Last year , when my parents were visiting me in US , I had just one mission – Show them as many national parks and varied landscape as possible. Yes in one trip we covered – Zion , Bryce, Antelopes, Grand national Escalante, Monument Valley and last but not the least Death Valley. More than anything , I think what fascinated me the most about this park was its name. Are you wondering as well , why they named it “Death Valley” ? Well at 134°F, Death Valley holds the record for the hottest air temperature ever recorded, combine that with being the driest place in the US , the national park is rightly named – “Death Valley”. So I had 2 days and I wanted to see everything. So lets get started …
How to Reach :
Death Valley National Park is only 2 hours from Las Vegas and 5 hours from Los Angeles. Depending on where you land , you can rent a car and drive to Death Valley National Park.
Tip : If you plan to do several national parks in the same trip , do invest in National Park Annual Pass – its totally worth it .
Where to Stay :
Campsites : There are in total 9 campsites in the park but the most famous one is Furnace Creek. You can find all the information about campsites here . Of all the 9 campgrounds ( not including the privately owned ones) , Furnace Creek is the only one that requires pre-booking. And since this is the best location to camp , I will suggest to book early. For all the other ones , it is first come first serve basis.
Hotel : Inside the park , there are only 4 non-tent accommodations available and they get filled pretty soon. Not to mention, if not booked in time , these accommodations are expensive too. The most famous ones are Furnace Creek Ranch and Furnace creek inn. If you are fine driving a little bit , staying in Pahrump is not bad at all . If you stay in Pahrump ( a small town on outskirts of Death Valley) , it will take about an hour to reach to the furnace creek.
Note : I stayed in Holiday Inn at Pahrump. I was with my parents and I wanted food , medical store , grocery store etc everything nearby for their convineance. And it was indeed a little tiring to drive an hour to Furnace Creek twice a day for 2 days , but no regrets as I was able to see everything in my list
Best time to Visit:
Death Valley is unbearably hot in summer. You just cannot enjoy it. For most part you will only be able to explore it in early mornings or late evenings. In my experience late fall , winter or early spring are the best time to visit this national park.
Note : I was in Death valley National Park in late October and it was still a bit hot.
- If you intend to stay within the park , make your reservations in advance—way in advance.
- There are no restaurants inside the park. So for most part you will have to carry your own food.
- In summer months, carry a lot of water even though you plan to explore by car. It gets too hot in the park so its very important to keep yourself hydrated.
- In some parts of national park there is no cell signal I will highly suggest to download maps or carry actual maps with you.
- Death Valley National park is second biggest national park of USA. I will suggest to mark your point of interests in the map and then follow the map to the letter to cover all the points. To give you an idea from furnace creek to Tea kettle Junction, it takes about 2.5 hours one way. So if you intend to go to race car track playa or tea kettle junction, it is a full day activity. You can plan more efficiently if you know the points in the map.
- Take some time and visit the visitor center cum museum of the park. You will learn a lot about the fragile ecosystem in the park and also the history of how did the death valley came into existence. I personally found it very fascinating.
- If you intend to go to Race Track Playa , you will need a 4 wheel drive as for most part you will driving on a dirt road.
- Gas is really expensive inside the national park and it is very expensive to get the car towed too. I will highly suggest to check your vehicle , specially tires and get the gas filled outside the park so that you do not have to refill inside the park.
Things to see :
I am listing all the places that I managed to see in 2 days. I have also represented those points in the map below. You can make your own itinerary as to which point to visit which day, as per your convenience . However I have mentioned the best time to visit for all those who want to take awesome photos J I each of the places I visited. So shall we start .
If you are visiting Death Valley , this probably be on the top of your list. To reach to the point, drive north on Highway 127 then follow Highway 190 into the park. On your left will be Zabriski point from where you can view the dramatic sediment stratifications left behind by a dried up lake bed.
Tip : For photography lovers head to Zabrinski point for both Sunrise and sunset. If you got to choose one , I will vote for sunset. Either way , you will have to reach to the point a little early to take your fav spot and scout the location. You will be surprised to see the crowd with tripods and everyone looking for that perfect location to take the perfect shot.
