Death Valley in a Day
Death Valley. Even the name can pique a curiosity and give the intrepid adventurer the urge to be outdoors. The hottest, driest and lowest place in the North America, Death Valley National Park has weaved its way into the imagination of American pop culture and is definitely worth a visit.
There are a few things to know before packing up for your trip to Death Valley that will make your trip go smoothly. The first is picking a good campsite. We are looking for a spot that is close to amenities and the major attractions of the park. There are over 1,000 miles of roads in Death Valley and nobody wants to be spending their entire trip inside a car traveling from place to place. The last few things are knowing where you can get supplies for the essential items you inevitably left at home, planning out a good route of the must-see sights and finally, remembering that the Death Valley is a land of extremes. From dusk to dawn, it will be cold and you will need a jacket or hoodie to provide protection from the wind and cold. Our Poly-Tech Soft Shell is perfect for the variable climates that you will encounter in the park. During the heat of the day, you will need to be sure you are prepared to stay hydrated, check out our great prices on a Hydro Flask bundle pack that comes with all of the accessories you need for your bottle.
Most of our readers know that Recreation.gov is hands down the best place to book a campsite. Not only do they provide great information about every state and national campsite, they have a reasonably well setup site that often provides maps and pictures of your specific campsite. We chose the Texas Springs Campground for its convenient location near the Furnace Creek National Parks Visitor Center, and plenty of first-come first-served campsites in the event we could not find a reserved spot (Our trip occurred in November, and Death Valley National Parks only takes site reservations during the spring). In November, the sun will set before five o’clock and the park becomes very dark quickly. You will want to give yourself plenty of daylight to setup your campsite and get situated before the sun sets. Trust us, we know from experience. Once the sun goes down you can enjoy some of the best stargazing in the contiguous United States.
There are essentially two villages that you can find inside the park, Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek. The park is roughly the size of Connecticut and almost twice as big as Los Angeles County, so we chose to stay near the larger of the two villages - Furnace Creek. Both villages have gasoline and there is a small convenience center at the Stovepipe Wells stop. The Oasis at Death Valley is perfect for all of your needs during your stay. The Last Kind Words Saloon is the perfect spot to grab a drink after a hot meal, morning coffee or you can head over to the General Store and pick up all of your camp cooking supplies to make dinner over an open fire. You can rest easy knowing that anything you left at home can be easily picked up in Furnace Creek.
If you are staying in Death Valley longer and don’t have a 4WD vehicle but want to reach some of the more remote parts of the park, including The Racetrack, consider renting a Jeep from Farabee’s Jeep Rental at The Oasis at Death Valley. These vehicles are legit and are equipped with all of the modern luxuries (Hallelujah AC!) but are rugged enough to tackle Death Valley.
Depending on how long you want to stay at each site, you can reasonably make it to most of the highlights in a single day. Many of the attractions are set up for you to enjoy from your car and get out for short hikes and vistas. The No Trace Outdoor Gear team suggests the following path to help you keep a good schedule and prevent backtracking as much as possible. Remember the park is huge and you will be doing a lot of driving. Be sure your car has plenty of gas before setting out. We were sweating it for about 30 miles from the nearest gas station because we did not take our own advice.
Start your morning with sunrise at Zabriskie Point. The golden colored badlands are a perfect start to your day and great spot to enjoy your coffee. Remember to bring a blanket, jacket or hoodie as the desert gets cold at night! Side note - You will want to pack layers of clothes as the temperature variations are as significant as the elevation changes.
Next, you will want to drive to Badwater Basin and visit the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The surreal landscape is breathtaking and truly represents the unique topography of Death Valley. Take a walk out on to the Salt Flats but be sure to follow signs and avoid getting off the beaten path to protect the landscape. From Badwater Basin, head to Artists Drive. This scenic loop drives through 9 miles of multi-colored hills. There are several spots to get out and take pictures or go on a short hike. From Artists Drive, we suggest heading towards the Ubehebe Crater. This 600 ft deep crater was created by a magma mixing with an underground spring causing a massive volcanic eruption. Getting to the crater will be a journey, (1.5 hours one-way from Furnace Creek) so be sure you have plenty of gas. Next, hustle over to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and check out the sea of sand. This is another unique spot that will convince you that you are in a strange and wonderful place.
Be sure you leave enough daylight to make it to the most breathtaking spot of the park. Our experts saved this spot for last. You will be exhausted but you will want to make sure you make it up 5,000 feet to Dantes View for sunset. Remember that you are climbing 5,000 feet from the valley floor and the climate will be drastically different. Be sure to pack a warm jacket or hoodie as the temperature could easily be 30 degrees below the valley. The drive up to Dantes View is curvy and remote, but the payoff is absolutely worth it. From this scenic spot you will be able to see many of the sites you visited earlier in your trip and reminisce about all the sites you have seen on your journey.
Death Valley is truly an amazing place and foreign landscape. You will think you are on Mars, see the most amazing stars and be inspired to explore and care for our wonderful planet.
Gear Up & Get Out!