California

Guide to Death Valley National Park

Don't let the name discourage you, explore Death Valley with your kids. national parks,
Don’t let the name discourage you, explore Death Valley. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

It’s the hottest, lowest and largest national park in the lower 48. Extreme might describe a summer visit where all living things keep to the shade. Though a winter visit can be sublime  with mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Even better, find a desert oasis complete with palm trees and swimming pools.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska, with over 3 million acres. Within it’s boundaries is the lowest point in North America. That’s not the only record. The hottest temperature ever recorded happened at the Furnace Creek Resort in 1913 (134 F/56.7 C). During the summer, temperatures routinely reach 120F (50C) during the day.

Surrounded by the Amargosa and Panamint mountain ranges, Death Valley is 140 miles long. The peaks surrounding Death Valley can reach 11,000 feet. This makes for some epic desert landscape photos.

Death Valley is an International Dark Sky Park and you can see the Milky Way without a telescope. Park rangers host star-gazing programs from the fall to the spring and there’s even a special Junior Ranger patch.

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Why is it so Hot? 

My boys imitate dead in Death Valley. national parks, carful of kids
My boys play dead in Death Valley. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Why is it so hot? Sure people will tell you it’s a dry heat but so is my oven. During the summer, the park rangers almost shutter the park and suspend programming just to keep visitors safe.

Death Valley is surrounded by the Amargosa Mountains on one side and the Panamint Valley mountains on the other. With the narrow valley in-between and a deep valley separating them, it  essentially traps the heat. The valley floor lacks vegetation so it reflects the heat.

Precautions to take whan traveling in Death Valley in the summer, like carrying a gallon of water per person. And remain from hiking at low elevations during the warmer months.

I’ve visited in July and January. The heat is intense on people and vehicles.

Top Spots to Visit in Death Valley

Artist’s Palette–Located off Badwater Road, the one-way 9-mile drive meanders through striated rock formations.

Badwater Basin–Located south of Furnace Creek down Badwater Road, see the lowest point in North America at -282 ft. Also see the polygon formations on the salt flat.

The Devil’s Golfcourse–Along Badwater Road, the rock salt crystals have erroded into a sea of jagged rocks.

Golden Canyon–Find an interpretive trail or a longer loop hike in this area off Badwater Road. And a Star Wars Episode IV was filmed at this location.

Zabriskie Point–One of the most popular viewpoints, especially at sunrise and sunset. Located on Highway 190 clsoe to the eastern entrance, near Death Valley Junction. 

Mesquite Dunes–Located near Stovepipe Wells Village, the Mesquite Dunes are the largest dunes in the park. Find cescent, star and linear dunes. And the dudes where used for the Tatooine scenes in Star Wars Episode IV.

Keane Wonder Mine–See an intact tramway from 1909 used for gold ore extraction. Located off the Beatty Cutoff, north of Furance Creek

Ubehebe Crater–Located close to Scotty’s Castle, it’s a 600-foot deep and half a mile across volcanic crater.

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns–Located along Emigrant Canyon Road, ten 25-foot tall masonry beehive structures survived. It’s cooler at the charcoal kilns since the elevation is 5,000 feet.

Rainbow Canyon–Head to Father Crowley Vista Point for a look over the colorful desert landscape. And if you are lucky, catch a military jet in a low-flying training mission in the R-2508 Airspace Complex. Some jets can be as close as 200 feet from the ground.

Dante’s Peak–Another viewpoint of the entire Badwater Basin along with the Panamint Mountains to the west. Located south of Zabriskie Point.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
Death Valley for kids? Yes, my kids were fascinated by hiking at the lowest point in North America. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Family Fun in Death Valley

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Joshua Tree National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet. 

.A drive down Badwater Road is a kid-pleaser and Artists Drive is another one not to miss. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a family favorite. The overlooks at Zabriskie Point and Dantes View are great stops for families too. Find several ghost towns around Death Valley, like Rhyolite outside Beatty, Nevada.

Death Valley National Park also offers the Night Explorer Patch.

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Hiking in Death Valley 

Easy Hiking

Harmony Borax Works–.4-mile flat path

Badwater Basin–1-mile flat trail

Mesquite Dunes–2-mile trail over sand

Moderate Hiking 

Ubehebe Crater–1.5-mile trail

Golden Canyon–3-mile trail

Darwin Falls–2-mile round trip trail

Biking in Death Valley National Park

Bikes can be used on all roads open for vehicular traffic, both paved and unpaved. Additionally find a bike path between the Harmony Borax Works. 

Easy Bike Routes

Bike Bath—1-mile bike path from Harmony Borax Works to the Visitor Center

Salt Creek Road—1.2-mile route on a graded gravel road. 

20-Mule Team Canyon Road—3-mile route a graded gravel road.

Moderate and difficult routes available. 

