Death Valley National Park
Location: Southeastern California
Getting there: Death Valley is a little over 4 hours from Los Angeles, and 2 hours from Las Vegas. The is nestled between the border of Nevada and Sequoia National Forest. The closer you get to the park, the less services are available so plan accordingly. If you need supplies, gas or groceries, the towns of Ridgecrest or Inyokern would be your best bet. From the “National Park” sign outside the park to the next available service is a fairly long drive over a steep grade. Furnace Creek, the main, middle section of the park is about an hour drive from the park sign and is where most campgrounds, and the visitors center, are located.
- If you have the option to drive (or rent) a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle- do it! Although its not a necessity, going off the beaten path is a great way to visit this park. One of the parks attractions, known as the Racetrack (think Spongebob’s moving boulder-car) , is only accessible by a 4WD vehicle, of which they recommend it be driven by experienced drivers only. The likelihood of popping a tire is high.
- Choose the time of year you go wisely. Check the average temperatures of the park during that time, and then continue checking until its time to depart. During the summer months, temperatures will average above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do well with heat, this is a time you can visit the park.
- Campsites can be hard to come by in this park, as most of them are FCFS. If you’re not able to get a site at Furnace Creek online, make sure to arrive early for the chances of getting a good spot. The largest campground, Sunset, will likely have the most availability but is a cramped campground, usually with a lot of RVs. Campgrounds like Texas Springs are much nicer in spacing and scenery and options like Stovepipe Wells offer quieter sites near other attractions in the park.
- Bring extra water wherever you go and make sure that you are hydrating throughout the day. If you can, take note of the temperatures within the park when they are posted at the visitors center and avoid going to specific areas of the park during the middle of the day. Consider some other things to do during the heat of the day.
- Bring a hat and wear sunscreen
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.
Zabrinske Point: If you have a morning, wake up at sunrise to see this for the first time. Its absolutely spectacular to watch at sunrise, especially if its the first time you’ll be seeing it. Zabrinske is closest to Furnace Creek and is a very short drive, and walk to the best viewpoint. A short hike around the area is also an option if you’d like the stroll.
Dante’s View: This is a great option for sunrise and sunset, and will likely be windy! Its about an hour drive from Furnace Creek, and goes up a long and windy road. There will likely be others no matter the time of day you visit, but sure has great views of the valley where Badwater is located and the mountain range behind it.
Mesquite Sand Dunes: If you’ve got the stamina to hike in the sand, this is the place for you to be. I highly recommend going during cooler temperatures or later in the day- if possible. This attraction is between Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek and can take up a ton of time. I’ve seen a few people bring sleds to go down the steep dunes, but it will take a lot of energy to walk out to the highest of the dunes. I think it took about 45 minutes to an hour to walk to the very top of the highest dune with my group. This is also a great place for photography and you can get some wicked shots of portraits or landscape here.
Badwater Basin: This is absolutely the most iconic place in the park. At the sites parking lot there is an easy access to walk out onto the salt flats. This is one of the hottest places, so be wary about visiting it in the middle of the day unless you know the temperatures will be moderate. I found that walking onto the flats was very unearthly and incredibly quiet.
Other things to do:
- Hike 4.5 miles to Golden Canyon
- Take a drive to the Charcoal Kilns
- Take a Star Wars Tour of the park
- Visit Racetrack Playa (* 4×4, high clearance vehicle with good tires required)
If you can force yourself to get up early, sunrises in this park will not disappoint you. When visiting places such as Badwater Basin, Dante’s View and Zabrinske Point- sunrise is your time to head out because the sun will rise in a good location for these places.
I recommend spending sunset at the sand dunes of Mesquite Flats, and if you have an extra time- Artists Palette. The colors of the valley really pop during these golden times and you’ll likely find yourself running around like a mad man if you’re anything like me. Just please be aware of photographers around the park, especially during golden hour times. Its easier to avoid them in big places like the sand dunes or Badwater but almost impossible to avoid them everywhere else.
Astrophotography can also be incredible at this park if you can get clear conditions and a new moon. Try going out to Mesquite Sand Dunes to get a good foreground in your shots. The dunes work from all directions so it will be a great thing to shoot- especially if you’re new to astro.
- Apart from Alaska, Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states at 3.4 million acres
- The hottest temperature IN THE WORLD was recorded at Furnace Creek in July 1913 at 134 degrees Fahrenheit
- Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the country at 282 feet below sea level. When visiting Badwater Basin the cliffs behind the parking lot show where sea level is in relation to the rest of the location.
- There are 6 species of fish that can live in the salty, harsh conditions of the park. One of which includes the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish, that only live in the 93 degree water of Devils Hole, where the temperature and oxygen concentrations would be lethal to most other fish
- Movies such as Star Wars Episode IV and VI, Tarzan (1951), The Twilight Zone, and many more were filmed in Death Valley
- Death Valley hosts a race called the Badwater Ultra-marathon. This is described as the “world toughest footrace” and is a 135 mile trek from Badwater Basin (-279 )to the Whitney Portal area of Mount Whitney (8360). It takes place in MID-JULY when the temperatures of Badwater can be up to 130 degrees. Very few people, even ultra-marathoners, are able to finish this race.
Interested in finding more about Death Valley and what to do there? Visit the park website here