Death Valley is a desert valley located in Eastern California, in the northern Mojave Desert bordering the Great Basin Desert. It is one of the hottest places in the world along with deserts in the Middle East. Death Valley is a national park in the state of California bordering Las Vegas state. Death Valley has towering sand dunes in the Mojave Desert that are reminiscent of the deserts in the middle east with dunes against the mountain hills. Visiting death valley is like finding a different beautiful planet that is a desert wonderland. A road trip through Death Valley is doable in a weekend and is a fun way to camp and explore. A full loop of the park with enough time to see all the major sites takes a few days and includes around 365 miles of driving. There is beautiful desert hiking to the Ubehebe Crater, the Grand Canyon of Death Valley, Zabrinskie viewpoint that is the most gorgeous view in the park of several mountain ranges and geographical features coming together in one area. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a huge stretch of the park that is an amazing place to camp and watch the sunrise. This park is one of my favorite unique adventures and experiences a weekend road trip from southern California. Death Valley holds world’s highest temperature records, as well as the lowest point in all of North America thanks to Badwater Basin.
History of the name, “Death Valley”
The name Death Valley seems to come from a group of pioneers who crossed the desert in the winter of 1849-1850. It is said that only one died from the group that winter but they felt a foreboding sense of danger about remaining in the area. That original group became lost and spent more time in Death Valley than they originally wanted to. They finally escaped the valley after two young members of their group learned to scout. The party finally managed to reach the mountains and were able to escape the valley. And as the legend goes, one of those pioneers turned around, looked back to the desert, and declared, “Goodbye, Death Valley!”
How to get there
Death Valley National Park is on the border between California and the southern corner of Nevada. The valley runs north to south and is approximately 140 miles long. The nearest major city is Las Vegas, Nevada. The drive from Las Vegas to the entrance of Death Valley only takes around 2 hours, one way, making this a great option for a quick road trip, or an extended visit. Death Valley is a 4.5 hour drive on the 395N from Orange County and from LA on the CA-14N.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Death Valley is between October and May for the coolest temperatures. While the winter season is a slow period for most national parks, that’s when Death Valley National Park really has the highest number of visitors because of the cool weather. So if you go in winter be prepared to have the park crowded. High daytime temperatures in the park range from 100°F, all the way down to the mid-60s.
If you visit between April to October, temperatures will be above 100°F (37°C). It normally has record-setting temperatures every summer and a world record high air temperature of 134°F (57°C). Death Valley holds the record for the driest, hottest, and lowest national park in the country.
You can click here to see maps, road condition and closure updates and other resources on the park.
There are also weather information and resources on the national park’s page to see their advice on weather in the park.
Death Valley Park Costs
If you buy an annual America the Beautiful National Park pass then you can get into Death Valley for free! The annual pass is only $80 a year gaining you access to lots of hikes, camping and adventures. The pass is shown in the information below. I always buy a yearly pass that gains me access to all the national parks.
Vehicle Entrance Fee
- $30 for 7 Days, effective June 1st, 2018
- This permit allows all persons traveling with the permit holder in one single private, non-commercial vehicle (car/truck/van) to leave and re-enter the park as many times as they wish during the 7-day period from the date of purchase.
Motorcycle Entrance Fee
- $25 for 7 Days, effective June 1st, 2018
Individual Entrance Fee
- $15 for 7 Days, effective June 1st, 2018
- This permit allows a single individual traveling on foot or bicycle to leave and re-enter the park as many times as they wish during the 7-day period from the date of purchase.
Death Valley Annual Pass
- $55 for one year, effective June 1st, 2018
- Annual pass providing free entrance to Death Valley for 12 months from the date of purchase
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
- $80 for one year
- Annual pass covering entrance and standard amenity fees for national parks and other federal fee areas. This replaces the National Parks Pass and Golden Eagle Pass.
Death Valley Park Hours
Death Valley park is open year round and may be visited 24 hours. There are two main visitors centers, Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center and Scotty’s Castle Visitors Center.
Furnace Creek Visitors Center
Hours: Open daily, 8 am to 5 pm
Phone: (760) 786-3200
Location: The visitor center is located in the Furnace Creek resort area on California Highway 190. Furnace Creek is 30 miles from Death Valley Junction and 24 miles from Stovepipe Wells Village.
