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Death Valley offers more than a barren landscape. Check out a palm tree dotted oasis with spring-fed swimming pools. Then drive down a back road in a rented Jeep. Or stare at the milky way above as you roast marshmallows in a fire pit. As the largest U.S. National Park outside of Alaska, Death Valley is bound by rugged mountains and watercolor-painted rock formations.
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Death Valley is a land of extremes. As the largest national park outside of Alaska, it encompasses over three million acres. And, it’s the lowest point in North America at 282-feet below sea level. Another record is the highest air temperature ever recorded at the Furnace Creek Resort in 1913 (134 F/56.7 C).
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You might not expect this but Death Valley has a luxurious side. The Oasis at Death Valley offers an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, a horse corral, a couple of spring-fed swimming pools, a playground and several restaurants. And, just a few hours from Los Angeles, it is one of several National Park road trips.
Your First Visit to Death Valley National Park
Check in at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center (open daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to grab the Junior Ranger program for the kids. Watch the 20-minute park interpretive film. Next grab a map and refill the water bottles. Then drive to Badwater Basin. If you have limited time in Death Valley National Park, this is a must-do.
Badwater Basin is 17 miles from Furnace Creek Visitor Center along Badwater Road. This route drives down the center of Death Valley with several turnoffs, like Devils Golf Course, Golden Canyon and Artists Drive.
At 282-feet below sea level, it’s a level hike that starts half a mile from the parking lot. My boys loved racing along the salt flats. And I grabbed a taste of the Badwater salt from the ground.
On the way back, check out Devils Golf Course. An area where the sun baked ground pops as salt expands in the heat. If the weather is mild, hike at the Golden Canyon area for scenic views.
Then turn down Artists Drive, a one-way nine-mile route through rainbow-hued rock formations.
Stop at the overlooks at Zabriskie Point or Dantes View for valley-sweeping views.
Read More: Guide to U.S. National Parks
Other Death Valley Areas to Explore
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is the largest dune field in the park. This area features crescent, linear and star-shaped dunes. The mesquite tree skeletons offer a visual reminder of the harsh living conditions.
See Death Valley’s gold mining past at Keane Wonder mine. An aerial tramway carried the gold-rich ore from the mine. Over a million dollars of gold was mined from this area.
Find ten 25-foot high Charcoal Kilns, located in Wildrose Canyon. Built in 1877, the kilns provided charcoal for fuel.
Ubehebe Crater is a 600-foot deep volcanic crater located on the north side of Death Valley. Walk to the rim or around the rim during the winter.
After a mine went bust, the people moved on, and a ghost town was born, like Rhyolite near Beatty, Nevada, or California’s Ballarate Ghost Town or Panamint City Ghost Town. Drive through desert ghost towns for an eery look at history.
What to do in Death Valley
Check out the Wildflowers
From mid-February to mid-May find wildflowers in Death Valley including poppies and Joshua Tree blooms.
As the sun falls behind the Panamint Mountains to the west, Death Valley National Park transforms. With some of the darkest skies in the country, it’s possible to see the Milky Way without a telescope.
Death Valley is an International Dark Sky Park. Park rangers host various star-gazing programs fall through spring.
Death Valley offers hiking from easy to difficult trails.
Harmony Borax Works–easy .4-mile trail
Salt Creek Interpretive Trail–easy .5-mile trail
Badlands Loop–moderate 2.7-mile trail
Mosaic Canyon–moderate 4-miles trail
Telescope Peak–difficult 14-mile trail
Use bicycles on any of the vehicular roads in Death Valley, like Titus Canyon Road, a 28-mile one-way road.
Death Valley is home to lots of mammals, including several varities of bats. Head to the Grapevine Mountains for a glimpse of wild horses or burros. Or see the desert bighorn sheep defy gravity on mountain ledges. And as night falls, listen for coyotes.
Junior Ranger Badges
Earn a Death Valley Junior Ranger Badge during your getaway by completing a booklet available at the Visitor Center. A Dark Skies Junior Ranger Badge is also available.
Read More: Guide to Junior Ranger Badges
History of Death Valley National Park
The Timbisha Shoshone people have lived in Death Valley for thousands of years. The name Death Valley comes from a group of pioneers stuck in the valley during the winter of 1849-1850.
Death Valley is 140-miles long and surrounded by the Amargosa and the Panamint mountain ranges. The mountain peaks can reach 11,000 feet. Along the valley floor, find salt flats and sand dunes. In the 1850s the gold prospectors arrived and in the 1880s borax, a common detergent, was mined.
Protected as a national monument since 1933, Death Valley became a national park in 1994. It’s also part of the UNESCO’s Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve.
In recent history, several films in the Star Wars franchise were filmed in Death Valley National Park including the Tatooine scenes.
