Earlier this year my husband and I decided to explore Death Valley National Park on a spontaneous whim. We did as much planning as we could before heading out but felt a lot of the information was inadequate and discovered a lot of things on our own, in real-time with our adventures. Because of that, I wanted to share the top things you need to know before visiting Death Valley National Park – Southern California’s hottest gem!
When to Visit Death Valley National Park
The most important thing to remember when planning a trip to Death Valley is that you should not be visiting in the summer. With temperatures reaching 110 – 135 degrees, you definitely would want to avoid the months from May to September. Many believe that the beginning of spring is the best season for a trip to Death Valley, however, we visited in January and absolutely loved the weather. Even during the night, the temperatures did not fall below 40 degrees. A winter trip also means fewer crowds, even on weekends!
How Much Time Do you need in Death Valley
Located approximately 5 hours away from Los Angeles, some people just plan a day in Death Valley National Park. The must-see sights are all in close proximity to each other and only take a few hours, so a day trip is definitely doable. I strongly recommend staying for at least two days as you will get the chance to explore more of the extraordinary scenery. The more time you spend, the more you will experience what is hidden behind what initially appears to be a very rugged and deserted inhospitable landscape. For those of you, who have a high clearance vehicle and are ready for some off-the-beaten-path adventures, 3 to 4 days would be even better!
Getting to Death Valley National Park
Located in South-eastern California, Death Valley National Park is approximately 270 miles away from Los Angeles. The national park’s close proximity to Nevada also means that you can easily make the trip from Las Vegas to Death Valley in slightly over 2 hours. Those traveling from Las Vegas can follow Highway 160 to Pahrump and then over to Bell Vista Road, which will take you North-west before joining Highway 190, running through the entire Death Valley National Park.
Arriving from Los Angeles or San Diego requires a longer drive. You would prefer to stay away from the busy and always heavily-trafficked I-5. Head East first towards San Bernardino, before joining I-15 North, to Baker. Following Highway 127 next will take you all the way into the park and the main campgrounds.
Death Valley National Park will immediately welcome you with its rugged, harsh, and deserted landscapes. Visiting the biggest national park in the contiguous United States means a lot of driving and navigating. The combination of remote locations and bumpy gravel roads should not discourage you, though! While the national park services advise high clearance vehicles for some of the attractions in Death Valley, many of them are also reachable by sedans and SUVs. Click here for more information.
For navigation within the park, I recommend that you either download an offline map of the local area through google maps or your personal favourite service or grab a good paper map of the area! Data service in the park, like many National Parks, is nearly nonexistent and you should plan accordingly to find your way around without service.
Note: The drives are really bumpy and rocky! Along one of these gravel roads we lost our license plate, but luckily other fellow travelers found it and gave it back to us! Always thankful for that!
Entrance Fee and Passes
Similar to the vast majority of USA National Parks, you are required to pay an entrance fee when visiting Death Valley. Vehicle passes cost $30 and allow you access for a 7-day period. An annual park pass is $55, while a full year America the Beautiful Annual Pass (grants access to all National Parks) is $80, so it is definitely worth considering if you are planning to visit numerous national parks. Active military also gets a free annual pass. Click Here for up to date fee prices.
Note: Compared to the other National Parks that we have visited, Death Valley does not have official park rangers entrance stations. You have to head to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center or Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station inside the park to get your passes. You can also purchase your pass in advance here.
While Death Valley is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, you should keep in mind that the visitor centers and campgrounds are not operational year-round. The Visitor Centers generally operate between 8AM – 5PM, but some of the ranger’s stations also close for lunch breaks. You can find self-service kiosks for purchasing your entrance passes and paying the campground fees at most of the campgrounds. It is also worth noting that some of the campgrounds, such as Stovepipe Wells and Texas Springs are only open late fall through spring seasons. Click Here for the full campground schedule.
Where to Stay in Death Valley
One of the first things to consider when visiting Death Valley National Park is where you will be staying. First of all, you definitely want to stay within the park and closer to the sights you have on your travel itinerary unless you want to spend hours driving.
With only three hotels in Death Valley, the options might be fairly limited, especially if booking at the last minute. Many visitors, attracted by the central location of Furnace Creek, either choose The Inn at Death Valley or The Ranch – both open year-round. The Stovepipe Wells Village and Panamint Springs Resort are the other two lodging options.
Our first camping trip was actually to Death Valley National Park. Visiting during the wintertime meant that we could take this spontaneous trip without having to make reservations beforehand and we actually managed to get a very good camping spot at Stovepipe Wells. We were treated with a remarkable sunrise as the sun gradually made its way above the mountain summits every morning. It might not be as centrally located as Furnace Creek, but all the places we wanted to visit were in close proximity. It operates on a first-come-first-serve basis and is only open between fall and spring. The barbecue pit and picnic tables for each tent spot were a nice added bonus. Click here for the full list of campgrounds and up to date information on the camping fees in Death Valley.
Where to Eat in Death Valley
The food options are as limited as the lodging options, so be prepared. You can find a restaurant at the Inn at Death Valley, but reservations are recommended. The Ranch has buffet options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so this might be a good option.
As I mentioned previously, we decided to camp when visiting Death Valley, so we brought and prepared our own food. For just two nights, we were happy with our adventure meal packs and hot tea with rum. We were fairly surprised by ourselves with this being our first camping trip, but we loved every minute of it! You could say camping in Death Valley is ‘in tents’!
One of the most important tips for visiting Death Valley is to bring your own food! Contrary to other national parks, Death Valley does not have a grocery store. You can find overpriced gas station food and junky snacks at the gas stations, but they are not worth the money. Instead, get a cooler and bring the following:
sandwiches for lunch
lots of water!!!
Note: You will find water fountains near the 3 main campgrounds in Death Valley, however, you should still be ready for the unexpected. We over-prepared and brought 5 gallons of water, and we only used a third of it. You are always better safe than sorry!
Covering over 3 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States. While the vast majority of the best places to visit are located in close proximity to each other, you should be prepared to drive for miles without any signs of civilization or a spot to fuel up. With more than 93% of the park being designated as a wilderness area, it is no surprise!
Having a full tank of gas before entering the park is highly advisable to avoid getting stranded. Within the park, you will find gas stations at Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek Campgrounds. Keep in mind that the Furnace Creek area is the most well-known and as such, fuel there is extremely overpriced! On our visit, we noted Stovepipe Wells had gas prices at least a dollar per gallon cheaper!
One of the main reasons why I enjoyed Death Valley so much was the complete lack of cell service. It might sound a bit odd, but I absolutely loved the 48 hours of no phones, no screens, no emails, and no social media. Instead, I had 48 hours of real connection to the world we live in! The lack of cell service, however, can cause problems when visiting Death Valley National Park! Prepare for your trip by:
I hope this guide helps you when visiting Death Valley National Park. We thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to go back at some point! Let me know down below, have you been to Death Valley? What was your favourite spot? Or are you just planning a trip, and what are you excited to see? I would love to know what you have to say!
One final tip to leave you with: Keep the environment clean for future visitors to enjoy. If you take it in, take it out. Do not leave trash on the trails!