A 20 minute park film is shown throughout the day. During the winter season, November to April, rangers present a wide variety of walks, talks, and slide presentations about Death Valley’s cultural and natural history. Additional programs may be presented at other times. Inquire at the visitor center for current programs.
The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is the main visitor information source for the park. There is a fully staffed information desk with information on all aspects of the park and its operation. The Death Valley Natural History Association maintains a well stocked book sales outlet specifically geared towards the natural and cultural history of the park.
Scotty’s Castle Visitor’s Center
On Sunday, October 18, 2015, a storm caused extensive flash flooding in the Scotty’s Castle area in northern Death Valley National Park. Initial assessments revealed damage to roads, utilities and some historic structures.
Scotty’s Castle is closed and will remain closed until further notice. Please contact 760-786-3280 for more information.
Things to do
This road trip list of things to do in the park is a bucket list in order entering the park from the south entrance. This is a top bucket list of the most beautiful parts of Death Valley National Park to explore! The things to do are in order following a road trip from south to north in the park.
This salty drainage basin in Death Valley National Park sits 282 ft below sea level. Just 18 miles from the park’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center is Badwater Basin. It’s the lowest point in the park and the lowest point in North America! It’s a full 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. For contrast, the lowest place on Earth is the Dead Sea in Israel/Jordan/Palestine, weighing in at a whopping 1,391 feet (424 m) below sea level. This was definitely one of the most surreal parts of the park that felt like another world. The contrast of the bright blue sky with the white salt flats was beautiful. It is so bright you definitely need sunglasses when you walk around the salt flats.
Next, be sure to check out Artist’s Drive. It’s a byway off Badwater Road. This is a nine-mile road that includes some of the most beautiful sights in the park. The best part comes just five miles in where unique colors splash a group of mountains and canyons, resembling—you guessed it—an artist’s palette. Artist’s Palette is a series of hills in pastel hues, colored by oxidation & weathering, along 9-mi. Artist’s Drive loop.
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Zabriskie point Death Valley| loving all of the rocks, mountains and textures of this glory revealing our father who is beauty😍 #deathvalley #deathvalleynationalpark #zabriskiepoint #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #bewild
Zabriskie Point is a gorgeous panoramic vista of the park and views of the hilly badlands. This is definitely one of the most popular spots for sunrises & sunsets in the park. For sunset, you won’t want to miss Zabriskie Point. It’s a short 15-minute drive back past the visitor’s center. If you are camping in Mesquite Dunes which is a great stop for the first night then it is only a short drive back for the evening to catch the sunset!
Ubehbe Crater is a volcanic field in California. In northern Death Valley, it consists of 14-16 craters in a 1.2 sq mi area. Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. To the Timbisha Shoshone Indians, the crater has been known as “Tem-pin-tta- Wo’sah”, meaning Coyote’s Basket. Although applying this translation to the word Ubehebe has produced a great deal of confusion, but comparing the crater to a basket is appropriate. The walk around the rim of Ubehebe Crater is about 1½ mile round-trip. This route leads past several smaller craters, including Little Hebe. This is also nick named the Grand Canyon of Death Valley because of its beauty.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
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Camping on sand dunes, 20 degree glory sunrise! I woke up like this haha. Frozen toes and beauty all around!! #deathvalley #deathvalleynationalpark #mesquitesanddunes #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #bewild
These dunes are the best known and easiest to visit in the national park. Located in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells, you can access them from Hwy. 190 or from the unpaved Sand Dunes Road. Although the highest dune rises only about 100 feet, the dunes actually cover a vast area. This dune field includes three types of dunes: crescent, linear, and star shaped. Polygon-cracked clay of an ancient lakebed forms the floor. Mesquite trees have created large hummocks that provide stable habitats for wildlife.
These sand dunes are a great place to drive to in time for the sunset and set up camp here for the night. These are the most accessible dunes in a central portion of the park. This is where I stopped the first night to camp. This is one of my favorite spots to camp in the park and I love being in and near the dunes.
Close to hear as well (27 miles) is Racetrack Playa which is know for its dry lake bed rocks that gluide acrsos the desert floor by themsleves. You can see the trails they leave behind from moving.
Eurkea Valley Sand Dunes
The Eureka Dunes lie in the remote Eureka Valley, an enclosed basin at 3000 foot elevation located northwest of Death Valley. The dunes cover an area only 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, yet they are the tallest sand dunes in California, possibly the tallest in all of North America. They rise suddenly more than 680 feet above the dry lakebed at their western base. As tall as these dunes are, they are dwarfed by the impressive limestone wall of the Last Chance Mountains which rises another 4000 feet above the valley floor.
