A Complete Guide to Death Valley National Park

Climbing giant rocks in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48, covering over 3 million acres of space and surrounded by a vast expanse of nothingness. With little likelihood of cell service, it’s important to have your ducks in a row before heading out into the desert. That’s why I’ve created a complete guide to this beautiful, diverse National Park. Where to eat, sleep, drink and play as well as the do’s and don’ts of the park.

 

RELATED: “10 OTHER-WORLDLY THINGS TO SEE IN DEATH VALLEY”

 

PRO TIP: Before we get started (and if you haven’t already) download the Maps.Me app. This app works offline to route you wherever you need to go as long as you have the app, and the appropriate map, downloaded. When you see something in this guide that you like, pin it on Maps.Me so you can easily route yourself later!

 

 

The sunrise at Badwater Basin in Death Valley

BEST TIMES TO VISIT

 

AUTUMN (OCTOBER – EARLY DECEMBER)

The days in Death Valley are hot, but comfortable, in late Autumn. Nights are cool but still manageable in a regular tent. This is a relatively quiet time in the park and a good time to visit if you want some seclusion!

NOTE: The park gets an influx of visitors during Thanksgiving week. So keep that in mind during your planning!

 

WINTER (DECEMBER – FEBRUARY)

During winter you will experience cool days and very cold nights (especially if camping at a higher elevation). There is the occasional rainstorm but otherwise, this is a great time to visit the park! With temperatures reaching 65 degrees Fahrenheit in December, Death Valley is, in my opinion, the ideal winter getaway. It’s perfect for soaking up some therapeutic Vitamin D and shaking off the Seasonal Affective Disorder.

NOTE: After Thanksgiving and before Christmas is the least-crowded period in Death Valley.

 

SPRING (MARCH – EARLY MAY)

Spring time is the most popular time to visit Death Valley. Temperatures are warm, but comfortable, and March-April is the peak season for wildflowers in the valley.

NOTE: If you’re planning your visit for the spring-time and want to avoid the crowds, don’t visit during Spring Break.

 

SUMMER (MAY – SEPTEMBER)

If you’re thinking of visiting Death Valley in the summer, I have one recommendation: DON’T. Temperatures exceed the 100’s. Hiking isn’t a possibility for the majority of visitors in the extreme heat, so most of your touring will be done from the road. It is still possible to visit, but much less enjoyable.

 

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Mesquite Sand Dunes at sunrise

 

ENTRANCE FEES

 

* There is no fee for those entering with an Access Pass or America the Beautiful Pass.

 

Vehicle: $25 for 7 days

Motorcycle: $20 for 7 days

Annual Pass: $50 (Free for U.S. Military members)

 

NOTE: Currently, there is no “Fee Stop” for Death Valley. You pay your fee at any of the visitor centers (during operating hours), or at one of the various electronic kiosks listed below.

 

Kiosk Locations:

  • Furnace Creek Visitor Center
  • Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station
  • Grapevine Ranger Station
  • Zabriskie Point
  • Badwater Salt Flats
  • Furnace Creek Campground (open April 16 to October 14)
  • Mesquite Springs Campground
  • Stovepipe Wells Campground
  • Texas Springs Campground
  • Sunset Campground

 

Climbing Rocks in Death Valley National Park

A large rock cemented into the earth (Mosaic Canyon)

 

CELL SERVICE & NAVIGATION

 

There is little to no cell service in Death Valley (100% none if you’re a Verizon customer). As a result of this, you have 2 options for navigating your way around the park:

 

1. Paper Map – The old school route. You can print a map off the internet, or stop at a Visitor Center.

 

2. Maps.Me – The new school route. This is an app you can download on any smart phone and it will guide you anywhere you want to go completely off-line. I can’t rave enough about this app! Just make sure you download the correct map before losing phone service.

 

Admiring the purple rocks of Artists Palette in Death Valley

 

WHAT TO BRING

 

Aside from your obvious basics, here are a few, easy-to-forget things to bring for your trip to Death Valley National Park:

 

  1. Light, breathable clothing
  2. Comfortable shoes (Especially if you plan on hiking)
  3. Sunglasses
  4. Sunhat
  5. Plenty of sunscreen
  6. A cold pack (One that releases upon breaking – just in case of a heat-stroke emergency)
  7. Lots of water
  8. Small snacks to recharge (think carbs and proteins)
  9. Firewood (If you’re camping. Collecting wood is prohibited)
  10. A good camera (You’ll be taking a LOT of pictures)
  11. Your National Park pass, if you have one

 

NOTE: There are plenty of facilities within the park, so if you forget something, don’t worry.

