamint Mountains aren't the greatest in the morning, Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
Views to the Panamint Mountains aren’t the greatest in the morning

Father Crowley Vista is best known as a viewpoint for watching military fighter jet training in the canyon and in Panamint Valley.  (For example, this video).  A sign talks about the aircraft you might see as well as commemorates a pilot who crashed in the canyon (and – though the sign doesn’t say so – injured several visitors who were watching from near the vista).

The layers of Rainbow Canyon that gave it its name, Star Wars Canyon, Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
The layers of Rainbow Canyon that gave it its name

We didn’t see any jets.  Maybe it was too early (it couldn’t have been more than 7am) or maybe they just weren’t practicing that day.  After all, there’s no public schedule as for when the jets will appear!

Cliffs across Rainbow Canyon from Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
Cliffs across the canyon from Father Crowley Vista

Right next to the parking area is a fence with a nice viewpoint down on the canyon.  The views are good, especially of the bright orange layers of rock peeking out between the brown and gray of the surrounding canyon walls.  The canyon walls are up to 1,000ft. tall.

Approaching the fence at Father Crowley Vista on the edge of Rainbow Canyon.  Can you see the moon in the sky?  Death Valley National Park, California
Approaching the fence at the viewpoint. Can you see the moon in the sky?

On the northeast side of the parking area, a dirt road goes off out to the end of the point.  If I’d realized there was a viewpoint at the end of it, I’d have checked it out.  As it was, I only have heard that it is walkable for about a half a mile out to two small gravel parking areas with excellent views down on the Panamint Valley, the road up to Father Crowley Vista, and the Cottonwood Mountains across the valley.

Looking down Rainbow Canyon toward Panamint Valley and the Cottonwood Mountains, Death Valley National Park, California
Looking downcanyon toward Panamint Valley and the Cottonwood Mountains

It was pretty cold up there in the early morning in November.  We all lined up in the sunshine (the easiest way to not accidentally shadow someone else!) to eat our cereal and enjoy the view at the same time.

Eating breakfast in the parking area for Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
Eating breakfast in the parking area… no picnic tables!

Father John J. Crowley was born in Ireland in 1891, the oldest of 8 children.  The family immigrated to Massachusetts when John was 11.  He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1918 and moved to southern California, where there were very few priests and a growing population of immigrants, farmers, miners, and homesteaders.  After working for about a year in Los Angeles, Father Crowley volunteered to be the one and only priest for the Eastern Sierra region.  He worked for the economic well-being of all of the residents, not just for the few Roman Catholics in the region, including encouraging tourism to the area (especially around Death Valley and Mt. Whitney).  A rare species of lupine, which only grows on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, was named in his honor.

The moon over the mountains near Father Cowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
The moon over the mountains near Father Cowley Vista

Round Trip Trail Length: 0-1 mile

Elevation Gain: Minimal.  I hear that walking out to the point is about 75ft. elevation gain.  The vista itself is at approximately 4,261ft.

Facilities: Primitive restrooms

Fees: $30/per vehicle to enter Death Valley National Park, valid 7 days.  Death Valley Annual Pass and National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Passes are also accepted.

Rainbow Canyon from Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
Rainbow Canyon

Trail Notes: The viewpoint is very exposed.  In very windy or warm weather, this is not the place you want to be.  There’s no official schedule as to when the fighter jets fly, but I’ve heard that Tuesday-Friday are the most likely days to see aircraft.

Views to the Panamint Mountains from Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
Views to the Panamint Mountains

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

Rainbow Canyon cliffs from Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
Rainbow Canyon cliffs

GPS Coordinate for Father Crowley Vista

Father Crowley Vista: 36.3519700°, -117.5508970° (36°21.11820′, -117°33.05382′ / 36°21’07.0920″, -117°33’03.2292″) (4,261ft.)

Views across CA-190 from Father Crowley Vista, Death Valley National Park, California
Views across CA-190

Getting to Father Crowley Vista

From Lone Pine, CA, drive south on US-395.  Just outside of town, turn left onto CA-136 toward Death Valley National Park.  After 17.5 miles, take the left fork to continue southeast on CA-190E.  About 22.7 miles later, Father Crowley Vista will be on the left.

From Olancha, CA, turn off of US-395 onto CA-190E.  Drive 37.3 miles; Father Crowley Vista will be on the left.

From Furnace Creek, drive north on CA-190W.  Father Crowley Vista will be on the right about 63 miles later – just after climbing out of Panamint Valley via some rather exciting switchbacks.

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