These dunes make a beautiful and daring adventure for the avid campers and hikers. This is still to this day one of my favorite camping experiences in my life camping in the sand dunes in the middle of nowhere in Death Valley. This is a dry camp with no water access and so you definitely must come well prepared with water resources. I only stayed one night and it was the best star gazing and went from hottest day to coolest night so cold getting down below 10 degrees with ice all over the window. Hiking the sand dune to see the sunrise was an epic and beautiful experience I will never forget.
Tea Kettle Junction
A tradition has developed where people leave teapots and kettles on the direction sign, while travelling to nearby places like the Racetrack Playa. It is tradition now for people to decorate and leave tea kettles with their name and art paying homage to those brave enough to adventure into the brutal desert lands. It is not known how this sign that has lots of tea kettles hanging off of it came to be called Teakettle Junction but at some point people started leaving them here and it caught wind. This is a fun tradition in the hiking community such as rock cairns that many build and leave on trails they complete or to help show and guide the way of the trail to other adventurers.
Saline Valley Warm Springs
This is a hard to reach oasis in the middle of the desert of Death Valley. In the arid Saline Valley known for its salt, borax, and abandoned mines, three springs surrounded by palm trees create a surreal, clothing optional oasis for desert adventurers camping. The springs are 2.5-4 hours over rocky dirt roadways gets you to this middle of nowhere beauty. Saline Valley is a series of gorgeous springs, each with multiple soaking pools scattered in a line along a stretch of dirt road 3 miles long. It is possible to visit the springs on a day trip if you start early from one of the nearest towns (Bishop, Lone Pine, or Big Pine), but most visitors to the springs stay overnight. The hardy residents began taming the wild springs into several soaking pools made of concrete, rock, and tile. They built showers and dishwashing facilities, planted shaded grass areas, and dug 3 latrines—creating a makeshift vacation spot to escape to from the harsh Death Valley climate. They are somewhat controversial in the park and rangers won’t tell you how to get to them. They are unmarked on maps and used to be BLM land that was free to camp on. A free thinking nudist hippy community at one point inhabited this area and they were kicked out by the national park and rangers years ago trying to shut the place down. There is one caretaker who remains and you can still find the springs if you dare to take the trek with a solid 4 wheel drive.
Where to stay
Camping in Death Valley
The Furnace Creek, Sunset, and Texas Springs campgrounds have a mix of traditional camping and glamping, while Stovepipe Wells is situated in a town that features amenities, a hotel with a pool, and more. Furnace Creek is a central part of the park outside of Badwater Basin and near Mesquite Sand Dunes. This is a great spot to camp and stop for your first night in the park while you are exploring this southern end of the park. It is very rare for all campgrounds to fill in Death Valley. Even during the busiest times or weekends, folks find a spot at Sunset CG or Stovepipe Wells CG. Besides Furnace Creek CG, all other campgrounds are first-come, first-serve. Getting there early in the morning is not always necessary to secure a spot especially October-April. The summer is the most busy season but also has many campgrounds closed because of the danger of the temperature conditions. You don’t need to worry there are 190 spots at Stovepipe Wells CG and 270 at Sunset CG.
**You can arrive anytime you want because you will be paying AT the campground with an automated machine (credit or debit card needed).
**All the campgrounds in the park are very cheap, only $14-16 dollars per night.
Number of People/Vehicles:
- Campsites are limited to no more than eight people and two vehicles or one recreational vehicle per site.
- Larger groups wishing to camp together can reserve group sites at the Furnace Creek Campground.
Campgrounds in Death Valley
- Furnace Creek
- Sunset at Furnace Creek
- Texas Springs at Furnace Creek
- Stovepipe Wells
Reservations for Furnace Creek Campground
- Reservations for the Furnace Creek Campground are available for the camping season of October 15 to April 15 by calling 1-877-444-6777 or visiting recreation.gov.
- Reservations must be made at least 4 days in advance, but can be made up to 6 months in advance.
Click here for more information on camping in Death Valley.
