Death Valley National Park is a desert that is like no other place on earth. The strikingly colorful landscape was shaped by extensive volcanic activity as well as erosion, deposition and prolonged flooding. The unique desert geography of Death Valley National Park was also shaped over 20,000 years ago by an enormous, ancient lake that is now long gone. The park encompass 3.4 million acres of harsh, unforgiving desert terrain that will leave you impressed beyond measure and perhaps a little intimidated by nature.
If this park is on your bucket list but you aren't sure when would be best to visit, spring is an ideal time to see the park. A spectacular show of wildflowers blooms around the end of March each year, allowing visitors to take in the more delicate side of this expansive desert.
The park’s activities and attractions are miles apart, so it is loosely divided into five different areas. Plan for a good amount of travel time between these hubs, and always have plenty of water, food and fuel to get you from one destination to the next. These areas include Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, and Panamint Springs along Highway 190 and the Grapevine and Wildrose regions, which are less traveled and offer no amenities other than campgrounds.
Death Valley is known for it’s extremely hot days and it’s frigid nights, making camping here just as unique as the landscape. You might need to get creative to stay comfortable in the variable temperatures. There is very little shade at most designated camping areas, so plan to bring a pop up shade structure on all car and RV camping trips during your time here. If you plan to spend multiple days in the backcountry, take frequent rests and bring more water than you think you will need.
You’ll pay for most campsites at a credit card kiosk near the entrance, and if you plan to camp out overnight in the backcountry, you can obtain a voluntary permit from the visitor center. Maximum stays for backcountry and most campgrounds are a whopping 30 days; Furnace Creek is limited to 14 days.
For up to date information on camping in Death Valley as well as other alerts, be sure to check nps.gov periodically as you plan your trip.
There are not a lot of beginning backpacking routes in Death Valley because most trails are rated strenuous and only a few can be called moderate. The backcountry terrain and conditions are challenging, but the solitude and stunning vistas you can find off the beaten path are unparalleled. With about 3 million acres of designated wilderness area within the park, the view of the stars at night is well worth a daytime trek away from the cars and RVs. Here are a few popular and park service recommended backcountry trails:
Find more information, as well as more hikes, safety concerns, and what map to use for each option, here.
There are plenty of day hikes and things to explore in Death Valley that don’t require you to spend the night out in the backcountry. Most car camping is located in sparse, dirt lots, but many amenities such as gas, restrooms, and convenience stores are close at hand.