Death Valley Facts
Camping in Death Valley will offer you a once in a lifetime experience. Imagine 3 million acres of mystical desertland filled with abandoned ghost towns, gold mines, 300 miles of road and some of the darkest skies in the United States. Welcome to Death Valley National Park, located a mere two hours away from Las Vegas and right on the border of California and Nevada.
Death Valley is, in fact, the largest national park in the United States covering 3.4 million acres.
Archaeologists have found evidence of human presence in Death Valley that dates back over 9,000 years. The Timbisha Shoshone Native American Tribe has inhabited Death Valley for the past 1,000 years.
Despite the misgiving name, Death Valley is home to vast amounts of wildlife and vegetation such as roadrunners, bighorn sheep, coyotes, reptiles, ground squirrels, lizards, ravens, snakes, amphibians and more than 300 species of birds.
Over 1,000 types of plants thrive in Death Valley, including 50 that are found nowhere else in the world. The list of vegetation in the park includes Joshua trees, creosote bushes, desert hollies and an explosion of fauna that blossom after a rainfall.
Rain is rare in Death Valley, in fact, Death Valley is the driest place in the USA. In 1929, there was not a single drop of rain recorded in Death Valley and on July 10, 1913, the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet was recorded at Furnace Creek, topping out at 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors can pick up a free novelty postcard from the Visitor’s Center.
The ground gets even hotter than the air at Death Valley. At Furnace Creek near the center of the park, the ground temperature was recorded at a whopping 201 degrees on July 15, 1972.
Camping in Death Valley National Park
Two of the most important things to consider when camping in Death Valley is the season and the elevation of the campground.
Death Valley can be unbearably hot in the summer, to a point where some of the campgrounds are closed for safety reasons. Consider a high elevation campground during this time for a cooler and safer stay.
There are 9 designated campgrounds to consider when camping in Death Valley National Park.
Furnace Creek, Open all year, Reservations available. Elevation: -196
$22, $11 with lifetime pass
Sunset Open Oct 15 to April 15, first-come/first-served, Closed April 17 to Oct 14, Elevation: -196
$14, $7 with lifetime pass
Texas Springs Oct 15 to May 10, first-come/first-served, Closed May 15 to Oct 14, Elevation: Sea level
$16, $8 with lifetime pass
Stovepipe Wells Open Sept 15 to May 10, first-come/first-served, Closed May 15 to Oct 14, Elevation: Sea level
$14, $7 with lifetime pass
Mesquite Spring Open all year, first-come/first-served, Elevation: 1800′
$14, $7 with lifetime pass
Death Valley National Park has 4 campgrounds that offer free camping:
Emigrant (tents only) Open all year, first-come/first-served, Elevation: 2100′
Wildrose Open all year, first-come/first-served, Elevation: 4100′
Thorndike Open March to November, first-come/first-served, Closed during winter, Elevation: 7400′
Mahogany Flat Open March to November, first-come/first-served, Closed during winter, Elevation: 8200′
Check the NPS Website for the most up to date information.
19 Reasons to go camping in Death Valley
1) Some of the best campsites are free
We arrived at the height of summer, and at a whopping 120F (48°C), we opted to camp at the Wildrose campground, which was not only free but at high elevation. It was also cool enough for a safe and comfortable stay.
The Wildrose Campground is an approximate 1 hour and 20 minutes drive from the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center. The road leading into the campground is scenic and isolated, allowing you to expeirence the eerie silence of Death Valley.
Wildrose Campground has 23 spots for tents, each spot has a fire pit, a picnic table, and space for a vehicle. We chose a spot at the back, Spot 15 for a higher elevation and close but far enough proximitely to the pit toilet and running water.
The terrain at Wildrose Campground is gravelly and rough, there is minimal deadwood so be sure to take enough firewood to cover your full stay.
The best part of the Wildrose Campground experience was the night sky, never before have we seen a clear view of the billions of stars and the Milky Way. Other campers gathered beside a stargazer who allowed people to use his telescope, it was such a magical experience over a campfire.
Wildrose Campground was our favorite campsite in the USA, if not the world. The isolation gave us an experience we will never forget.
We heard wild coyotes howlig througout the night as well as the rustling of kangaroo rats looking for food.
2) You’ll see the Highest and Lowest points of the USA
Death Valley is only 76 miles from the highest point in the USA, Mt. Whitney, which tops out at an elevation of 14,505 feet.
The lowest point of the USA is at Badwater Basin, a popular attraction of the park 252 feet below sea level.
The lowest and highest points in the contiguous U.S. are less than 100 miles apart and are located in Death Valley and the surrounding area.
Remember though, Badwater Basin is not only the lowest point of the USA, it’s also the hottest! Stay close to your vehicle in the summer and take excessive water if you’re planning on hiking in the area. It’s really hot!