Park Rangers want kids to explore, learn and protect our national parks. Death Valley, national parks
Park Rangers want kids to explore, learn and protect our national parks. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Horses in Death Valley 

Due to the harsh conditions and lack of water sources, horses and stock animals are uncommon in Death Valley. Additionally Death Valley National Park doesn’t feature horse camps or designated sites.

Horse and stock can use the backcountry dirt roads in the park.

Birding in Death Valley

Find birds from the fall through the spring as many migrate to the warmth of Death Valley for the winter months. The best places to see birds close to water sources, like Saratoga Springs, and Furnace Creek area along with Wildrose area and the Panamint Mountains.

Wildflowers in Death Valley

If rain arrives during the winter, then the wildflowers start to bloom in late February and continue through June, depending on elevation. Head to Jublibee Pass along Highway 190 or the Panamint Mountains for best wildflower viewing.

Night Sky Programming in Death Valley 

Death Valley National Park is the largest Dark Sky Park in the U.S. as determined by the International Dark Sky Association. Inquire at the Visitor Center for night sky ranger programs. And occasionally other astronomical groups hold star parties.

The History of Death Valley

The Tisbisha Shoshone have called Death Valley home for thousands of years. Though it was a group of lost pioneers stranded during the winter of 1849-1850 that named it. First came the gold miners in the 1850s and then borax mining in the 1880s. After the mining moved on, a resort was built to help support the infrastructure.

Death Valley was first protected as a national monument in 1933. In 1994, it became a national park. Additionally it’s part of the UNESCO’s Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve.

The People of Death Valley 

The Timbisha Shoshone people lived in the Death Valley area for thousands of years. Though it was named by the next group of people to traverse through the harsh valley.

In the 1840, emigrants and prospectors travel through the area on the way to coastal California. This included the 49’ers gold prospectors. The gold rush faded and borax mining replaced it. Chinese workers worked in construction in the area first before mining in borax.

As a desolute place, Death Valley Scotty worked in the Harmony Borax Works before joining the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.

Manzanar National Historic Site

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government ordered the over 110,000 American citizens of Japanese descent to be detained in military-style camps. One of ten camps, Manzanar offers a glimpse into the dark area.

Most of the original buildings have been removed. The Manzanar Visitor Center offers an interpretive area that reconstructs portions of the camps. Also find audio-visual programs and a documentary movie. Take the 3.2 self-guided driving tour through the site to see the historic orchard and the rock gardens.

Located 5001 Highway 395 in Independence, north of the Panamint Springs entrance of Death Valley. Grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. Visitor Center and the interpretive area is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the winter and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the rest of the year. (Visitor Center is closed during 2020.). Free to enter.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
The spring-fed pool at The Inn at Furnace Creek offers luxurious getaway. Photo Credit: Xanterra Parks and Resorts

Where to Stay in Death Valley 

Stovepipe Wells

In the center of Death Valley, find the Stovepipe Wells area. Developed in 1926, it offers a basic lodging along with a general store and gift shop.

Find a 83-room hotel  with a pool along with the Toll Road Restaurant, serving breakfast and dinner. The Badwater Saloon is open from lunch through dinner, serving food and cocktails. Also find a small RV campground with14 sites that have hook-ups.

Located at 51880 Highway 190.

Panamint Springs Resort 

At the western entrance of Death Valley, the Panamint Springs Resort offers motel rooms, cabins along with a campground. Also find a gas station along with general store, restaurant and gift shop. This area opened in 1946.

The motel rooms offer basic accommodations and the cabins are newer option. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner along with a cocktails.  Find a campground with RV hook-ups along with dry sites.

Located at 40440 Highway 190.

Furnace Creek and the Oasis at Death Valley

The Ranch at Furnace Creek 

The Pacific Coast Borax Company built the Furnace Creek area in 1933 to support the railroad after the mining stopped.

The Ranch at Furnace Creek just underwent a 100-million dollar renovation and offers a family-friendly environment with 244 rooms. Conveniently located next to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, the area is in the center of the park and close to several top sites.

The Ranch now features a palm-tree lined Town Square with fountain and benches in front of the new registration building with Mission California design elements. Find a new restaurant along along with a saloon and gift shop.

The 1849 Buffet serves a breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet in the Town Square area (closed for 2020). The Coffee and Cream is located next to the buffet and serves coffee drinks, ice cream along with breakfast, lunch and dinner take-away options.

The Last Kind Words Saloon offers a heaping spoon of old west flavor. Find cowboy relics, wanted posters and hunting trophies on the wall. The dinner menu features up-scale offerings like Alaskan salmon along with tomahawk steaks. Open from dinner at 5 p.m. daily. Reservations recommended. Outdoor seating area available.

Located in the Furance Creek area of Death Valley at the intersection of Highway 190 and Badwater Road.

Activities at the Ranch at Furnace Creek 

Find a spring-fed pool with a year-round tempature of 87-degrees for year-round swimming. Next to the pool, find covered tables, sports courts, tennis courts and playground close by.

The legendary 18-hole par 70 golf course is 214-feet below ground level. The course includes water features along with a pro shop and 19th Hole Restaurant with a full bar and outdoor dining (closed in the summer).

