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The Ultimate Guide to Death Valley National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Death Valley National Park stretches across both California and Nevada. This national park is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the United States.

It’s also the largest national park in the lower 48 states and contains nearly 1,000 miles of roads that wind through the park and take visitors to the amazing sites and attractions. Each year over 1 million visitors come to explore this massive, mesmerizing park.

Let’s dive into the best things to see and do in this special place.

How To Get to Death Valley National Park

Where Is Death Valley National Park?

Death Valley National Park spans 2 states: California and Nevada. This park is located about 4.5 hours from Los Angeles and approximately 2.5 hours from Las Vegas. The park stretches over 3,422,024 acres and features plunging canyons, rugged mountains, and rolling sand dunes.

Nearest Airports to Death Valley National Park

There are 10 airports within 200 miles of Death Valley National Park. However, several are small and only available to privately chartered planes.

Harry Reid International Airport (LAS), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and San Diego International Airport (SAN) are the 3 closest major airports to Death Valley National Park. Let’s look at these 3 major airports and see what they offer to help you decide which one to utilize.

Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)

Harry Reid International Airport is 111 miles away from Death Valley National Park. This airport is located in Las Vegas.

LAS sees flights from dozens of national and international airlines, including Aeromexico, Allegiant, American, British Airways, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and more. The extensive mix of airlines provides nonstop flights to many major domestic and international destinations.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Los Angeles International Airport boasts a seemingly endless list of international and national airlines, including Alaska, American, British Airways, China Airlines, Delta, Southwest, Spirit, United, Volaris, and more. Together, these airlines provide hundreds of flights every day to destinations around the world.

LAX is located 192 miles away from Death Valley National Park. It takes approximately 4.5 hours to drive from the airport to the park.

The airport also offers numerous amenities for travelers, such as dining and shopping opportunities, as well as several shuttles and buses to help travelers get to and from the airport.

San Diego International Airport (SAN)

San Diego International Airport is located 341 miles from Death Valley National Park. It takes a little over 6 hours to complete this journey by car.

SAN has nonstop flights to dozens of destinations around the globe on a long list of domestic and international carriers, including Air Canada, Alaska, British Airways, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, Sun Country, and more. This airport is a great option as long as you don’t mind spending the extra time in the car to reach Death Valley.

Driving to Death Valley National Park

Driving to Death Valley National Park
Image Credit: RODNAE Productions via Pexels

Most travelers who visit Death Valley National Park come from Los Angeles or Las Vegas. There are several ways to get to the park from both of these cities, each providing a one-of-a-kind experience. Let’s look at some of the options.

From Los Angeles

Those traveling from Los Angeles have 2 options for arriving at Death Valley National Park, both of which will take around 4.5 hours. The first option is to take CA-14 north to Cantil, Redrock Ransburg Road to US-395 to CA-178, and then CA-192 to Death Valley.

The other option for those coming from Los Angeles is to take US-10 toward San Bernardino and then follow US-15 until you arrive at Baker. From Baker, you’ll use CA-127 which leads to Death Valley Junction. Finally, take CA-190 to the park’s entrance.

From Las Vegas

There are 4 different routes to Death Valley from Las Vegas that travelers can take. The park calls them the Fastest Route, the Easiest Route, the Ghost Town Route, and the Most Scenic Route.

The so-called Fastest Route follows Interstate 15 South to NV Highway 160 West toward Pahrump, Nevada. From there, follow Bell Vista Road until you reach Death Valley Junction, California. Then, take CA-127 to CA-190 and drive 30 miles to Furnace Creek Center. This route should take about 2 hours.

Taking the Train to Death Valley National Park

Amtrak provides train services to Barstow, California, for those who want to experience traveling by rail. Barstow is 142 miles from Death Valley National Park, and you’ll need to rent a car there and then drive about 2.5 hours to the park.

Bottom Line: Driving from Barstow is about the same as driving from the nearest major airport, making this an excellent option for those who prefer ground travel or who want a break from driving long distances.