Twenty Mule Canyon :
So you enjoyed Zabrinski , next on your route is Twenty Mule Canyon which can be experienced right from the driver’s seat. To reach to the canyon you will have to drive pass Zabrinski ( if you are coming from furnace creek) and on your right you will see a road sign for Twenty Mule Canyon. It is a 2.8 miles one way kind of loop. You can stop in between to enjoy the borax mine shafts. Landscape of this drive is just amazing.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center :
To me this is really a place where you must stop and soak in the history and geography of this national park. The museum is very informative and during the winter season (November to April) rangers present a wide variety of walks, talks, and slide presentations about Death Valley’s cultural and natural history. Also this is one of the few places in the park where you can re-fill the water and use the washrooms.
Harmony Borax point :
If you have seen photo with a train in the middle of Death Valley, this is the point – Harmony Borax point. When you reach the point, you can take a ¼ mile walk around a Harmony Borax Plant and see the wagon cart and the plant which explains the history of mining in Death Valley National Park. visitors to come see.
Artists Pallet Drive :
If you head towards badwater basin, you will see a board pointing to your left – Artists Pallete Drive. The drive will take you through canyons and past mountains, many of which are covered in loads of fantastic colors. The colors on mountains are more visible after a rain shower or late in the evening which is also the best time to take photos. It will take you about 40 – 50 mins to do this drive depending on how much you stop. The landscape is really unique and I will highly encourage to take this detour.
Badwater Basin :
How many times do you get to be below the sea level . Actually let me correct it , how many times do you get to be at the lowest point in North America. Badwater Basin is so unique in so many ways. A definite must see in this national park. For me , as I have never been to Bolivia , I was obsessed with seeing a salt flat and doing all the fun photography stuff with it. Badwater basin made my all dreams come true. It is one of the most photographed area of national park.
Note : So many people come to this area and engrave their name in salt flats. Because of the low waterfall , it takes forever to restore the salt flat. If you plan to visit it – please leave it the way you see it. Do not vandalise it.
Mesquite Dunes :
Well you will imagine that being driest place in US , Death valley national park will be covered with sand dunes everywhere – that is not the case. Less than one percent of the desert is covered with dunes and mesquite Dunes is the point where you can find shadowed ripples that brings the actual desert like imagination to life. This is one of the few places where sand boarding is allowed. If you intend to take photos of large sand fields with wind ripples , you will have to walk a little bit because all the dunes near the parking lot are covered in foot impressions.
Dantes Peak Lookout Point:
Perched atop black mountain at about 5,470 feet , this lookout point just summarizes the entire national park in a view. Dante’s View is the primary overlook that offers panoramic views of Death Valley’s elevation extremes – 282 feet below sea level and 11,049 feet above. And what makes this point truly special is the fact that you literally drive right up to the lookout point.
Tip : This place is the best sunrise point in the park. If you are in park just for a day , this point has to be your sunrise point. Also because of the elevation , Dantes Lookout point is a bit chillier. You will need a hoodie or sweater to enjoy this spot freely.
Tea Kettle Junction :
Include this point in your itinerary only if you are heading to Race Track Playa. It is an interesting stop to take some pictures but nothing more than that. To reach to the point you will have to drive around 21 miles on a dirt road. Needless to say that you will need a 4 WD and a tank full of gas as there are no gas stations nearby or on the route to Race Track.
Race Track Playa :
This is a stunning place of beauty and mystery. Beauty because it is a dried lake bed and you can actually see the cracks in the bed making it incredibly beautiful. Mystery because you will see strange moving rocks 😉 . The road to the Racetrack is rough, and good tires, 4×4 and high clearance are usually required. It takes about 3.5 hours one way to drive up to this point. In nutshell covering this point along with Tea-Kettle Junction is a full day activity.
And that’s a wrap 😛 (Kanika Directors cut ) But seriously , living in northeastern side of US , I had never expected a landscape like Death Valley. It is such a delicate ecosystem where life struggles to thrive but has its own beauty. I was able to see almost everything except a few points and I was very happy that more than me – my parents enjoyed more. For most of the places in the park , there was very less hiking involved. Not that my parents cannot hike , but when you are 65+ and subjected to 80+ degrees temperature , body does show its limit. So definetly if you are looking for a family getaway , put Death valley National Park in your list. If you have already been to this place , do share your experience. Did I miss any spot ? If you need any help in planning , leave me a comment and I will be happy to help. Thank you so much for stopping by.
What was your favorite memory of Death Valley?
PhotoCredits : Photostains ( except – Tea Kettle Junction and RaceTrack Playa)