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California's Death Valley National Park - An Overview

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The Mesquite Sand Dunes of Death Valley National Park

The Mesquite Sand Dunes of Death Valley National Park

© Shayan (USA) via Flickr

Contact Info:

By Mail:
Death Valley National Park
P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, California 92328
Phone:
Visitor Information
(760) 786-3200

Overview:

Death Valley National Park is located in eastern California and southern Nevada. It is the largest national park unit outside of Alaska and includes more than 3 million acres of wilderness area. This large desert is almost completely surrounded by mountains and contains the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. While it has a reputation for being a harsh desert, there is a lot of beauty to observe, including plants and animals that thrive here.

History:

President Herbert Hoover proclaimed the area a national monument on February 11, 1933. It was also designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1984. After expanding by 1.3 million acres, the monument was changed to Death Valley National Park on October 31, 1994.

When to Visit:

It’s usually considered a winter park, but it is possible to visit Death Valley all year long. Spring is actually a fantastic time to visit as the days are warm and sunny, while the wildflowers are in bloom. The impressive flowers peak in late March to early April.

Autumn is another great option as temperatures are warm but not too hot, and camping season begins.

Winter days are cool and nights are chilly at Death Valley. Snow caps the high peaks so it is a particularly beautiful time to visit. Peak winter visitation periods include Christmas to New Year’s, Martin Luther King Day weekend in January, and Presidents’ Day weekend in February.

Summer starts early in the park. Keep in mind that by May the valley is typically too hot for most visitors, so may tour the park by car.

Furnace Creek Visitor Center & Museum
Open Daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time

Scotty's Castle Visitor Center
Open Daily, (Winter) 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., (Summer) 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Getting There:

There is a small public airport in Furnace Creek, but all visitors will need a car to get to the park. Here are directions depending on where you come from:

  • Drivers coming from the east: U.S. Route 95 parallels the park from north to south with connecting highways at Scotty's Junction (State Route 267), Beatty (State Route 374), and Lathrop Wells (State Route 373).

  • If you are driving from Las Vegas, check out this helpful PDF.

  • Drivers coming from the west: State Route 14 and U.S. Route 395 lead to Ridgecrest, CA where State Route 178 heads east into the park. Further north on Hwy 395 at Olancha, CA you can join Hwy 190 to the park, or north of that at Lone Pine, CA, Hwy 136 will also join Hwy 190 heading east into the park.

  • Drivers coming from the south: Interstate 15 passes through Baker, CA on its way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. State Route 127 travels north from Baker to Shoshone and Death Valley Junction with connections to the park on State Route 178 from Shoshone and connection with California Highway 190 at Death Valley Junction.

Fees/Permits:

If you don’t have an annual parks pass, check out the following entrance fees you can expect:

Vehicle Entrance Fee
$20 for 7 Days: This permit allows all persons traveling with the permit holder in one single private, non-commercial vehicle (car/truck/van) to leave and re-enter the park during the 7-day period from the date of purchase.

Individual Entrance Fee
$10 for 7 Days: This permit allows a single individual traveling on foot, motorcycle, or bicycle to leave and re-enter the park during the 7-day period from the date of purchase.

Death Valley National Park Annual Pass

$40 for one year: This permit allows all persons traveling with the permit holder in one single private, non-commercial vehicle (or on foot) to leave and re-enter the park as many times as they wish during the 12-month period from the date of purchase.

Things to Do:

Hiking: The best time to hike in Death Valley is from October through April. There are few constructed trails here, but most hiking routes in the park are cross-country, up canyons, or along ridges. Before any hike, be sure to speak to a ranger, and definitely wear sturdy boots.

Birdwatching: For a few weeks in the spring and again in the fall, hundreds of species pass through the desert areas. Nesting occurs from mid-February, during warm springs, through June and July in the high elevations. May through June is the most productive nesting period.

Biking: Death Valley has more than 785 miles of roads including hundreds of miles suitable for mountain biking.

Major Attractions:

Scotty's Castle: This elaborate, Spanish-style mansion was built in the 1920s and '30s. Visitors can take a ranger-guided tour of the castle and the system of underground tunnels. Also be sure to visit the museum and bookstore located in the Scotty's Castle Visitor Center.

Borax Museum: A privately-owned museum located in the Furnace Creek Ranch. Exhibits include a mineral collection and the history of Borax in Death Valley. Behind the museum building is a assembly of mining and transportation equiment. Call (760) 786-2345 for more information.

Golden Canyon: Hikers will enjoy this area. Hiking options include either a 2-mile round-trip in Golden Canyon, or a 4-mile loop that returns via Gower Gulch.

Natural Bridge: This massive rock spans across the desert canyon creating a bridge. From the trailhead, the natural bridge is a ½ mile walk.

Badwater: Visitors can stand in the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is a landscape of vast salt flats which can form temporary lakes after heavy rainstorms.

Dante’s View: Considered th most breathtaking viewpoint in the park, this mountain-top overlook is more than 5,000 feet above the inferno of Death Valley.

Salt Creek: This stream of salty water is the only home to a rare pupfish known as Cyprinodon salinus. Springtime is best for viewing pupfish.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Check out the dunes at night for a magical view. But be aware of rattlesnakes during the warm season.

The Racetrack: Rocks mysteriously slide across the dry lakebed of the Racetrack, leaving behind long tracks that will confuse every visitor.

Accommodations:

Backcountry camping can be challenging but totally worth it when you are rewarded with dark night skies, solitude, and sweeping vistas. Be sure to obtain a free backcountry permit at either the Furnace Creek Visitor Center or the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station. Keep in mind that camping is not allowed on the valley floor from Ashford Mill in the south to 2 miles north of Stovepipe Wells.

The Furnace Creek Campground is the only National Park Service campground in Death Valley that takes advance reservations online or by telephone, (877) 444-6777. Reservations can be made for the camping season of October 15 through April 15., and can be made 6 months in advance. Group campsite reservations can be made 11 months in advance.

Furnace Creek has 136 sites with water, tables, fireplaces, flush toilets, and dump station. Furnace Creek is $18 per night during the winter season and $12 a night during the summer. There are two group campsites at Furnace Creek Campground. Each site has a maximum capacity of 40 people and 10 vehicles. No RVs can be parked at the group sites. Visit Recreation.gov for reservation information.

Emigrant (tents only), Wildrose, Thorndike, and Mahogany Flat are campgrounds that are free of charge. Thorndike and Mahogany are open March through November, while Emigrant and Wildrose are open all year. Sunset, Texas Spring, and Stovepipe Wells are other campgrounds available and are open October through April. Cost ranges from $12-$14 per night.

For those not interested in camping, there is a lot of lodging within the park:

Stovepipe Wells Village offers resort accommodations and limited recreational vehicle camping with full hookups in the Stovepipe Wells area. It is open all year. Reservations can be made by phone, (760) 786-2387, or online.

Furnace Creek Inn is open mid-October through Mother's Day. This historic inn may be contacted by phone, 800-236-7916, or online.

Furnace Creek Ranch provides motel accommodations all year. Call 800-236-7916 or go online for information and reservations.

Panamint Springs Resort is a private resort offering year-long accommodations and camping. Contact (775) 482-7680, or go online for information.

A printable PDF is available that lists of all of the lodging and RV parks in and around Death Valley National Park with contact information.

Lodging is also oustside of the park. Check out the towns along Highway 95 in Nevada, including Tonopah, Goldfield, Beatty, Indian Springs, Mojave, Ridgecrest, Inyokern, Olancha, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, Bishop, and Las Vegas. Lodging is also available in Amargosa Valley and at Stateline on Highway 373.

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