Getting Around Death Valley National Park

The only way to get around in Death Valley National Park is by personal vehicle. There are no forms of public transportation to or in the park.

There are several ways to enter the park. Two entrances are paved, and the rest are on dirt roads. The main road running east to west through the park is CA-190. The main roads running north to south are North Highway and Badwater Road.

The National Park Service website has a wide variety of printable and interactive maps for travelers planning their park adventures.

What To See and Do in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park has plenty to experience, see, and do. There’s no shortage of sights and attractions, from hiking trails to fascinating natural wonders. Let’s take a look at the top attractions in this phenomenal park.

Artists Drive

The most scenic drive in Death Valley National Park is Artists Drive. This drive is a 9-mile stretch of paved road that winds through the hills of Death Valley. Driving on this popular road is the perfect way to see many stunning sights in the park without walking too much.

The hills are colorful and are formed by volcanic deposits that have built up over the years. This scenic drive is stunning anytime during the day, but if you’re looking for a memorable experience, driving this route during the afternoon light will provide you with the most dramatic bursts of colors.

This is an excellent area for driving, but it’s also a popular route for people on bicycles. It’s essential to be aware of those sharing the road with you and be on the lookout for bicycles and pedestrians throughout your drive.

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park
Image Credit: Tanya Nevidoma via Unsplash

Badwater Basin is a pool of shallow, salty water over 280 feet below sea level. This is the lowest point in North America. The large salt flats cover nearly 200 square miles of land.

Stories from the past suggest that Badwater Basin received its name when a surveyor’s mule refused to drink the water from the spring-fed pool near the boardwalk you see today.

While not exactly hospitable to many creatures, there are plants and animals that thrive in this environment, including the pickleweed plant and a specific type of snail unique to the area.

This popular attraction at Death Valley National Park is an excellent location for taking photographs. This park area features a boardwalk, making it accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.

If you’re looking for the best view, venturing for a quick and easy walk out to the salt flats is where you will get the best views of the breathtaking area. When you’re in the midst of the salt flats, you’re surrounded by the towering Black Mountains and the Panamint Range.

Dante’s View

Dante’s View is one of the most popular sites at Death Valley National Park. This overlook is located off CA-190 and provides sweeping 360-degree views of the southern Death Valley basin.

Dante’s View stands at 1,669 feet tall and is in the Furnace Creek area of the park. Incredible sights that can be seen from this overlook include the Owlshead Mountains, the Funeral Mountains, the Panamint Range, and the Green Water Range.

Darwin Falls

Death Valley National Park is home to Darwin Falls, which stands 18 feet tall and is surrounded by thriving plant life. Many visitors are surprised to learn that a stunning waterfall can be found in the middle of the desert park.

Darwin Falls is a popular hiking area with a nearly 2-mile trail that takes around 45 minutes to hike from start to finish. Standing in awe of this roaring waterfall will create memories that will last a lifetime.

Furnace Creek Visitor Center

Furnace Creek Visitor Center is an excellent place to learn about Death Valley National Park, ask park rangers questions, and purchase permits and national park passes.

There are also numerous exhibits and a 20-minute film that teaches about the natural and cultural history of the park. There is an on-site bookstore where you can shop for souvenirs.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Image Credit: C. Augustson via NPS

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are another must-see attraction in Death Valley National Park. Named after the mesquite tree, the area’s dunes are created by the wind which steadily moves the sand and the mountains, which keep the sand from being blown too far.

Many animals make their home in this park area, including kangaroo rats and sidewinder rattlesnakes.

There’s no official trail in this area, so it’s critical to stay on the lookout while exploring. It’s also important to note that if you see a burrow of one of these animals, it’s best to leave it alone so that the animal can continue living undisturbed.

This area is incredible to visit at sunrise and sunset. It’s also an excellent place to stargaze and enjoy the famous night skies at Death Valley.

Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon is a favorite of many visitors to Death Valley National Park. It boasts numerous slot canyons and offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with the incredible geology found in Death Valley.

One of the most remarkable features of this area of the park is the primary rock found in this area of the park. Mosaic Canyon Breccia is a type of natural cement that holds pieces of many other kinds of stones together and gives the appearance of a tile mosaic.

This trail is a great site for climbing — perfect for enthusiasts and adventurers who love a challenge. The hike through Mosaic Canyon starts off easy, but many sections and side trails are rigorous.

Bottom Line: There are tight squeezes, massive boulders, and other types of obstacles that will be encountered along the way. If you’re up for the challenge, this trail won’t disappoint.

The Racetrack

The Racetrack is located between the Cottonwood and Last Chance Mountain ranges. This area of the park is a remarkable mixture of beauty and mystery.

This attraction is a “playa,” or a dry lake bed, and is notorious for its sliding rocks. In the past, people believed that the natural phenomenon of sliding rocks was caused by playful spirits and extraterrestrial activity. However, science has proven that a combination of high winds and winter ice causes the stones to move across the playa.

This is an exciting sight to behold that will leave you mesmerized. If you plan to visit this area, it’s imperative to protect the surface of the playa as it is very fragile. It’s vital to only drive in marked areas and to leave the rocks alone. When it has been raining and the playa is wet, it’s critical to stay out of muddy areas and refrain from leaving footprints.

Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater is a massive crater formed by a volcanic eruption. It is thought that the crater was created by an explosion that happened about 2,100 years ago. This crater is 600 feet deep and half a mile across.

Ubehebe Crater is easy to view from the parking area near its rim, but most park visitors enjoy hiking to get a closer look. The rim trail is relatively easy and about 1.5 miles round-trip. This rim route also showcases several smaller craters, including Little Hebe.

Visitors can also walk to the bottom of the main crater. The walk to the bottom of this enormous crater is easy, but the trip back up can be quite strenuous.

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
Image Credit: NPS

A major attraction at Death Valley National Park is the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. These beehive-shaped historic structures were built and used starting in 1877 by a mining company that produced charcoal and turned Death Valley ore into silver.

These kilns were only used for a few years, which is why they remain in such good condition today. These structures stand 25 feet high and are said to be some of the best examples of historic kilns in the western U.S.

Best Times To Visit Death Valley

A trip to Death Valley National Park will be one to remember for the rest of your life, no matter when you visit. However, there are better times to visit than others if you are hoping to experience specific activities. Below are the best times to plan a Death Valley National Park trip.

Best Time To Visit Death Valley National Park in the Winter

February is the best winter month to visit Death Valley National Park. The temperatures are warmer, with lows in the upper 40s and highs in the mid-70s. Not only is the weather ideal during February, but the crowds are much lighter. However, there is a greater chance of rain.

Best Time To Visit Death Valley National Park To Avoid Crowds

December is the best month to visit if you’re looking for the fewest crowds. Temperatures range from the low 40s to the 70s, making it an ideal time to visit with few crowds and pleasant weather.

There are plenty of activities for adventurers during the winter months, such as snowshoeing to Telescope Peak and being able to explore the dunes without the miserable heat.

Best Time To Visit Death Valley National Park for Wildlife

If you’re hoping to see the wildlife that makes its home in Death Valley National Park, planning a trip in the fall is best. November is an excellent month to visit the park. The crowds start dissipating, so the chance of spotting wildlife is higher. The weather is also agreeable, making it a great time to hike and camp.

Cheapest Time To Visit Death Valley National Park

Planning an early summer trip to Death Valley National Park is a great way to be frugal while traveling. Late May or early June is an optimal time to visit Death Valley. The park is less crowded at this time which makes for a less stressful visit.

Hot Tip: Lodging rates and flight pricing is typically less expensive in the early summer months.

