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Jill Sanford | 03.10.2017

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 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:

  • Bighorn Gorge: A strenuous 10-mile trail that takes you from Scotty's Castle Road to upper dry fall. There’s no trail; instead, you will be walking over gravel and doing a bit of rock scrambling.
  • Cottonwood-Marble Canyon Loop: A strenuous 26-mile route along a dirt road and through dense shrubs. It may be prone to flash flooding.
  • Fall Canyon: A 6-mile moderately strenuous canyon hike to two dry falls. The first is located about 3 miles in, where you will lose a lot of the traffic from day hikers. Plan to camp after that landmark.
  • Owlshead Mountains: A moderate 7- or 16-mile trek that features an option to return via Granite Canyon if you crave the longer hike. Through this canyon you will reach a hidden basin at the heart of the mountains.

Find more information, as well as more hikes, safety concerns, and what map to use for each option, here

Car and RV Camping

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.

  • Furnace Creek Area: There are four campgrounds located in this area. If you are looking for something quiet, your best bet will likely be the Texas Springs Campground. Other areas like Furnace Creek Campground, Fiddlers Campground and Sunset Campground cater to RVs and Trailers.
  • Stovepipe Wells Area: The two campgrounds here couldn’t be more different. The 190-site Stovepipe Wells Campground is a very different experience than Emigrant Campground, a 10-site and tent-only area that is free of charge.
  • Grapevine Area: Here your only option is the Mesquite Spring Campground, a 30-site campground that is an ideal spot to set up for exploration of the northern portion of the park.
  • Wildrose Area: This less traveled area is more friendly to tent campers than RVs. It features the Wildrose Campground (23 sites), Thorndike Campground (six free tent only sites), and the Mahogany Flat Campground (10 free sites).
  • Panamint Springs area is solely served by the Panamint Springs Campground, which in addition to full hookups also is the location of tent cabins and other amenities.


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