 

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park

Badwater Basin Salt Flats

 

THINGS TO DO

 

There’s plenty to do in Death Valley, but here’s a list of some of our favorites.

 

  • Mesquite Sand Dunes
  • Mosaic Canyon
  • Natural Bridge Trail
  • Devils Golf Course
  • Artists Drive
  • Artists Palette
  • Badwater Salt Flats
  • Zambriskie Point
  • Badlands Loop Trail
  • Dantes View

 

FIND MORE INFORMATION ON THESE LOCATIONS, HERE. 

NOTE: If you want more recommendations, stop at the Visitor Center!

 

 

Standing beside the Natural Bridge in Death Valley National Park

Admiring the Natural Bridge

 

LODGING

Listed from most least to most expensive.

 

PANAMINT SPRINGS RESORT

A rustic stay on the outskirts of the park – this Western-style resort is an inexpensive option that offers stunning views of the Panamint Mountains.

 

PETS: $5 extra per night.

RESTAURANT ON PREMISES: Yes.

GAS STATION ON PREMISES: Yes.

SWIMMING POOL: No.

WIFI: Yes, but extremely limited.

SEASON: Year-round.

 

STOVEPIPE WELLS

Basic and clean rooms for a good price! This hotel is located near the popular Mesquite Sand Dunes, so if you plan on waking up early for some sunrise photos, this is the perfect place to stay for the night.

 

PETS: No.

RESTAURANT ON PREMISES: Yes.

GAS STATION ON PREMISES: Yes.

SWIMMING POOL: Yes.

WIFI: Limited in public areas.

SEASON: Year-round

 

THE RANCH AT DEATH VALLEY

This is a high-end motel located right near all of the Death Valley hot spots. Rooms are clean and newly furnished.

 

PETS: No.

RESTAURANT ON PREMISES: Yes.

GAS STATION ON PREMISES: Yes, at the Oasis at Death Valley.

SWIMMING POOL: Yes.

WIFI: Yes.

SEASON: Year-round

 

THE INN AT DEATH VALLEY

First-class resort accommodations in the heart of Death Valley. This is the most expensive, and most luxurious accommodation in the National Park.

 

PETS: No.

RESTAURANT ON PREMISES: Yes.

GAS STATION ON PREMISES: Yes, at the Oasis at Death Valley.

SWIMMING POOL: Yes.

WIFI: Yes.

SEASON: Mid-October to Mid-May

 

Camping in the desert

 

CAMPING

Listed from least to most primitive.

 

FURNACE CREEK

FEE: $22 Standard/$36 With Hookups

WATER: Yes.

TABLES: Yes.

FIREPITS: Yes.

TOILETS: Flush.

DUMP STATION: Yes.

SEASON: Year-round.

RESERVATIONS: Available October 15 – April 15

 

SUNSET

FEE: $14 Standard/ No Hookups

WATER: Yes.

TABLES: No.

FIREPITS: No.

TOILETS: Flush.

DUMP STATION: Yes.

SEASON: November – May

RESERVATIONS: No.

 

TEXAS SPRINGS

FEE: $16 Standard/No Hookups

WATER: Yes.

TABLES: Yes.

FIREPITS: Yes.

TOILETS: Flush.

DUMP STATION: Yes.

SEASON: November – May

RESERVATIONS: No.

 

STOVEPIPE WELLS

FEE: $22 Standard/$36 With Hookups

WATER: Yes.

TABLES: Some.

FIREPITS: Some.

TOILETS: Flush.

DUMP STATION: Yes.

SEASON: September 15 – May 10

RESERVATIONS: No.

 

EMIGRANT

FEE: FREE

WATER: Yes.

TABLES: Yes.

FIREPITS: No.

TOILETS: Flush.

DUMP STATION: No.

SEASON: Year-round

RESERVATIONS: No.

 

WILDROSE

FEE: FREE

WATER: Yes.

TABLES: Yes.

FIREPITS: Yes.

TOILETS: Pit.

DUMP STATION: No.

SEASON: Year-round

RESERVATIONS: No.

 

THORNDIKE

FEE: FREE

WATER: No.

TABLES: Yes.

FIREPITS: Yes.

TOILETS: Pit.

DUMP STATION: No.

SEASON: March – November

RESERVATIONS: No.