Annual Events in Death Valley National Park

Several annual events take place in Death Valley National Park. There’s an event available for every adventurer, from marathons to astronomy events. Let’s take a look at some of the exciting events that take place in this park each year.

Death Valley ’49ers Annual Encampment

Death Valley ’49ers Annual Encampment happens every November. Volunteers host this event at a non-profit organization that aims to spread awareness and appreciation about the Death Valley area. This event features live music, craft fairs, and presentations that pay tribute to the people and history of the region.

Death Valley Dark Sky Festival

Death Valley Dark Sky Festival
Image Credit: Patrick Taylor via NPS

Each year in February, visitors can come to the Death Valley Dark Sky Festival to experience an incredible stargazing event.

Death Valley has received the highest ranking of darkness by the International Dark-Sky Association. It is designated as a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, and guests can visit during this festival to learn about the night sky and the park’s landscapes.

Death Valley National Park partners with Death Valley Natural History Association and other organizations, including NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and California Institute of Technology, to provide this incredible astronomical event each year.

Death Valley Trail Marathon

Death Valley Trail Marathon is a half-marathon and marathon that takes place each year in December. The races begin in the town of Beatty and take runners on a gravel course through the scenic wilderness of Death Valley National Park. This event has been taking place for over 30 years and provides a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable experience at Death Valley National Park.

Where To Stay in Death Valley National Park

Lodging won’t be a problem when visiting Death Valley National Park. Options are abundant both in and near the park. Whether you prefer camping, staying in a lodge, or being pampered in a luxury resort, you can find exactly what you’re looking for.

Let’s check out the different accommodations found in and around Death Valley National Park.

Inside the Park

Death Valley National Park has a variety of campgrounds and 4 different areas where visitors can lodge during their park visit. These lodging areas include Stovepipe Wells Village, The Oasis at Death Valley, The Ranch at Death Valley, and Panamint Springs Resort. Here’s a look at the lodging options available inside the park.

Camping at Death Valley

There are 4 types of campgrounds available at Death Valley National Park, including developed campgrounds, primitive campgrounds, private campgrounds, and backcountry campgrounds.

There are 7 developed campgrounds throughout the park. Each of these campgrounds is accessible by a paved road. These campgrounds also have water, toilets, and trash services provided.

The primitive campgrounds are accessed by unpaved roads and have no services available for campers. There are 5 such campgrounds available. The National Park Service does not run the private campgrounds within the park.

These campgrounds include Stovepipe Wells RV Park, Panamint Spring Resort, and The Ranch at Death Valley. Camping in one of the private campgrounds requires a reservation in advance.

Hot Tip: Backcountry camping is available in many parts of the park as long as you camp a mile or further from any paved or dirt roads. Free permits are available and required for several areas for backcountry camping.

The Inn at Death Valley

The Inn at Death Valley
Image Credit: The Inn at Death Valley

The Inn at Death Valley is a historic inn offering luxury accommodations. It’s located in the Furnace Creek area of the park. Known as the crown jewel of Death Valley, this historic inn has been providing incredible accommodations since 1927.

The Inn at Death Valley is an AAA-rated 4-Diamond Resort with superior amenities such as brand-new guest rooms and a spring-fed pool, and you can even get massages on site.

Panamint Springs Resort

Panamint Springs Resort is located in the Panamint Springs area of the park. This resort is small and rustic and gives guests a western-style experience.

This resort features 14 historic motel rooms, a cottage, 9 brand-new cabin-style motel rooms, and tent cabins. Camping services are available in this resort area. There are full hook-up sites and sites for tent camping as well. Another draw to the Panamint Springs Resort area is the local restaurant, bar, and gas station in a general store.

The Ranch at Death Valley

The Ranch at Death Valley has been serving visitors since 1933. This hotel has 275 rooms and is well known for its lively atmosphere and for providing exciting activities in Death Valley.

