The Manly Peak Wilderness Area is a remote and very rugged BLM property in south-east California. The wilderness lies along the south-west border of the Death Valley National Park and forms a natural continuation of the park's arid landscapes with its steep-sided canyons and craggy ridges. It's a landscape dominated by Manly Peak which at over seven thousand feet high towers over the rest of the Panamint Mountain Range by more than two and a half thousand feet. It's harsh backcountry which has a few springs where cottonwood and willow grow and the sparse wildlife go to drink the water.
To tackle these BLM lands on foot, you'll need to be a hardy outback hiker with some experience in similar terrains already under your belt. If you're at home in isolated locations where even sightings of wild burros or coyotes are rare, let alone seeing another human being, then the Manly Peak Wilderness Area is for you. If you're interested in photographing stark landscapes, you'll enjoy the wilderness at sunrise and sunset when the gleam of the sun's rays adds varying levels of light and shade to the contours of the rocks.
While it may not be the highest peak in the US by a long chalk, Manly Peak does attract the interest of experienced climbers who like the challenge of its slabs, boulders, and chimneys. For anyone who isn't up to undertaking a hard hike through the Manly Peak Wilderness Area, there are some fantastic scenic drives in the Death Valley National Park which will leave you awe-inspired by the grandeur of the geological diversity of this region of California.
Access to the Manly Peak Wilderness Area is limited and difficult. There are only three ways into the area, all leading off the CA 178 which runs along the western border of the wilderness. You can turn-off onto the Ballarat Road, the Wingate Wash Road or the Goler Wash Road. They are not suitable roads for RVs or any vehicle other than a four-wheel drive.
If you've been over in the west exploring the Coso Range Wilderness, you'll need to head to Panamint Springs on the CA 190 before joining the CA 178 heading south. The trip will take you around two and a half hours altogether, though before heading to the wilderness, it's advisable to pitch camp then change vehicles. If you've been RV camping in the Sequoia National Forest, you can join the CA 178 in the town of Lake Isabella and you'll be driving for around three hours passing by the dry, mineral-rich Searles Lake on the way.
The nearest campgrounds to the Manly Peak Wilderness Area are located in the Death Valley National Park. The Furnace Creek Campground is open all year and has over one-hundred campsites which are delegated on a first-come-first-served basis from mid-April to mid-October. A reservation is required during the winter months.
There are only eighteen pitches with utility hook-ups, but all have picnic tables, grills, and fire rings. There is also the Sunset Campground at Furnace Creek which is open from fall through to spring and operates on a first-come-first-served basis if you're unable to get a campsite at the Furnace Creek Campground.
Anyone heading out to hike the Manly Peak Wilderness Area needs to go fully prepared with sufficient water and provisions for a couple of days even if you're only planning on going for a few hours.
There are no defined trails running through the wilderness so you can wander at will so long as you know the way back to where you started. For the hardy hiker, there is also a five-mile-long out and back route up the side of Manly Peak which starts in Butte Valley and takes you to an elevation of over two-thousand feet.
If you're considering climbing Manly Peak, you'll need to be prepared for a hard preliminary hike over steep ridges and piles of boulders. It doesn't get any easier the higher you go and you'll have slanted chimneys, slabs and more boulders to contend with. You'll need to carry equipment and provisions, but if you're a serious peakbagger, the effort will be worth it.
Outback hiking and climbing are not for everyone and if you prefer to view the scenery through a car window, you'll have plenty to see if you head over to the Death Valley National Park.
Drive the nine miles of the Artist's Drive where there are multi-hued rocks coloring the landscape all the shades of an artist's palette or head up to Dante's Point to admire the spectacular view or go along the Emigrant Canyon Road to see the amazing charcoal kilns.
If you've seen the film Top Gun and would like to see real jet fighters in action while you're at the Manly Peak Wilderness Area, head one hour north to Father Crowley Overlook and pull up a chair. The viewpoint is a few miles west of Panamint Springs and the canyon below it is used, mostly on a daily basis, for training and maneuvers of F 18 jets.
The weathered rock surfaces of the canyons and cliffs in the Manly Peak Wilderness Area make great photographic subjects. Depending on the time of day you're there, you'll find the different light adds incredible nuances to even the simplest of shots. Both black and white and color will give you some amazing results, so long as you remember to fully charge your camera battery before you go.
Hunting is permitted in the Manly Peak Wilderness Area during the appropriate season. It's a tough terrain to stalk game on, and game is often as thin on the ground as the vegetation coverage. However, there are bighorn sheep roaming through the wilderness as well as rabbit and dove. All hunters heading to the wilderness should ensure they have the correct and current permit before setting out.