Visiting & Camping in Death Valley, CA
I’ve spent my entire life in California and endless weekends in the Eastern Sierra but in February, I finally decided to make my way to Death Valley. I’ve seen endless pictures of sand dunes at sunrise, different rock formations, and salt flats and needed to finally experience it in person.
I spent two days in Death Valley and experienced almost all of the things I was there to see. In this blog post, I’ll go over when to go, what I saw on my trip, and where to camp.
I recommend getting the National Geographic Death Valley Map to help you plan your adventure! It helped me figure out where everything was and what I should see in what order once I got to the park.
To access some areas of the park, it’s recommended to have a 4×4 car. But I drive a Mazda 3, definitely not a 4×4 car, and all the places I explored, I had no problem reaching with my little red car.
When to go
I recommend going in the winter months. The highs are typically 75 to 65 degrees and the lows are in the 40s. I went mid-February and during the day it was 75 degrees and at night it dropped down to low 50s.
Here are the weather averages:
January – High 67°F / Low 40°F
February – High 74°F / Low 46°F
March – High 82°F / Low 55°F
April – High 90°F / Low 62°F
May – High 100°F / Low 72°F
June – High 110°F / Low 82°F
July – High 116°F / Low 88°F
August – High 114°F / Low 86°F
September – High 107°F / Low 76 °F
October – High 93°F / Low 62°F
November – High 77°F / Low 48°F
December – High 65°F / Low 39°F
Personally, hiking in 100 degree weather or even 90 degree weather does not sound like much fun. Not only is it miserable, it’s dangerous! You can get heat stroke and yes you can die. Try going from November to March.
What I saw in Death Valley
Badwater Basin, CA
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. Interestingly enough, the lowest point and the highest point in the United States are in the same county! Badwater Basin sits 282 feet below sea level and Mt. Whitney stands at 14,505 feet above sea level, and both are in Inyo County.
My first stop in Death Valley was Badwater Basin. I got there about an hour before sunset which ended up perfect lighting for photos!
When you hike down to the flats, it’s just endless white salt flats surrounded by mountains.
Zabriskie Point, CA
The next day I watched the sunrise over Zabriskie Point. If you’re looking for the best places to see the sunrise, go to either Zabriskie Point or the Sand Dunes. It was beautiful.
I arrived right at the start of the morning light, I walked up the path from my car to watch the sunrise over the Eastern Sierra. Nothing is better than watching the morning alpine glow. I was here mid-week and it was fairly crowded, so if you’re going during the weekend, be prepared that you’re not going to get full solitude here. Thankfully everyone was very respectful. No one was loud, you could listen to the breeze blow while watching the Eastern Sierra glow pink.
Artists Palette, CA
This was the part I was most excited about seeing in Death Valley and it did not disappoint. I love colors, I also love painting (the name makes me happy), so seeing Artists Palette was a no brainer for me!
I went right after Zabriskie Point, so it was shortly after sunrise. When I got there, I was the only one there! There was an RV in the parking lot but they weren’t out yet. About 30 minutes after I got there another photographer showed up. So over the hour and a half that I was there, I saw only 3 people! Go shortly after sunrise!
You start on Artists Drive. Drive slowly there are a lot of turns and steep dips on the drive. There are quite a few places to pull over to see different colored rocks. But about half way through the drive, there will be a paved side road to the right. That’s where Artists Palette is. There are a couple different short hiking trails where you can walk through the colored rocks.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, CA
You can make this hike as long or as short as you want. If you’re coming from the 395, the Sand Dunes are shortly after the entrance to the park.
I felt like Disney’s Jasmine, minus the turquoise dress and the tiger, hiking through the Sand Dunes. I took off my hiking boots (they filled with sand quickly) and walked barefoot. It felt amazing! The sand wasn’t harsh or hot when I went in February, so it was perfect!
If you’re looking to get the best photos, go during sunset or sunrise.
Additional places to see in Death Valley
Dante’s View, CA
Dante’s View arguably has one of the best views in Death Valley with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and Death Valley Basin. On clear days, you can see the highest point, Mt. Whitney, and the lowest point, Badwater Basin from here.
Telescope Peak, CA
Telescope Peak is the highest point in Death Valley at 11,331 feet. It’s a 14 mile round trip hike with around 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
The trail starts at Mahogany Flat Campground at the end of Upper Wildrose/ Emigrant Canyon Road. High clearance vehicles with 4×4 are recommended for the final 1.5 miles to the campground. If you drive a low clearance vehicle, consider parking at the Charcoal Kilns and walking the rest of the way.
Camping in Death Valley
Most of the campgrounds are first come first serve. The only one that does require a reservation is Furnace Creek Campground from October 15th to April 15th. Book a campground at Furnace Creek at recreation.gov.
Only a few campgrounds are open during the summer months because of how hot it gets. This is definitely a park you want to visit in the winter months. The information below is from Death Valley National Park’s website.
May through September:
- There are only a few campgrounds open in the summer months due to the extreme temperatures – midnight temperatures can still be over 100 F – so most visitors find these sleeping conditions unfavorable.
- Due to the limited number of campgrounds open it can be very busy over HOLIDAY weekends (Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day) Unfortunately, we can NOT predict if the campgrounds will be full or not.
- Besides the Holiday weekends, most visitors find a campsite at Furnace Creek CG during the summer. The higher elevation campgrounds can be full on busy weekends.
- Open campgrounds are ALL first-come, first-serve, and they are not staffed. You will need to travel to the campground to find an empty spot, and then you can pay your campground fee at the automated, self-help kiosk with a credit or debit card.
October through April:
- Furnace Creek CG takes reservations and often fills during the busy season. You will likely find a spot at Sunset CG or Stovepipe Wells CG as they rarely fill up. Sunset Campground almost never fills, even during busy times or on weekends.
- Besides Furnace Creek CG, all other campgrounds are first-come, first-serve. Getting there early in the morning is not always necessary to secure a spot (see above and below).
- You can arrive anytime you want because you will be paying AT the campground with an automated machine (credit or debit card needed).
- Don’t worry! Between the 190 spots at Stovepipe Wells CG and 270 at Sunset CG, you are 99.9% likely to find a spot in the park.
To see the full list of campgrounds and their open status, visit nps.gov.
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