Here are some quick facts about Death Valley National Park.
- Established : 1994
- Land Size : 3.4 Million Acres
- Annual Visitors : 1.7 million
- State : California
- Entrance Fees : $15 per person, $30 per vehicle
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Where is Death Valley National Park?
Death Valley, the largest national park in the contiguous United States, is located in southeastern California in the Mojave Desert near the Great Basin Desert. The majority of the park is in California while a small section extends across the border into Nevada.
Death Valley is about 113 miles west of Las Vegas and 186 miles north of Los Angeles.
What is Death Valley National Park famous for?
Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth, with a world record high temperature of 130ºF / 54.4ºC, recorded on August 20, 2020.
The park’s Badwater Basin is the lowest point of elevation in North American at 282 feet below sea level. Furnace Creek, which is at 190 feet below sea level, is home to the park’s visitors center.
The park is well known for Titus Canyon, which features amazing geological formations and a ghost town, and the salt flats in Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North America.
Other notable locations in Death Valley include Artist’s Palette and Zabriskie Point.
What is the best month to visit Death Valley National Park?
The best month to visit Death Valley National Park is between mid-October to mid-May.
In the fall, when most national parks are winding down with, Death Valley National Park is just opening up. That’s because the park is blisteringly hot in the summertime, with highs that aren’t only uncomfortable but downright dangerous.
Heat in the park’s lowest areas routinely eclipses 110ºF with lows barely dipping into the 80s. In mid-winter, temperatures are much more comfortable with highs hovering around 70ºF and lows in the 40s.
What to do in Death Valley National Park?
How many days do I need in Death Valley National Park?
It really takes four or five days to really explore Death Valley National Park.
Part of this has to do with the sheer size of the park, which adds a significant amount of driving time between attractions. That said, sometimes you may only have a weekend to spend in the park.
Two days (short trip)
Begin by heading to Furnace Creek in the middle of the park and home to the park’s visitor’s center. After spending some time in the visitor’s center, head to Badwater, which is the lowest place in North America.
Along the way, make stops at Devil’s Golf Course and Golden Canyon. Leave Badwater and experience the scenic Artist Drive on your ascent from Badwater. Next, enjoy views from Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.
On day two, check out Scotty’s Castle, which includes a tour of the castle itself and an underground tour. Next, head to Ubehebe Crater. If you still have time, visit Stovepipe Wells to explore the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Expect dry and hot temperatures, so a full water bottle is a must as you take your tour.
Three days (average trip)
With three days, you can take your time, visiting Furnace Creek, Bad Water, Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, Scotty’s Castle and Ubehebe Crater and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, as well as the points in between in the first two days.
On the third day, head to higher elevations by taking Emigrant Canyon Road up to Wildrose Canyon. Here you can catch amazing scenic views of Charcoal Kilns and enjoy the Panamint Mountains.
You’ll also have time to take a hike or two, including a walk to 25-foot Darwin Falls or a more vigorous climb to 9,000-foot Wildrose Peak. The terrain is rocky, so make sure to take along proper hiking boots.
How to get to Death Valley National Park?
If you plan on flying to visit Death Valley National Park, also plan on doing a lot of driving. There are no commercial airports within close proximity of the park.
In fact, the closest airport, Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, is more than 100 miles from the closest park entrance, so you should plan on renting a car once arriving.
The Park has two entrances, with Las Vegas being closest to the east entrance, Death Valley Junction, and Los Angeles International Airport being closest to its west entrance at Panamint Springs:
- Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS). Located 120 miles from McCarran International Airport, it’s a simple, though desolate, 2-hour drive on major roads. Though a lengthy drive, it is beautiful. McCarran is one of the busiest airports in the country and features services from all major carriers with direct flights to major cities throughout the world. The airport also features numerous rental car agencies.
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Located 260 miles south of the park, LAX is notably further than McCarran. It’s about a 4-hour drive from the airport. LAX is one of the busiest airports in the world and features many major international carriers that offer direct flights to locations around the globe. You can also choose from a long list of rental car agencies if flying into LAX.
- Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR). Located about 160 miles from Death Valley National Park, Burbank Bob Hope Airport is a commercial airport with service from several major airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Connection, Jet Blue, Southwest, United Express, and U.S. Airways. There are also numerous rental car agencies available at this airport.
There are multiple ways to get to Death Valley National Park depending on where you are coming from. There are two entrances to the park: Death Valley Junction to the east and Panamint Spring to the West.
- From Las Vegas, the most direct way to get to Death Valley National Park from Las Vegas is via Highway 160 west for 66 miles to Pahrump, Nevada. From Pahrump, continue on Bella Vista Avenue for 26 miles, then take California 190 West for 18 miles to the Death Valley Junction entrance.
- From Los Angeles, follow California Highway 14 north for 117 miles, then merge onto US 395 North. In 42 miles, turn right onto California Highway 190 east for 45 miles to the Panamint Spring park entrance.
- From the Northwest, take Highway 136 East from just south of Lone Pine for 18 miles to Highway 190. Follow highway 190 east for 31 miles to the park’s Panamint Spring entrance.
What to see in Death Valley National Park?
This high point in the park is part of the Amargosa Mountain Range located in the east part of the park. It’s known for its erosional landscape, which gives it an otherworldly appearance.
The area is actually the result of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up some 5 million years ago. The gullies and mud hills that make up this landscape can be viewed from several observation points.
You can also take several short hikes to such locations as Gower Gulch and Golden Canyon. You can also view the same landscape on the scenic route: Twenty Mule Team Road.
You can’t visit Death Valley National Park without saying you visited the lowest point in North America, which means you need to go to Badwater Basin, which sits 282 feet below sea level.
Interestingly, Badwater Basin is just 85 miles northwest of the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney. This low point includes a spring-fed pool, which is where the name bad water comes from.
The water is so saturated with salts that it is undrinkable, hence the name. This is also where you’ll find the sign listing the area as the low point in the continent.
Be wary of when you visit, as temperatures at Badwater Basin will reach 110ºF and higher during the summer. A hydration pack is highly recommended when visiting the Badwater Basin.
This large volcanic crater in the northern half of Death Valley is half a mile wide and nearly 800 feet deep in some places. The crater was created by steam and gas explosions caused by hot magma combining with groundwater, creating massive amounts of pressure, resulting in a massive explosion.
The crater can be explored via three main trails.
Ubehebe Trail is a 2.2-mile loop that offers excellent views of the crater, while Little Hebe Crater offers an easier 1 mile out and back trail. You can also take a step half-mile hike to the crater floor.
Remember that you’ll have to hike that half-mile back up, so make sure you have appropriate hiking boots. Hiking poles are also recommended.
One of the few historic structures to visit at Death Valley includes Scotty’s Castle, which is a two-story Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial style villa located in the Grapevine Mountains.
Not an actual castle, this ranch was built in the 1920s and has a rich history. At this time, the castle itself cannot be toured due to a devastating flood in 2015.
There are plans to reopen Scotty’s Castle in 2021. For now, you can still take walking tours of the grounds. Reservations are required.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
If you’re interested in seeing a real desert, then you can’t miss Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The ripples and varying shadows created by the dunes and the winds in this area make this a one of a kind picturesque experience.
These dunes are located in the central Death Valley with access from Highway 190 or from unpaved Sand Dunes Road. Here you’ll see three different types of dunes: crescent, linear, and star-shaped with the largest dune being some 100 feet high.
Andrew Dodson is an avid camper who enjoys the great outdoors with his wife and two-year-old son. He resides in Colorado, where you can often find him enjoying hikes with a toddler strapped to his back and mini goldendoodle Percy nearby.