Working our way down our road trip list, we decided to camp in Death Valley National Park while it was still spring. One of our travel buddies had been before and knew all the best photo spots. We arrived late afternoon and quickly realized how hot it was there!
Death Valley holds the record for the highest recorded temperature on earth of 134 °F, and it was living up to its name.
Friends, Death Valley weather is no joke. We though we were smart by going shoulder season. We went in late April and at sea level, it was around 100 degrees.
Luckily, we weren’t camping at sea level and every 1000 ft above sea level, the temperature dropps 5 degrees. It’s also a large park and within 2 days we drove over 100 miles to get around. Click the links below for more photos and info.
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Last Updated: December 2, 2019. First Published: May 23, 2013
First Timer's Guide to Death Valley
Essential Tips / What You Need to Know Before You Visit
- Death Valley is the largest National Park outside of Alaska covering 3.4 million acres. There are almost 1000 miles of paved an dirt roads giving you access to popular and remote locations.
- Pick up an America the Beautiful National Park Pass to save money on future visits.
- Cellphone access within the park is very limited. For your best chance to get service, head to Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells.
- You can purchase wifi in Furnace Creek at The Oasis at Death Valley or the Death Valley Lodging Company in Stovepipe Wells.
- Although it’s a massive park, there is only one Visitor Center at Furnace Creek.
- During the summer, it is recommended that every person has at least one gallon of water per day.
- Light, long-sleeved clothes can help protect you from the sun. It’s also good to have layers if you plan on exploring higher elevations.
- Do not hike in low elevations when the temperatures are hot. Head to the mountains if you want to get on the trail.
- Stay on paved roads in the summer.
- Don’t reach into places where you can’t see. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, or black widows may be hiding out.
- If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or a headache, get out of the sun and hydrate. Damp clothes can help you lower your body temperature.
- Avoid canyons during rainstorms. Flash floods can happen.
When to Visit Death Valley
- Death Valley is an International Dark Sky Park. Visit during the new moon to see an amazing showing of stars. Some of the best spots to view the night sky are Harmony Bora works, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Badwater Basin.
- Death Valley is best known for its heat. It is the hottest place on earth. The summer season runs from May to September with temperatures well over 100°F, and often over 120°F.
- The Fall season doesn’t start until late October. It is still warm, but much more manageable. Winter is cool during the day and cold at night. At higher elevations, you may find snow too.
- Spring is the most popular season for the park. Besides the warm weather and sunny days, wildflowers bring in a lot of visitors.
15 Incredible Things to Do in Death Valley National Park
A scenic drive and views of colorful rock formations from the parking lot. The view requires no hiking, but you can venture further in if you want.
Pro Tip: Most people photoshop their photos, so when you see it in person, it’s not as vibrant. It also helps if you visit on a sunny day vs a cloudy day.
4. Furnace Creek
Get on their cell service if you need it. We ate lunch at the 49ers Cafe. It’s the only restaurant in in sight for miles. It’s definitely overpriced, but the Hiker’s Pasta was decent and filling. Again, it’s the only thing available. Also, we bought a patch souvenir at their souvenir shop.
We headed here around 10:30AM the next day. It’s incredible how there’s a desert in the middle of the different mountain ranges. It seems so out of place! We starting walking onto the dunes and before we knew it, we could barely see the cars.
Note: Don’t forget your water like we did. It is extremely hot during most parts of the year, and when you’re thirsty, you feel like the dunes go forever.
Originally, we wanted to take sunset photos at Zabriskie Point. Since everything was so far apart in Death Valley, we didn’t make it back in time.
We decided to end our trip at Zabriskie Point instead. It was a beautiful view and we regretted not making it there for sunset. Next time we also want to hike through the badlands from here.
9. Ubehebe Crater
Ubehebe Crater is 600 feet deep and a half-mile across. You can appreciate it from the parking lot or hike to the bottom.
Keep in mind that the walk down is easy, but coming back up can be exhausting. There is also a trail around the rim that is roughly 1.5 miles. Along the way, you’ll see other small craters including Little Hebe.
10. Devil's Golf Course
The Devil’s Golf Course got its name from a guidebook back in the 1930s that stated: “Only the devil could play golf on such a surface.” Since its elevation is several feet above Badwater, this area has remained dry and the weather has sculpted the salt into crazy formations.
The Racetrack is a dry lake bed known for its strange moving rocks. I’ve always wanted to do astrophotography here, but this is one we did not get to do because we weren’t equipped with the right car.
Note: You must have a 4×4 and high clearance vehicle. The road is rough and remote. If you get a flat, it’s not likely you may not find anyone else there to help you.
12. Golden Canyon
This is one of the most popular hikes in Death Valley. The 3-mile roundtrip hike takes you through large canyons to the Red Cathedral at the end.
