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A guide to visiting Death Valley National Park, California

A guide to visiting Death Valley National Park, California

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I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to visiting Death Valley in California. Well, that’s not entirely true, I expected it to be hot. Death Valley is a National Park that’s below-sea-level and is renowned for being in a steady drought. It’s where you find record making temperatures in the summer but when we visited this was not the case. It rained, it poured and thunder and lightning all night.

We ended up staying in the campsite within the park and I was honestly worried the wind would blow Elvis over or the hail would break through the roof. It was insane! But before the rain, I’d be amazed by the views and colours in Death Valley National Park. If you’re travelling through California on a USA road trip then make sure to check out Death Valley National Park and use this handy visitor guide to help!

visiting death valley national park california usa pin

About Death Valley National Park

death valley national park

Death Valley National Park is the largest US National Park outside of Alaska at 3.4million acres. There’s a huge amount of exploring to be done whether it’s hiking, exploring Death Valley’s historic sites, watching the night sky, or spotting Death Valley wildlife.

There are nearly 1000 miles of paved and dirt roads but even with that much of the park made accessible, there’s still 91% of the park that’s protected as officially designated Wilderness. Here you’ll find low salt crusted valley floors, mountains, canyons, Death Valley sand dunes and spring-fed oases.

Death Valley’s elevation is one reason why the park is famous. Yes, you’ve heard right, Badwater Basin is lower than sea level!

Some of the main sites in Death Valley can be explored within an afternoon but you’ll find yourself wanting to return to see more, I’m sure!

Where is Death Valley National Park located?

Death Valley National Park is in eastern California and is just west of the Nevada – California State border. It’s 123 miles from Las Vegas to Death Valley (2 hours), and roughly 3.5 hours drive away from Los Angeles.

Death Valley weather

Death Valley temperatures are pretty warm all year round. December and January are the coolest months at around 18-19 Celcius / 40 Fahrenheit. If you’re in Death Valley in summer then temperatures usually soar to 45 Celcius / 85 Fahrenheit.

Death Valley National Park weather in the summer is very dry and hot. On average, there’s only one day’s rain in the winter months from January – March. We visited in April and had the driving rain and hail so that doesn’t mean it won’t rain in other months!

Death Valley National Park map

death valley national park map[Click the link to see an enlarged Death Valley map]. Here’s a map of Death Valley National Park that shows the roads and main sites some of which are mentioned below or in other posts.

How to get to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is closest to the cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles. If you’re coming from either of those two cities then here’s a quick bit of info on the routes.

I’ve only listed the international airports but there are a few smaller airports that are closer. Just check Skyscanner for the most up to date pricing.

The nearest airports to Death Valley

Las Vegas McCarren International Airpot and LAX are the closest international airports to Death Valley National Park.

If you’re flying to the US before visiting Death Valley National Park and have dates in mind then I recommend checking out Skyscanner.com to compare your cheap flights!

If you’ve yet to choose your dates then take a look at Dollar Flight Club, once signed up you can set your home airport(s) and then they’ll let you know when they find amazing deals on flights. The savings they find every day AMAZE me!

Driving directions to Death Valley NP

If you’re driving to Death Valley National Park here are some basic directions from popular places. If you need to rent a car definitely check out RentalCars.com, it’s super easy to compare rental prices so that you can be sure you’re getting a good deal!

Las Vegas to Death Valley

Getting to Death Valley from Las Vegas takes about 2 hours depending on traffic. You’ll want to leave Vegas on the US 95 North until you get to the small community of Gold Center. From here take the NV 374 South, following signs for Death Valley.

Alternatively, you can take the slightly longer, but scenic route, along the NV 160 West. This way takes you more directly to Death Valley Junction and the various routes to the top attractions in Death Valley National Park.

Permits, passes and entrance fees to Death Valley National Park

death valley national park

Here are some of the following permits, passes and fees you may need to pay during your Death Valley trip.

Entrance Fees to Death Valley

The Death Valley entrance fees are $30 per car, this lasts for 7 consecutive days.

If you’re entering by foot, bike then the entrance fee is $15 per person.

If you’re visiting a few US National Parks over the course of a year then you’ll be better off buying the “America is Beautiful National Parks Pass” from REI for $80.

Fees for Death Valley camping

It’s unusual for all the Death Valley campgrounds to fill up but if you’re hoping to stay at Furnace Creek campground you may want to reserve prior to your visit. All other campgrounds are first come, first served.

  • Furnace Creek: Reservations required from October 15 – April 15. Costs $22 per night, $36 per night for electric hookup
  • Sunset: Open October 15 – May 2, costs $14 per night
  • Texas Springs: Open October 15 – April 24th, costs $16 per night
  • Stovepipe Wells: Open October to May 10th and costs $14 per night
  • Emigrant (tents only): Open all year round with no reservations needed and is free
  • Wildrose (where we stayed): Free, open all year

More information about Death Valley National Park camping here.

Backcountry camping in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park has a huge backcountry area and there are around 700 miles of backcountry dirt roads which lead to backcountry camping in Death Valley National Park. However, you must follow some regulations to protect the park and yourselves.

You can find free, dispersed backcountry camping in Death Valley as long as you are at least one mile away from any paved road or ‘day use only’ dirt road. You must also only camp in previously disturbed areas and park right next to the roadway in order to minimise the impact.

More information about backcountry camping here.

Top 5 things to do in Death Valley

death valley national park

It’s hard to pick just 5 things to see in Death Valley but here are the top attractions in Death Valley that we saw!

  1. Dante’s View
  2. Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
  3. Badwater Basin
  4. Camp in the park
  5. Twenty Mule Team Canyon

Read this post for more great things to do in Death Valley National Park 

Top 5 Death Valley hikes

There’s a great variety of easy to strenuous trails in Death Valley National Park. Before you do any hiking in Death Valley, I highly recommend checking out this page to make sure you’ve done adequate preparation.

  1. Badwater Salt Flat
  2. Mesquite Flat Salt Dunes
  3. Desolation Canyon
  4. Fall Canyon
  5. Ubehebe Crater Loop

Take a look at this post about the best hiking & backpacking in Death Valley

Death Valley tours

Prefer to travel as a tour or are you short on time? Check out these tours to Death Valley National Park!

What’s nearby?

mammoth lakes hot springs

photo: Mammoth Lakes

Visiting Death Valley as part of a road trip? Check out these awesome things to see and do near Death Valley

Where to stay in Death Valley National Park

death valley national park

There is some limited accommodation within Death Valley National Park but you’ll get more options for lodging at Death Valley if you’re willing to sleep over the state line in Nevada. Here are some of the top options for accommodation in Death Valley and it’s surroundings.

Hotels near Death Valley National Park

Campground and Death Valley RV Parks

Other things to know before travelling to Death Valley

death valley national park

  • Check the current conditions before going to the park to know about road and trail closures and weather in Death Valley National Park
  • Death Valley is open all year round. The Death Valley visitor centre opens from 8 am – 5 pm, daily
  • Pets are welcome in Death Valley with various restrictions which can be seen here
  • Always remember to LEAVE NO TRACE
  • If you’re hiking take your 10 essentials with you
  • Check Death Valley, California weather before hiking and make adequate preparations for the temperature. It’s not recommended to hike in the summer months

More USA National Parks posts

Agness | the adventure traveler

Thursday 18th of April 2019

Death Valley is so huge! I just wanted to add that if you have kids and you want to travel with them, go here. This place is perfection!