Death Valley National Park is a national park in California. Allow it to settle in for a second: Death Valley. What kind of location could have given rise to such a ghoulish moniker? How about one of the Western Hemisphere’s hottest and driest locations? How about a three-million-acre environment of rust-red dunes and badlands that stretches between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, like Mars? That appears to be the case.
Yes, this California national park lives up to its name, with temperatures regularly reaching above 125 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. If you’re wondering, that’s not the kind of heat I’m talking about. To fry eggs on the ground is sufficient. In other words, you’re going to set foot in one of America’s most hostile and untamable regions. Enjoy!
That, of course, isn’t the whole tale. This is a truly magnificent hinterland. It stretches from dusty slot canyons and saltpans to gallery woodlands of Joshua trees and wild sage, culminating in the often-snowy peak of Telescope Peak (11,043 feet). That means explorers in Death Valley will have a lot on their plates. This dangerous land is also studded with marvels, from the brilliant night sky to whispering dunes, soaring views to gurgling hot springs…
Where is Death Valley National Park?
Death Valley National Park is located in the far eastern part of Southern California. In fact, it’s so far east that the Nevada state line runs through one side of the reserve. The Sierra Nevada mountains form a large rain wall to the west, sucking up all the moisture from the air before the clouds roll over the Mojave Desert. Yosemite (California’s largest national park) is 185 miles north. Continue driving in the same way for another 300 miles and you’ll arrive at California’s fiery Lassen Volcanic National Park. The closest city is Las Vegas (it’s only 110 miles as the crow flies). Many visitors come in from Los Angeles, which is 190 miles to the south-west.
How to get there?
The closest airport to the sun-drenched regions of Death Valley is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. It’s around 120 miles from the reserve’s eastern gate, and there are plenty of car rental options (just make sure your wheels can travel state lines, because you’ll be taking I-15 across the California border). Drivers arriving from the west commonly plan their trip from Los Angeles or San Francisco, taking either I-5 or I-15 through Bakersfield.
We’d advise you to put your summer vacation plans in Death Valley on hold. It’s simply not the right time to visit. You may expect sweat-inducing temperatures of above 120 degrees Fahrenheit on most days, as well as limitless sunshine. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are far superior. They are not just notably cooler, but they are also significantly less crowded. April and May are likely to stand out from the crowd due to their wildflower displays, which follow the winter rains and bring fields of mariposa lilies, desert chicory, and dandelions.
Death Valley, like all national parks in the United States, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only time you might have trouble getting in is if the access roads are being maintained. Some of the paths are closed from time to time due to inclement weather, notably severe heat. Furnace Creek Visitor Center, the main visitor’s center, is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Due to COVID-19, the park’s operations are now restricted. Check out the Death Valley National Park Official site for the latest updates.
Park Entrance Fee
An entry fee will be charged to any cars wishing to travel the desert roads that crisscross Death Valley National Park. That costs $30 right now, and it gets you seven days of access with as many exits and returns as you want. Individuals on bikes or in hiking boots can enter for $15, while motorbikes can enter for $25. A Death Valley annual pass costs $55.
Death Valley National Park Landmarks
Death Valley National Park Hiking Trails
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Trail
Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
Darwin Falls Trail via Old Toll Road
Mosaic Canyon Trail
Grotto Canyon Trail
Desolation Canyon Trail
Cottonwood Marble Canyon Loop
Telescope Peak Trail
Where to Stay
There are nine campgrounds in the park, four of which are free and the others start at $14. Except for the 136-site Furnace Creek (from $22), which takes bookings between October and April, they’re all first-come, first-served. While Sunset (closed in the summer) and Stovepipe Wells have the most campsites (270 and 190, respectively), my favorite is the 92-site Texas Springs, which is centrally positioned and perched just high enough to provide fantastic views of the surrounding area. The wilderness line is 50 feet from the park’s dirt roads, therefore campgrounds is permitted in previously disturbed areas. To minimize the impact, park your car directly next to the road. If you plan on visiting during the summer, keep in mind that Texas Springs and Stovepipe Wells close owing to the oppressive heat and unsafe ground temperatures.