This facility is located next to the visitor center. It has incredible facilities, such as a brand-new restaurant, an ice cream and coffee bar, a general store, and a saloon that feels like it’s been pulled from a western movie.

The Ranch at Death Valley used to be a working ranch but has transformed into a family-friendly lodging option. This ranch offers activities such as horseback riding, carriage rides, Jeep rentals, and an 18-hole golf course. The Ranch at Death Valley is a perfect place to unwind and relax while exploring this incredible national park.

Stovetop Wells Village

Stovepipe Wells Village offers resort-style accommodations and a few sites for RV camping. This area features a 90-year-old historic hotel that is a visitor favorite. This park area provides a tribute to the American West Gold Rush era.

Towns Near Death Valley National Park

Road From Lone Pine
Image Credit: Greg Bulla via Unsplash

There are several towns near Death Valley National Park that are perfect for those who prefer lodging nearby. Three well-known cities that are great places for setting up a base camp include Beatty, Lone Pine, and Shoshone. From historic motels to RV campgrounds, there’s something for every traveler near Death Valley National Park.

Beatty, California

The town of Beatty is known as the gateway to Death Valley. This small town is just 20 minutes from the park’s Hell’s Gate entrance. Beatty is a former mining town with many sights and activities on offer, including museums, living historians that reenact life during the 19th century, and more.

Beatty has unique lodging opportunities, including a hotel for extraterrestrial enthusiasts (the Atomic Inn) and several small motels and RV parks. Beatty also has an incredible array of unique restaurants, from classic hometown diners to cafes to Wild West saloons.

Lone Pine, California

Lone Pine is 2 hours from Death Valley National Park and an ideal destination for those who seek adventure. Located between the Inyo and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, this town is brimming with history and adventure.

There are plenty of lodging options in town, and plenty of dining options, including gourmet restaurants, pizza parlors, Mexican restaurants, saloons, and cafes.

This town is known for its adventure opportunities, such as exploring the surrounding mountains, hiking, climbing, and visiting museums, such as the Museum of Western Film History, and shopping in the historic downtown area.

Shoshone, California

Shoshone is a desert town an hour away from Death Valley National Park. Historically, this town was a railroad center and a place for local miners to rest and relax. Since then, Shoshone has become a gateway town for those visiting the park.

This town has many lodging opportunities, such as retreats, historic cabins, and RV parks. Shoshone has several dining options, with the Crowbar Café and Saloon being a visitor favorite.

The opera house has a variety of exciting programming to offer visitors throughout the year, and there are many opportunities for outdoor adventures, such as hiking, golfing, and horseback riding.

Where To Eat in Death Valley National Park

There is a great number of dining options in Death Valley National Park. Every lodging area has at least 1 restaurant on offer. From saloons and watering holes to fancy dining rooms, there’s something for every palate at Death Valley National Park. Let’s look at 3 popular places to get a bite to eat.

Badwater Saloon

Badwater Saloon is open daily for lunch and dinner. This restaurant is located in the Stovepipe Wells area. Badwater Saloon serves an outstanding menu of American cuisine, featuring burgers, salads, and sandwiches.

This saloon also offers an impressive selection of wine, specialty cocktails, and Western spirits. This is the perfect place for park guests to enjoy a good meal and company and refuel from their park outings.

The Inn at Death Valley Dining Room

The Inn at Death Valley Dining Room is another incredible option in the Oasis resort area of the park. This dining room serves a menu featuring classic dishes with the exciting flavors of cactus, date, pomegranate, and citrus sprinkled throughout many dishes on the menu.

This dining room is open for breakfast and dinner daily and is a more formal establishment. Reservations are required in advance, and the dress code is resort attire.

Toll Road Restaurant

Toll Road Restaurant provides visitors with a unique culinary experience. This restaurant is one of the finest restaurants in Death Valley National Park.

