Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States, covering 3.4 million acres of desert. With scant rainfall and conditions that could evaporate one hundred times what it gets, the Death Valley landscape exposes underlying geology that vegetation might cover in other locations. The result is a stark and varied landscape, with colors and textures thrown next to each other: rounded, fuzzy-textured hills next to sharp-edged peaks with multi-colored layers below.
The first Death Valley visitors arrived in 1849, gold-seekers trying to find a shortcut to the gold mines further north, whose brush with death gave the valley its name.
Why Go to Death Valley
People who go to Death Valley like its far-away-from-it-all feeling and photographers especially enjoy its natural beauty. A few even go just to experience the heat.
Scenes from Death Valley
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Death Valley Photo Tour
When to Go to Death Valley
Weather is too hot in summer for all but the hardiest of souls, with daytime highs topping 120°F and surface temperatures approaching twice that. The best months are December through February, when days are mild. Check the monthly Death Valley weather to get an idea of what things are like, on the average.
Wildflowers are most likely to be abundant in years when rainfall exceeds two inches, falling throughout the winter months. The bloom starts on the valley floor in mid-February and extends through May in higher elevations. Use the Death Valley wildflower guide to find out more.
Annual events of note are on the weekend getaway page.
Death Valley Fees
Death Valley National Park is open year round and entrance fees apply. You won't find a ranger-manned kiosk on the road going in, but you can pay at the visitor centers and at self-service machines located at Badwater and other popular spots. If you have a National Parks Pass, stop by one of the ranger stations to check in. The park uses 80% of the fees it collects for improvement projects, so don't short-change them. There's an extra fee for a guided tour of Scotty's Castle.
During the annual National Parks Week, held in April entry fees are waived in more than 100 parks nationwide, including Death Valley National Park. Get more information at the National Parks Week website. Entry is also free on selected other days that vary by year. You'll find the current year's list here.
Getting Around Death Valley
With only a few major roads, Death Valley is easy to navigate. A good look at any map will show you how it's laid out. The Death Valley National park website links to several good ones.
Over-reliance on GPS or mapping websites can get you lost in Death Valley - occasionally with deadly consequences. Your best resource here is an old-fashioned, printed map instead.
Primary Needs in Death Valley
Furnace Creek Resort offers four places to eat, including a casual cafe, an old-fashioned steak house and the upscale restaurant at the Furnace Creek Inn. You'll also find restaurants and mini-marts at Panamint Springs and Stovepipe Wells.
With eateries few and distances long, your best bet for lunches is to take something along with you. Rangers recommend drinking as much as a gallon of liquid per day, so super-size that drink and take lots of water wherever you go.
Death Valley Tips
- Death Valley's ups and downs can confuse hybrid vehicles' range estimates. For example, the drive from Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs is 26 miles on the map, but the 5,000-foot climb through Towne Pass consumes gasoline so quickly that a range estimated at 106 miles when starting can dwindle to just 22 miles by the time you reach the Panamint Springs gas station.
- Get up early enough to see sunrise. Set your alarm clock if you need to.
- Find out what you need to do before you go to the desert.
- A small cooler filled with cold drinks will be a welcome traveling companion.
- Don't forget your camera. Binoculars are good to have, too.
- If you plan to have dinner at the Furnace Creek Inn, the dress code is "desert casual" - shorts, tank tops and t-shirts aren't allowed.
- Be sure your vehicle is in good mechanical condition, with no tire problems and a full radiator.
- Many roadside restrooms lack running water. Bring hand sanitizer or wet wipes.
- Your cellular telephone may not work here. Don't depend on it.
- Photographers: With mountains soaring more than 11,000 feet on its west side, the valley falls into shadows starting up to an hour before sunset - and by the "official" sunset time, it will be completely in shadows.
- Pets must be leashed at all times and they are not allowed on any trails.