Death Valley National Park

I knew Death Valley National Park had the lowest point in the country and that it was really hot, which both seemed intriguing and enough for me to add it as a quick stop on my whirlwind road through national parks in the west. However, I was not prepared for the wide-ranging geography and dramatic landscapes of Death Valley! Once I was in the park, I wished I’d done more research on all that Death Valley had to offer.

At nearly 3.4 million acres of wilderness comprising of sand dunes, salt flats, naturally-occurring bursts of color on sand, and canyons, Death Valley is one of the largest national parks as well as the hottest, driest and lowest. To say it’s a land of extremes would be an understatement, but the extremes bring to the forefront a kind of natural beauty not be found in any other national park!

WHAT TO SEE/EXPERIENCE AT DEATH VALLEY

Death Valley offers plenty of adventure options – birdwatching (yes, there is an abundance of life), driving to popular features, off-road driving excursions into less explored parts, backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain-biking, and star-gazing.

HIKING:
If there’s one thing I got right about my assumptions about Death Valley, it was the heat! Really, Death Valley is crazy, crazy hot. I visited in early fall and temperatures were close to 120 degrees. I walked around the Badwater Basin area (at 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point in North America) in the middle of the day without any water and definitely felt the beginnings of heat exhaustion. So take the temperature seriously!

There are plenty of hiking and backpacking opportunities inside Death Valley. Although my mantra for the outdoors is to not be afraid of making mistakes because that’s the only way to learn, undertaking any type of hike in Death Valley (even a short 1-mile trek), takes careful planning, being in tune with your body and listening to it. This inhospitable environment can become life-threatening and dangerous if you don’t follow the basics – avoid hiking in the summer (or at least the hottest part of the day), carry plenty of water, and be sure to bring protection from the sun (e.g., sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses) no matter the season (yes, even those of us with lots of melanin)!

While it’s important to heed the caution, it shouldn’t be a deterrent from adventuring in Death Valley, especially for those new to hiking! Trust your gut. Follow common sense. You’ll be fine!

Recommended Hikes:
– Badlands Loop
– Badwater Basin
– Darwin Falls
– Mesquite Dunes

DRIVING:
Nervous about jumping into a hike at Death Valley? No problem. There are over 1,00 miles of roads within Death Valley National Park. There’s also a plethora of off-road adventures if you have a four-wheel drive. Many of the popular viewpoints are accessible by car and are just a short walk from the road.

Recommended Stopping Points:
– Artist’s Drive
– Dante’s View
– Devil’s Golf Course
– Zabriskie Point

STAR GAZING:
If seeing unfettered views of a star-filled sky is your jam, Death Valley is the place to be. Certified by the International Dark-Sky Association to be one of the darkest night skies in the United States, Death Valley offers a wide range of opportunities to explore the sky at night on your own or through one of the frequent ranger led nigh-sky programming. Wherever you decide to explore the night sky, be sure to bring plenty of light, maps and have a sense of direction to find your way back! And water, of course.

Recommended Stargazing Spots:
– Mesquite Sand Dunes
– Harmony Borax Works Site
– Badwater Basin

TRANSPORTATION

The easiest way to get to Death Valley National Park is by car and visitors will definitely need their own transportation to explore the Park.

Airports: The only major airport near Death Valley is McCarren International in Las Vegas, Nevada (126 miles).

Driving: California Highway 190 is the main road into Death Valley National Park.

  • From the east (Nevada), U.S. Route 95 parallels the park with connecting highways (State Route 267 – Scotty’s Junction, State Route 374 – Beatty, and State Route 373 – Lathrop Wells).
  • From the west (California),State Route 178 – Ridgecrest, Highway 395 – Olancha, and Highway 136 – Lone Pine all connect to California Highway 190 at various junctions.
  • From the south (Los Angeles), State Route 127 – Baker connects to Highway 190 at Death Valley Junction.

Entrance Fees: As with other National Parks, there is an entrance fee for Death Valley National Park.

  • Cars/Other Vehicles, $30; Motorcycles, $35; & Bicycle/Walk-In, $15/per person (seven day pass)
  • Annual Yellowstone Pass (unlimited visits to Death Valley): $55
  • Annual National Park Pass (unlimited entrance to any public lands operated by NPS): $80
LODGING

Death Valley offers several lodging options. Given it’s size and distance between places, visitors should choose lodging options that are closest to the area where they’ll be spending most of their time in the park.

Hotels: There are four hotels within the boundary of Death Valley National Park. They are open all year round and accept reservations.
– Stovepipe Wells Village
– Oasis at Death Valley, Inn (Furnace Creek Area)
– Oasis at Death Valley, Ranch (Furnace Creek Area)
– Panamint Springs Resort

Camping: There are 9 campgrounds inside Death Valley National Park. Because of the extreme heat in the summer, many accommodations are closed in the park. Campgrounds that operate in the summer are first-come, first served. Even in peak season (October through April), only the Furnace Creek Campground accepts reservations.

Furnace Creek
– Furnace Creek Campground, open year round and accepts reservations October through April
– Sunset Campground, open seasonally
– Texas Springs, open seasonally

Stovepipe Wells Village (25 miles to Furnace Creek Area)
– Stovepipe Wells Campground, open seasonally
– Mesquite Spring Campground, open year round
– Emigrant Campground, open year round and tent only

Wildrose Area (55-65 miles to Furnace Creek Area)
– Wildrose Campground, open year round
-Thorndike Campground, open seasonally
– Mahogany Flat Campground, open seasonally

Gateway Towns: The area that surrounds Death Valley can feel desolate, but there are a few small communities within driving distance with Pahrump offering the most options.

East of the Park
– Beatty, Nevada (20 miles)
– Pahrump, Nevada (80 miles)
– Shoshone, California – campgrounds & RV parks only (78 miles)

West of the Park
– Lone Pine, California (95 miles)

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

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