Backcountry Camping (Dispersed Camping) in Death Valley
When I went camping in the park I opted for not one of the campgrounds but dispersed camping in the sand dunes both at Mesquite in the south and Eureka in the north. Dispersed land camping on BLM land is free and one of the best ways to save money, get away from the crowds in nature and have a unique experience. The mesquite sand dunes are comfy to sleep on in the sand with a tent and there is plenty of vast land to choose from in seeking a private spot away from other campers. I have compiled some of the rules of dispersed camping according to the national park rangers and for Death Valley below:
Where is dispersed backcountry roadside camping allowed?
- Along dirt roads at least one mile away from any paved road or “day use only” dirt road.
- Camp only in previously disturbed areas and park your vehicle immediately adjacent to the roadway to minimize impact. The wilderness boundary is 50 feet from the center of most dirt roads.
Where is dispersed backcountry camping not allowed?
- Camping is NOT allowed on the following “day use only” dirt roads
- Camping is NOT allowed on the valley floor from Ashford Mill in the south to 2 miles north of Stovepipe Wells, on the Eureka Dunes or in Greenwater Canyon.
- There is backcountry camping at Eureka Dunes, a dry camp but not on top of the actual dunes
- Backcountry campsites must be more than 100 yards from any water source to protect these fragile areas for wildlife use.
- At any of the historic mining areas ( Lost Burrow Mine, Skidoo Mill, etc)
Hotels in Death Valley
Maybe camping isn’t your thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, either—Death Valley has several hotels just for you. The Stovepipe Wells Village has an air conditioned hotel with a pool, as well as many other attractions for $200/night. Furnace Creek has The Inn and The Ranch, both of which have a distinct style. The Inn is a more traditional luxury hotel experience, complete with a breathtaking view and huge gorgeous pool for $350/night, while The Ranch is thematic with a general store and western town build and is great for families at a rate of $180/night.
Furnace Creek Inn
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This is the historic “four diamond” Furnace Creek Inn Hot Springs in Death Valley, California. This desert oasis was built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company of Twenty Mule Team fame in the 1920’s. You can enjoy a spring fed Olympic size pool and play a round on the lowest golf course in the world. More details on the largest hot spring website in the world @ UltimateHotSpringsGuide.com. #ultimatehotspringsguide #furnacecreekinn #californiahotsprings #onsen #aguascalientes #thermalbaths
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Underground tunnels the best place to sing ever ! One must find safety from extreme elements in the desert hahaha😜 #deathvalley #deathvalleynationalpark #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #bewild
Things to do nearby
Mammoth Lakes Hiking
Mammoth Lakes is the cutest, small mountain town in the midst of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Mammoth is my absolute favorite hiking area in California and it has the best dispersed camping, including free hot springs with mountain views. There are 5 lakes in the town and 100 in the surrounding area, which are thought to be created by glaciers. The 5 lakes inside the city are Lake Mary, Lake George, Mamie, Horseshoe and Twin Lakes. Mammoth is gorgeous year round and fun to visit in different seasons for different reasons. Hiking is best in the summer.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
This is the largest of the Mammoth Hot Springs and is able to fit up to 30 people. There are two main pool areas. The smaller circular pool is off to the left in the brush. There is a long wood slatted walkway that goes from the parking lot out to the springs leading the way. The wood walkway leads to the main, largest pool. This is the more lukewarm of the two. The hot water is coming from the narrow top section that is a skinny river area. The bigger round pool at the base of the springs is the coldest section of this tub. This is definitely not the hottest of the tubs to go to and is definitely the most crowded with people in the winter because all the skiers and snowboarders come to relax after a day on the slopes. This being the biggest tub is also the most naked of all of them with people feeling more freedom to go in the nude. This tub is between 95-100 degrees.
Hilltop Tub Hot Springs
This is one of the smallest tubs available in Mammoth. It is a very intimate tub that only fits about 4-6 people, depending on how much you squeeze. This is also the hottest tub available that is controlled by pipes and a valve like a real bathtub made out of the rock, letting spring water trickle in from the outside and control the temperature. This is definitely the coolest and most relaxing, real spa of all the tubs. It is also one of the most crowded and fought over. You can see when you pull in how many cars are in the parking lot and guess if you can fit based on the cars. There is a pretty good influx of people in and out being considerate and taking turns. This tub is also on a bit of a hill that you hike out onto with another set of wooden walkway planks that have been built.
This emerald lake is a perfect winter or summer getaway. It’s a gorgeous destination with different activities all year round. You can choose to visit during the winter for a real, snowy winter in CA or go during the summer to spend sunny days by the lake. This is by far one of our favorite road trips in California.