Why is it so HOT?
Death Valley is the hottest, driest and lowest spot in the United States.
As I travel through Death Valley, I hear the same message. It’s hot in the summer. Plan on temperatures over 90F (32 C) from April to October. In July and August, expect temperatures over 110F (43 C) for weeks on end.
Death Valley is located between two mountain ranges so the mountains trap the heat. The valley floor is flat and lacks vegetation so the heat radiates. It’s basically an oven. So, summer isn’t the best time to visit. Most of the park’s programming is reduced during the summer.
Lodging in Death Valley National Park
The Oasis at Death Valley
The Pacific Coast Borax Company developed this area in 1933 to support its railroad. The twenty mule teams hauled the mineral out of Death Valley. This area is acajacent to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and includes lodging, camping and restaurants.
The Ranch at Death Valley
The Ranch at Death Valley sports a new mission California style Town Square including a new registration building. The hotel buildings overlook a large grassy area, dotted with palm trees. The standard rooms at the Ranch at Death Valley ($$+) feature two queen beds with air-conditioning, a TV, a hair dryer, in-room coffee, a mini-refrigerator and a full bath.
The Ranch at Death Valley offers an oasis of activities, including a spring-fed pool, a playground, fire pits and tennis courts. Also find a volleyball court, basketball court, shuffleboard and bocce ball court. Additionally there’s a general store along with a horse corral.
You’ll find several dining options here. The Ranch 1849 Buffet offers a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Last Kind Words Saloon offers lunch and dinner menus along with wine, beer and spirits.
Fiddler’s Campground offers back-in sites without hook-ups for $24 a night. This area offers a coin-operated laundry, and showers. Additionally, campers can use the facilities of Thee Ranch at Death Valley.
The Inn at Death Valley
Find the most glamorous lodging at The Inn at Death Valley ($$$$$+), a great choice for adults. Built in 1927 to attract the glamorous to the desert, it’s a AAA four-diamond property.
The Inn at Death Valley has been fully renovated. You’ll find luxury rooms with period details along with new casitas and a pool bungalow. The Inn at Death Valley features a natural spring-fed pool. A full spa menu is available the Inn at Death Valley as well.
The Inn Dining Room serves a fine dining menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. During the mild months, food is served on the Inn Terrace.
Stovepipe Wells Village
Stovepipe Wells Village has welcomed guests since 1926. Find modern hotel rooms ($$) with an outdoor pool. The Toll Road Restaurant serves a breakfast buffet from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. along with dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Or, grab a beer on tap at Badwater Saloon.
Stovepipe Wells Village offers a general store. Also find RV sites with full hook-ups for $40. Camping without hook-ups is $14 a night at the NPS campground. Campers can use the showers or pool for a fee.
Panamint Springs Resort
Watch the sunset on the Panamint Mountains from the Panamint Valley. The Panamint Springs Resort ($+) offers motel rooms along with cabins with air conditioning and bathrooms. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Additionally, find camping cabins outfitted with cots and without bathrooms from $50 a night.
Golf and Tours in Death Valley
Not many national parks offer a golf course. At 214-feet below sea level it’s a bucket list golf destination. Find a 18-hole, par 70 course with water features and surrounded by palm trees.
If you want a guided tour you can take a one or two-hour guided horseback trail ride. You can also enjoy a 45-minute carriage ride or hay ride. The Furnace Creek Stables is located in The Oasis of Death Valley.
Jeep tours allow for backroad discovery. Jeeps can be rented at the Inn at Death Valley to explore without a guide.
Other Important Death Valley Details You Need to Know
Death Valley National Park is located in California, 125 miles west of Las Vegas, the closest city with commercial flights. California Highway 190 transects Death Valley from Panamint Springs on the west side to Death Valley Junction on the east side. Interstate 15 at Baker, California, is 84 miles south of Death Valley Junction.
Death Valley National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Admission is $30 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or you can use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80).
You will find nearly 1,000 miles of roads in Death Valley National Park but read the map closely. The majority are unpaved, four-wheel-drive roads, unsuitable for most cars.
Scotty’s Castle is closed until further notice according to the NPS. A flash flood destroyed the road and infrastructure servicing Scotty’s Castle. The building was unharmed.
Tips from a Traveling Mom:
- Make reservations for lodging and tours as soon as possible. Lodging reservations can be made 13 months in advance.
- Keep wild animals wild. Don’t feed them for your safety and theirs.
- Do not enter mine shafts or tunnels.
- Carry extra water year-round.
- Don’t rely on technology for directions in Death Valley, get a map at the Visitors Center.
- Flat tires are common on unpaved roads, be prepared.
- Don’t hike at the lower elevations in the summer.
- Don’t leave kids or pets in vehicles during the summer. Temperatures can reach 160F.