3) See a Gold Mining Millionaire’s Villa
Scotty’s Castle (also known as the Death Valley Ranch) is a Spanish Colonial Revival style villa in the Northern Part of the Death Valley area. The villa was named after Chicago millionaire and gold prospector Walter E. Scott, although Scott never owned it, nor is the building an actual castle.
Tours are offered at Scotty’s Castle primarily in the winter months, The villa was built in the 1900’s and guides dress up in 1930’s attire for authenticity.
Scotty’s Castle is currently closed to the public after extensive flood damage and it is not expected to open to the public until 2019.
4) Find the last hideout of Charles Manson
Barker Ranch was once used as a mining and recreational property from the 1940s to the 1960s, but what makes it so special is its association with mass murderer, and cult leader, Charles Manson and his cult “family”. Barker Ranch was used by Charles Manson as a hideout before he was captured by police and visitors can see the ranch right on the corner of Death Valley.
5) Enjoy more action in the winter
Death Valley is one of a few National Parks that offer more activities in the Winter months. Due to the dangerously hot temperatures in the summer, a lot of the attractions in the park are off limits from April to October.
One of the most famous attractions visitors can enjoy in the winter is the iconic ‘Sailing Stones’. The site of the natural phenoma of ‘moving stones’ is located off-road, and travel to and from the site is not advised during the blazing hot summer months.
Visitors wishing to see the Ubehebe Crate are advised to travel in Winter Months. The 2,000 – 7,000 year old crater can be viewed from the purpose built car park and the hike around the rim is an approximate 1½ mile round-trip that can be tough in the height of summer.
6) Putt at the lowest golf course in the world
Death Valley welcomes golfers all year round at the Furnace Creek Golf Course. The 18 hole course is an incredible 214 feet below sea level making it the lowest golf course in the world.
7) More high and low phenomena
Death Valley offers visitors diverse terrain and you’re only ever a few miles away from spectacular phenomena.
In Death Valley National Park, only 15 miles separate the highest elevation point, Telescope Peak, (11,049 feet) and the lowest at Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level). That’s a pretty impressive site that isn’t found anywhere else in the world.
8) Death Valley is one of the best stargazing spots in the world
Despite its close proximitey to the lights of Las Vegas, Death Valley has some of the darkest skies in the United States, making it a perfect spot for stargazing!
9) Watch Kangaroo Rats hop out at dusk
Only found in South Western America, the desert kangaroo rat (Dipodomys deserti) is a rodent species that look like really small kangaroos.
While we were camping in Death Valley at the Wildrose Campground, we heard the creatures jumping around our camping spot. We tried to chase them with a torch and managed to capture a picture, can you see the Kangaroo Rat?
10) Hear the howling of wild coyotes
Taking a day trip to Death Valley will offer visitors glorious sites and a memorable experience. Camping in Death Valley will offer so much more. Most of the distinctive wildlife in Death Valley make an appearance at night and though you may not see animals in the park, day or night, such as the bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, and wild coyotes, you will almost certainly hear them.
11) See abandoned Gold Mines
Between 1848 and 1855, California had their Gold Rush which spawned lots of small towns across the state populating thousands of people. Death Valley alone had 6,000 to 10,000 gold mines.
The mines are now abandoned and the towns are empty, giving Death Valley more of an eerie and derelict feel than it already has.
12) Capture those epic US road trip pictures
There are more than 300 miles of paved roads, 300 miles of dirt roads and several hundred miles of 4×4 roads in Death Valley National Park, according to the National Park Service.
Every corner of the park offers photogenic opportunites of an all American road trip.
Enjoy blissful views of extraordinary mountains and cliff edges while driving through the park roads.
3 million acres of mystical and eerie desert land stand before you.
Death Valley really is one of the most scenic National Parks in the system, nowhere else on earth compares to a landscape like this.
13) Explore ‘Artists Drive’ and the ‘Palette’
Artist’s Drive gives visitors access to the area of the Black Mountains known as the Artist’s Palette, named because of the bold colors of the rocks.
The varying colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals. Iron compounds produce red coloring, as well as pink and yellow, the decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple.
The rock formations on Artist’s Drive provide proof that Death Valley was once a violently explosive volcanic area.
Said to be up to 5,000 feet (1500 m) thick, the ‘Pallett of paint’ is one of the most spectacular sites in the park. It’s a popular tourist attraction and there is enough mountain range for all to enjoy.
The impressive journey through Artist’s Drive has a lot of fun dips and the road is built so it is singular and one way. Large mountains loom in the backdrop and vehicles longer than 25 feet are not permitted entry.
