This scorched earth offers a palette of colours, dry lakebeds and salt polygons. A perfect day trip when in Las Vegas
Located in both California and Nevada, Death Valley is a place of extremes with the scorching, summer heat and droughts meeting frosted peaks and rainstorms.
One of the hottest places in the world, the beautiful but challenging landscape is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has nearly 1,000 miles of roads providing access points to different locations in the park. The valley is approx 140 miles long.
The below-sea-level basin received its unforgiving name after a group of pioneers got lost in the winter of 1849-1850. They were rescued but as they climbed out of the valley over the Panamint Mountains, one of the men said “Goodbye, Death Valley”.
In July 2018, the park saw its hottest month on record. The average temperature was 108.1⁰F including overnight lows, with daytime highs reaching a temperature of 127⁰F for four days in a row.
Tip: Badwater Basin is the lowest place in the park. At -282 feet below sea level, it’s not only the lowest place but the lowest in North America. It’s located 18 miles south of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center on the Badwater Road (CA 178).
When to visit
The most popular time to visit the park is in Spring due to wildflowers and the warm, sunny days.
Those wanting to hike will find the trails to Telescope and Wildrose Peaks are at their best in summer.
During Autumn, ranger programmes being as does the camping season. Autumn brings clear skies and warm temperatures.
The weeks leading up to Death Valley ’49ers Encampment (second week in November) and the Thanksgiving holiday means that the park gets busy.
Winter offers cool days, chilly nights and rare rainstorms. The period after Thanksgiving and before Christmas is the least crowded time of the year.
Conditions can change quickly with inclement weather, so always check for current conditions before taking backcountry roads if driving.
Subsequently, backcountry travel in the summer months (April – October) can be dangerous and also requires plenty of water and supplies
You can visit Death Valley in the summer and with an air-conditioned vehicle you can safely tour many of the main sites. Stay on paved roads and if your car breaks down, stay with it until help arrives.
Tip: Remember to check alerts for flooding etc. Grapevine Canyon can be closed due to severe thunderstorms. Check out the National Park Service’s ‘alerts in effect’ page.
Driving: The main road transecting Death Valley National Park from east to west is California Highway 190.
West: Coming from the west, State Route 14 and US Route 395 lead to Ridgecrest, CA where State Route 178 heads east into the park.
Further north on Hwy 395 at Olancha, CA you can join Hwy 190 to the park, or north of that at Lone Pine, CA, Hwy 136 will also join Hwy 190 heading east into the park.
East: On the east in Nevada, US Route 95 parallels the park from north to south with connecting highways at Scotty’s Junction. Beatty (State Route 374) and Lathrop Wells (State Route 373). (Note: Access to State Route 267 is closed until further notice),
South: The most direct route from Las Vegas is via Pahrump, NV, and California Highway 190.
South of the park, Interstate 15 passes through Baker, California on its way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
State Route 127 travels north from Baker to Shoshone and Death Valley Junction with connections to the park on State Route 178 from Shoshone and connection with California Highway 190 at Death Valley Junction. The journey is aorund 120 miles and takes 2 hours.
Tip: There is no specific street address for the park or the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. However, GPS users can type in the address for the Death Valley Post Office that is located about 400 meters south of the visitor centre:
328 Greenland Blvd.
Death Valley, CA 92328
Public transport: There is no public transportation available to Death Valley National Park.
Tour: There are lots of tour operators that provide day trips to the valley from Las Vegas, stopping at key highlights, such as Ubehebe Crater, Furnace Creek Ranch Museum, Badwater and Rhyolite Ghost Town. Here are just a few:
Viator: Small-Group Death Valley National Park Day Trip from Las Vegas from $189 per person.
Tours 4 Fun: Death Valley National Park Small Group Tour from $249 per person.
What to wear/ take
Layers of light clothing
Water, water, water! Drink at least 2 – 4 litres per day
Things to see
Tip: The most popular places to see sunrise in the valley are: Dantes View, Zabriskie Point and the sand dunes. For sunset locations: Zabriskie Point, the sand dunes, Artists Palette and Aguereberry Point.
Tip: There are ranger-led programmes offering guided tours during December – March. Tours include. Golden Canyon Walk, Badwater Ranger Talk and Mesquite Flat Dunes Ranger Talk. Visit the Furnace Creek Visitor Center for a full activity list.
Scattered across the bottom of this dry lakebed are hundreds of rocks that leave trails on the ground when they move.
Some of the rocks, which weigh up to 700 pounds, have travelled over 1,500 feet.
Artists Palette viewpoint
Multi-coloured, eroded hills provide views of one of the most photogenic sections. Oxidation of natural metal deposits in the mountains producing shades of green, blue and purple.
Artists Drive, which begins 20 minutes from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, offers dramatic colours during the afternoon light. The drive is one-way and only open to vehicles less than 25 feet in total length.
This large salt flat is home to the lowest elevation in North America, at – 282 feet (-86 m) below sea level. Take a 400m walk out onto the salt flat to see the salt polygons.
The basin is located 30 minutes south of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
Devil’s Golf Course
This massive area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires is made up of large salt formations.
If you lower yourself to the ground, you’ll hear tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat.
This viewpoint is extremely popular as it offers overlooks to the golden badlands of the Furnace Creek formation. Connector trails lead to Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Red Cathedral.
The point is most popular at sunrise and sunset.
Rhyolite Ghost Town
Located just outside the park near Beatty, Nevada, this once bustling area was a gold-mining community after high-grade ore was discovered in 1905. However, the town turned to ruins due to the diminishing high-grade ore, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and closure of the mines by 1910. Banks, the post office and train depot closed by 1914 and power companies shut down electricity in 1914. The town has stood empty with no residents for over 100 years.
Look out for the walls of the three-story bank building and parts of the old jail. The train depot is one of the few complete buildings left in the town, as is the Bottle House. The Bottle House was restored by Paramount pictures in 1925.
The town is 35 miles from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center on the way to Beatty, Nevada. A paved road heading north (left) from Hwy. 374 will take you to the heart of the town.
Note: Summer hiking is not recommended except in the early morning hours and in the mountains.
Where to stay
Camping: There are nine developed campgrounds in Death Valley NP. All are first come first served except Furnace Creek Campground, which can take reservations from mid-October through mid-April. The starting price to camp here is $16 per person.
During the months May-September, there are only a few campgrounds open due to the extreme temperatures.
Open campgrounds are first-come, first-serve and are not staffed.
To get a free backcountry camping permit, go to The Furnace Creek Visitor Center or any ranger station.
Hotel: The Oasis at Death Valley is located just off California State Route 190 in Death Valley National Park. It’s five minutes from Zabriskie Point. (Address: CA-190, Death Valley, CA 92328, US).
The Inn at Death Valley is located on Highway 190, and 3.4 miles from Zabriskie Point. (Address: California 190, Death Valley, CA 92328, Death Valley, CA 92328, US).
Checking out C & J.