 

MAHOGANY FLAT

FEE: FREE

WATER: No.

TABLES: Yes.

FIREPITS: Yes.

TOILETS: Pit.

DUMP STATION: No.

SEASON: March – November

RESERVATIONS: No.

 

On the trail to Natural Bridge in Death Valley

 

DINING

 

There are plenty of dining options available in the park – from formal to informal.

 

PANAMINT SPRINGS RESORT

A small, western-style restaurant and bar serving casual meals like hamburgers, hot dogs, fish & chips and an extensive pizza menu! They also offer a hot breakfast buffet from 7AM to 11AM.

DRESS CODE: Informal.

SEASON: Year-round.

NOTE: Offers outdoor dining with excellent views! Perfect for a sunset meal.

 

THE INN AT DEATH VALLEY

A more formal dining experience with an eclectic menu. This restaurant offers beautiful views of the Panamint Mountains and even has outdoor seating available for optimal star-gazing. Just be sure to abide by the dress code!

DRESS CODE: Resort Attire. T-shirts and tank tops are not acceptable.

SEASON: Autumn – Spring.

NOTE: Reservations are required and can be made by calling (760) 786 – 3385

 

THE RANCH AT DEATH VALLEY

The same location as the Inn at Death Valley (The Oasis at Death Valley), but less formal, the Ranch serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. This restaurant offers a variety of classic foods from pasta to burritos to pizza to mac & cheese.

DRESS CODE: Informal.

SEASON: Year-round.

NOTE: Construction is ongoing and may limit what items are available.

 

TIMBISHA INDIAN TACOS

For small lunches and early dinners, this is a perfect and inexpensive food stop for travelers in Death Valley! They serve exclusively frybread tacos and shaved ice.

DRESS CODE: Informal.

SEASON: Year-round.

NOTE: Vegetarian options are available. Only open Tuesday-Saturday from 9-5.

 

TOLL ROAD RESTAURANT

The Toll Road Restaurant offers a breakfast buffet as well as dinner. This is an informal setting, no need to worry about proper attire here (well, as long as you’re wearing some form of clothes and shoes that is!).

DRESS CODE: Informal.

SEASON: Year-round.

NOTE: Box lunches are also available by request!

 

BADWATER SALOON

True to the name, Badwater Saloon is mostly for those looking for a quick drink, but they also offer some lunch items. They have 20 beers on tap, a large selection of wine and a menu of specialty cocktails available for order.

DRESS CODE: Informal.

SEASON: Year-round.

 

 

NOTE: Snacks are also available at general stores located around the park: Furnace Creek General Store, Stovepipe Wells General Store, Panamint Springs Gas and The Oasis at Death Valley.

 

A close up of Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley

A close up at Mosaic Canyon

 

GAS STATIONS

 

There are 4 gas stations in the park:

  • Panamint Springs Resort
  • The Oasis at Death Valley
  • Stovepipe Wells
  • Furnace Creek

If you’re a stickler for gas prices, like me, your best bet is the gas station in Stovepipe Wells. The prices are reasonable and actually, way better compared to central and coastal California gas prices!

 

A wild donkey in the desert

Up close and personal with a wild donkey. P.S. Don’t feed the animals 🙂

 

OTHER INFORMATION

 

KIDS?

Death Valley is a great place to bring your kids! Many of the hikes are kid-friendly with minimal potential for danger and the campsites are large to accommodate families. Just be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen!

 

PETS?

Dogs are not permitted on any trails but are allowed in developed areas (parking lots, roadways, campsites). It’s probably best to leave Rover at home, unless you want to be restricted to your vehicle.

 

DRONES?

Drones are not permitted anywhere in the park unless you have written consent.

 

 

WILDLIFE?

Though it’s called “Death Valley” there is still life in this desert habitat. All of the creatures listed below are found in the National Park, but you’ll most commonly see gophers and other small animals. At night, if you’re tent camping, you’ll likely hear the howling of coyotes and the baying of wild donkeys.

  • Tarantulas
  • Coyotes
  • Bobcats
  • Kangaroo rats
  • Bats
  • Gophers
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Foxes
  • Badgers
  • Ringtails
  • Wild Donkeys
  • Mountain Lions (not common)

 

 

Any other questions about visiting Death Valley? Comment below or shoot me a private message. I’m always happy to chat 🙂

 

SHARING IS IN STYLE. PIN ME!

 

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    asg
    November 13, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    This was really helpful! Thank you!

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