The Harmony Borax Works offers a .25-mile walking trail to the remnants of the mining operation, including an original 20-mule wagon train.

The Furnace Creek Stables offer one and two-hour guided horse-back riding from October to May. The popular carriage ride tour the date farm and the golf course. Hay rides are also offered. Reservations recommended and addtional fees apply.

Jeep rentals are also available in the Furnace Creek area from September to May. Get everything you need for an adventure, even an ice crest with ice. Reservations recommended and additional fees apply. Drivers must be at least 25-years-old.

For kids into science, Furnace Creek Resort has a solar facility with a viewing platform.

The Ranch at Furnace Creek also  a RV park, Fiddler’s Camp.

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
The Inn at Furnace Creek glows in the golden light of a sunset. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker
The Inn at Furnace Creek

As the most luxurious property in Death Valley, the Inn at Furnace Creek is a four-diamond desert resort built in 1927. Long  considered a hideout for Hollywood stars and Parisian socialites, the property underwent an extensive renovation.

The arrivals area received a refresh with a new fountains and lush oasis landscaping. As guest enter the lobby and lounge area, find a new saltillo tile floor along with inviting new furnishings in desert hues.

The bar is completely new and includes menu with desert-inspired classic cocktails along with small plates. The dining room’s new furnishings focus on the refined elegance that blend with the chef-created menu with an eye to substainable offerings.

The main Inn rooms retain their laid-back luxurious feel with sumptuous fabrics and warm wood. The bathrooms feature period details like hex tile.

For a secluded retreat, the 22 new casitas offer a refuge along the date palm oasis. With a separate living room and patio for in-room dining, enjoy privacy steps from the spring-fed pool. Each casita features a wet bar and beverage station as well.

The iconic swimming pool retains its year-round tempature of 87 F. Though enjoy a shaded cabana for all-day lounging. And the refreshments are steps away from the poolside dining.

The Spa at the Inn at Furnace Creek offers packages and an extensive menu of wellness treatments. Find tennis courts on the property and the golfing is a short drive away near the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

Located in the Furance Creek area of Death Valley at the intersection of Highway 190 and Badwater Road.

Camping in Death Valley

Note: Most campgrounds are closed during the summer and the following are the National Park Service campgrounds. Private campgrounds are available at several locations.

Furnace Creek 

    • Year-round
    • Reservations October 15 to April 15
    • 136 sites (18 with hook-ups) with a Dump Station
    • Potable water and flush toilets

Sunset 

    • Seasonal Late Fall to Spring
    • No reservations
    • 270 sites with a Dump Station
    • Potable water and flush toilets

Texas Springs 

    • Seasonal–Late Fall to Spring
    • No reservations
    • 92 sites with a Dump Station
    • Potable water and flush toilets

Stovepipe Wells

    • Seasonal–Late Fall to Spring
    • No reservations
    • 190 sites with a Dump Station
    • Potable water and flush toilets

Mesquite Spring

    • Year-round
    • No reservations
    • 30  sites with a Dump Station
    • Potable water and flush toilets

Where’s Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is in Southern California though it’s closer to Las Vegas than Los Angeles. Death Valley Visitor Center is about 130 miles from Las Vegas. It’s about 300 miles from Los Angeles.

California Highway 190 transects Death Valley from Death Valley Junction on the east side to Panamint Springs on the west side. The majority of the services in the park are located in the Stovepipe Wells Village or the Furnace Creek Resort area.

Death Valley National Park is open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. The admission is $30 per vehicle for a7-day pass or you can purchase an annual America the Beautiful Pass.

Find close to 1,000 miles of roads in Death Valley National Park though the majority of them are unpaved, four-wheel drive roads unsuitable for most vehicles. Please read the map carefully. Find an airstrip in the Furnace Creek area in Death Valley.

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Note

Scotty’s Castle is closed until further notice. A flash flood destroyed the road and infrastructure servicing Scotty’s Castle. The building was unharmed.

Know before you go:

  • Make reservations for lodging and tours as soon as possible. Lodging reservations can be made 13 months in advance.
  • Don’t enter mines shafts or tunnels.
  • Carry extra water year-round. Water is only available in the developed areasof the park.
  • Don’t rely on technology for directions. Get a map at the visitors center.
  • The summer season is May through September. The park suspends popular programs like ranger programs and horse trips.
  • Don’t hike at the lower elevations duringthe summer.
  • Don’t leave kids or pets in vehicles in the summer.Temperatures can reach 160 F in the car.

Adventure awaits in Death Valley National Park in California. Find spring-fed pools, hiking, dark sky programs, horse-back riding, tours and golf. Find recommendations for lodging as well as top destinations in the Southern California national park. #NPS #California #DeathValley When to visit Death Valley National Park | What to do in Death Valley National Park | Places to Stay in Death Valley National Park

Disclosure

Consideration for lodging partner who hosted a trip.

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