The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With generous portions of delicious food and exceptional service, Toll Road Restaurant should be at the top of your list of things to do while visiting Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley National Park Facts

Colorful hills in Death Valley
Image Credit: Venti Views via Unsplash

1. A New Park Is Born

Before Death Valley was established as a national park, it was a national monument. Death Valley was designated a national monument in 1933, and decades later, in 1994, Congress declared it a U.S. national park.

2. Largest Park in the Lower 48 States

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park found in the lower 48 states. This park is located in California and Nevada and spreads over 3.4 million acres across the desert landscape.

3. Original Inhabitants

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe originally inhabited Death Valley. They were hunters and gatherers who believed all their needs could be met by living off the land. They gathered the pinyon pine nuts and mesquite beans found in the area. Because the land was so special to this group, they had many sacred places throughout the park. These areas are still considered sacred today.

4. A Miner’s Paradise

Death Valley National Park has been an ideal location for mining for over a century. An abundance of minerals has been found in this area, including silver, gold, tungsten, ore, copper, lead, zinc, borax, and antimony. In 2005, the last mining operation closed its doors.

5. The History of the Name

In the winter of 1849 to 1850, a group of pioneers became lost in the Death Valley area. One group member died during this time, and the others felt the same would happen to them. The men assumed their location would be their grave.

Fortunately, the rest of the lost pioneers were rescued by 2 Good Samaritans. Once they found their way and headed for home, 1 man said, “Goodbye, Death Valley.” The nickname stuck, and so became Death Valley.

6. Lights, Camera, Action

Death Valley National Park has been a popular location for dozens of movies and television shows over the years. Some of the most popular movies filmed in the park include “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” and “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.”

7. A Hidden Castle

A castle can be found in Death Valley National Park. Grapevine Canyon is home to a hidden castle called Death Valley Ranch, nicknamed Scotty’s Castle.

This castle was built as a vacation getaway by a man named Albert Mussey Johnson. Walter Scott, a local cowboy and friend of Albert’s, convinced everyone that Johnson built his home with money from secret mines in the area. This dream home can still be visited and toured today. It gives a glimpse into what life was like during the 1920s and 1930s.

8. Hottest Place on Earth

Furnace Creek, located in Death Valley National Park, is the hottest place on earth. The highest recorded temperature in this location was documented in July of 1913 when the thermometer hit 134.1 degrees.

9. A Rare Fish

Death Valley National Park is home to a rare fish called the Devil’s Hole Pupfish. These fish are iridescent blue and can be seen in Devil’s Hole, which is a geothermal, water-filled cave system in Death Valley. These native fish are at risk of becoming extinct, with the most recent count finding just 175 fish.

10. “Death Valley Days” TV Series

“Death Valley Days” was a television series based on and filmed in Death Valley National Park. The episodes would tell stories of key people and events in Death Valley and had some famous hosts, including President Ronald Reagan.

Final Thoughts

Death Valley National Park is a part of the U.S. you won’t want to miss. Don’t be fooled by its name because Death Valley pulses with life, wonder, mystery, and beauty. Explore Death Valley National Park and discover the adventure, history, and stunning natural beauty that awaits you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there fees for visiting Death Valley National Park?

A pass must be purchased upon entering the park. A pass costs $30 per vehicle and provides access to the park for 7 days.

How long should I plan my trip to Death Valley National Park?

This park is massive and has many different areas to explore. Much of the park can be explored in 2 to 3 days, but an ideal trip would be 4 to 7 days. An extended trip provides a less rushed experience and more time to explore various sites.

What is the weather like in Death Valley National Park?

Winter temperatures can get as low as 15 degrees, and summertime highs typically reach up to around 120 degrees. The highest recorded temperature has been 134.1 degrees. It is very dry in the park, so you don’t have to worry about experiencing much rain on your trip to Death Valley.

Can I bring my dog to Death Valley National Park?

The National Park Service does not recommend guests bring their dogs to Death Valley National Park due to the heat and natural dangers. While there are some areas where dogs are permitted, most park areas do not allow dogs.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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