Allow yourself time to park up at the small parking lot and explore the area on foot, the colors of the rocks are even more impressive up close.
Capture some epic shots that are incomparable to anywhere else in the world.
The ride through the Artist’s Drive in Death Valley is approximately 9 miles one way, the roads are unbelievably windy so stick to the speed limit at all times.
Enjoy the splendor of the Amargosa Mountains as you take a rollercoaster journey through picturesque rock formations that could easily pass as man-made.
There are plenty of purpose-built layovers to safely park and absorb the surroundings.
Remember, Death Valley is a free hike area, so don’t be afraid to walk up and get an even closer look of all of the attractions, be sure to do so safely and respectfully.
Enjoy the collection of color and see how time, rain, and heat change volcanic minerals in a unique part of the world. Death Valley really does have it all.
14) Look over miles of deadland at Dante’s View
Dante’s View is a popular park attraction offering a viewpoint terrace at 1,669 m (5,476 ft) on the north side of Coffin Peak. Dante’s View offers an incredible view of Death Valley and is around about 25 km (16 miles) south of the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center. From Dante’s View parking lot, there are several paths leading to the best view, one of which leads to the very brink of the edge, offering a dramatic panoramic view.
Another path leads 320m (350 yds) north to an area with picnic tables allowing visitors to enjoy the view while relaxing.
There really isn’t a view quite like it in the world, see the spiral formation of the salt flats and derelict desertland over the rippling heat waves of Death Valley.
The best time to visit Dante’s View is during the cooler hours of the morning and night, more specifically in the morning when the sun is in the east. Dante’s View is a popular spot for stargazers who arrive with telescopes almost every night.
15) See one of the best sunsets of the West
The most popular places to watch the sunset in Death Valley are Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin and the Mesquite Flat Dunes.
16) Stroll the Mesquite Flat Dunes at Sun Rise
Wake up early, stroll out of your tent and head straight to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. These dunes are the best known in the park and are also the easiest to visit.
Located in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells, access from Hwy. 190 is easy for all vehicles. The Mesquite Flat Dunes cover a vast area of the park and the highest dune rises around 100 feet.
This dune field at Mesquite Flat includes three types of sand dunes: crescent, linear, and star shaped. Mesquite trees can also be found and they have created large hummocks over time that provide stable habitats for some of the park’s wildlife.
Walk on the dunes in the cooler hours of the day, in the morning enjoy a spectacular sunrise roading over the golden sands.
The sand dunes are perfectly untouched, offering yet another wonderul photogenic landscape in Death Valley National Park.
17) Stand at the lowest and driest point of North America
Badwater Basin is a popular attraction in the park and it is also the lowest point of the USA at 282 feet (855 meters) below sea level.
The Badwater site itself consists of a small spring-fed pool of “bad water” next to the road in a sink as well as a ‘Sea Level’ sign on a cliff giving visitors an indication of just how low they are.
The accumulation of salts in the surrounding area make the water undrinkable, thus giving it the name of ‘Badwater’.
Repeated freeze-thaw cycles have gradually pushed thin salt crusts into hexagon shapes giving the salt flats the iconic terrain that is ony found in several sites in the world, such as Bolivia.
The thin crust of the salt flats is hazardous to traverse and the basin was once considered the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere until the discovery of Laguna del Carbón in Argentina at −344 ft (−105 m).
The salt flats in Badwater Basin cover nearly 200 square miles, and the site is one of the largest protected salt flats in the world.
Remember, the lowest point in North america is also one of the hottest, so pack carefully, take lots of water, sunscreen and supplies, particularly in summer.
18) Lick the Salt at the Salt Flats
When in Rome, right? Though the salt flats in Death Valley are a protected site, you may find a loose piece of salt on the walking area at Badwater Basin. Of course, we had to taste it!
The Salt flats in Death Valley are too harsh for most plants and animals to survive, though some life can be found here such as pickleweed, aquatic insects, and the Badwater snail.
The formation of salt flats is caused by three determining environmental factors.
1) A source of salts, usually from a large drainage system.
2) An enclosed basin that doesn’t drain to the sea and wash away the salts.
3) An arid climate where evaporation exceeds precipitation, leaving behind just the salts and fine silt.
Sodium Chloride, aka table salt, makes up the majority of the salt terrain at Badwater Basin. Other evaporative minerals in the area include calcite, gypsum, and borax.
19) Find iconic Hollywood filming locations
Heaps of movie scenes have been made at Death Valley including blockbuster franchise, Star Wars. Producers of Star Wars filmed the Sandcrawler scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope at the Artist’s Palette, Jawa scenes at Golden Canyon and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes were used for the Droid scenes from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
Can you picture R2D2 and C3PO wandering by this eerie landscape?
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