Fans of Star Wars may also recognize the mouth of the canyon as “Jawa Canyon” from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. They shot a bunch of other scenes in the canyon too.
14. Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
This is an easy 0.5 mile hike along a wooden boardwalk. It’s open year-round and if you visit between November and May, you’ll find water flowing. Between February and April, you might see Salt Creek Pupfish spawning too.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, there’s a sandy footpath at the furthest point of the boardwalk.
15. See the Superbloom
Spring is one of the most popular seasons to visit Death Valley because of the weather, but mostly because you might see the amazing wildflowers blooming in the park.
The conditions have to be just right, but when they are, the superbloom is spectacular. Check this page for the latest updates.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that the timing of the superbloom is different at higher elevations.
More Things to Do in Death Valley National Park
- Eureka Dunes – more remote, but cleaner dunes than Mesquite.
- Father Crowley Point
- Keane Wonder Mine
- Mosaic Canyon
- Rainbow Canyon
- Twenty Mule Team Canyon Drive
- Wildlife – Find desert kit foxes at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Death Valley Hikes From Easy to Difficult
All the hikes are out and back and mileage and time needed is round trip unless specified as a loop or point to point hike.
- Harmony Borax Works (0.4 mi loop, 50 ft △, 30 min, easy)
- Salt Creek Interpretive Trail (0.9 mi, 26 ft △, 30 min, easy)
- Natural Bridge (1 mi, 86 ft △, 45 min, easy)
- Badwater Salt Flat (1 mi, 0 ft △, easy)
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (2 mi, 185 ft △, 1.5 hr, moderate)
- Ubehebe Crater Loop (1.5 mi loop, 500 ft △, 1 hr, moderate) – has parts that are exposed that might be difficult for those afraid of heights.
- Darwin Falls (2 mi, 450 ft △, 1.5-2 hr, moderate)
- Badlands Loop (2.7 mi loop, 300 ft △, moderate)
- Golden Canyon (3 mi, 574 ft △, moderate)
- Desolation Canyon (3.6 mi, 600 ft △, 2.5 hr, moderate)
- Mosaic Canyon (4 mi, 1200 ft △, 2.5-3 hr, moderate)
- Willow Canyon (4.2 mi , 776 ft △, 2.5 hr, moderate)
- Gower Gulch Loop (4.3 mi loop, 715 ft △, moderate)
- Sidewalker Canyon (5 mi, 1580 ft △, 6 hr, difficult)
- Fall Canyon (6 mi, 2460 ft △, 3.5 hr, moderate-difficult)
- Dante’s Ridge (8 mi, moderate)
- Panamint Dunes (8 mi, 1028 ft △, 4-5 hr, difficult)
- Little Bridge Canyon (7 mi, 1900 ft △, 5 hr, difficult)
- Corkscrew Peak (7 mi, 3093 ft, difficult)
- Wildrose Peak (8.4 mi, 2200 ft △, 6 hr, difficult)
- Telescope Peak (14 mi, 3000 ft △, 7 hr, difficult)
What to Pack for Death Valley
Death Valley National Park Camping
There are 9 campgrounds in Death Valley. During the summer (May to September), only a few are open since it’s so hot. All sites during the summer are first-come, first-serve so it gets really busy during holiday weekends.
From October to April, it is rare that all campgrounds fill up. All of the sites are first-come, first-serve except for Furnace Creek Campground.
Here is a list of campgrounds:
- Furnace Creek (open year-round) – 136 sites, 18 hookups
- Sunset (Oct – May) – 270 sites
- Texas Springs (Oct – May) – 92 sites
- Stovepipe Wells (Oct – May) – 190 sites
- Mesquite Spring (open year-round) – 30 sites
- Emigrant (open year-round) – 10 tent-only sites
- Wildrose (open year-round) – 23 sites
- Thorndike (open year-round) – 6 sites (requires high clearance)
- Mahogany Flat (open year-round) – 10 sites (requires high clearance)
Read all camping rules and regulations here.
Distances are from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
- Amargosa Opera House (30.6 mi SE, 35 min, map)
- Rhyolite Ghost Town (37.7 mi N, 50 min, map)
- Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (42.8 mi E, 50 min, map)
- Tecopa Hot Springs (65.3 mi SE, 1 h 15 min, map)
- China Ranch Date Farm (75 mi SE, 1 h 30 min, map)
- Dumont Dunes (83.2 mi SE, 1 h 30 min, map)
- Trona Pinnacles (111 mi, 2 h 20 min, map)
- Manzanar National Historic Site (115 mi W, 2 h 10 min, map)
What’s the hottest temperature you’ve ever experienced? Can you think of any other fun things to do in Death Valley National Park that we missed?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.