Visitor # 22604 since 14.SEP.2003
Death Valley National Park (DVNP) is probably my favorite place to visit. The stark scenery and multitude of places to explore is stunning. My first visit was in July, 1979 with my college buddy from Denmark (Lars Bo Drivsholm). My favorite time to visit is in the heat of summer, the highest temperature I've seen there has been 47°C (117°F). There are almost no people there in the summer (except for the European tourists on their way from LA to Las Vegas :-). One thing I especially like about DVNP is the vast array of back country roads. In the 20 years I've been exploring, I've scarcely been to any place twice, trying to always see something new each visit. I think there are at least as many places I know about and have yet to visit as there are places I have seen already!
Originally formed in 1933 as Death Valley National Monument encompassing Death Valley proper, Death Valley National Park was created in 1994 to include parts of the Panamint, Saline and Eureka Valleys. It now covers over 3000 square miles (its larger than Yellowstone NP). It boasts of the second highest recorded temperature on earth (134 in the shade during July 1913) and the third highest vertical drop in North America (11,331 feet from Badwater to Telescope Peak - now that's a hike!).
Here are some good sources of information on Death Valley:
Here are some maps available on-line:
Here are some links to trip reports:
|Panamint Springs||No||No||No||No||Yes, $5|
|Furnace Creek||Yes - $$$/gal||Yes||Yes||Yes||?|
Note: Panamint Springs and Scotty's Castle may have upgraded to the new style California gasoline storage tanks, but be sure to check.
I'll try to post information on upcoming trips to Death Valley and surrounding area here. If you know of a trip to that area, let me know and I'll add it to the page.
While off-roading (that is driving off of maintained roads) is prohibited in DVNP, there are over 350 miles of backcountry roads for your driving enjoyment. I can guarantee you, that once you get off the main paved roads, the number of people you'll see goes down several orders of magnitude!
Death Valley has many unpaved backcountry roads. A vehicle with high-clearance 2WD will be necessary for all of the roads described below, but 4WD may also be required to traverse some of the rougher roads. Please inquire at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center or other ranger stations for additional information and current road conditions. Backcountry camping is restricted to certain areas, please check in at the Visitor Center before planning an overnight trip. Be sure to carry plenty of water; never rely on backcountry water sources. Please stay on established roads and drive carefully. Also check the weather - these narrow canyons are no place to be caught in a flash flood!!
So, which road(s) are my favorite(s)? That is hard to say, there is not a bad road in this entire area. I generally prefer roads that either loop around or go through, so you don't just drive in and back out. Goler Wash, with the obligatory stop at Barker Ranch then across into Butte Valley and down Warm Springs Canyon is a classic trip. The Pleasant-South Park loop is another classic. Saline Valley is nice, you get salt flats, sand dunes and hot springs all in one place. Eureka Valley and its enormous sand dunes is very nice.
(43 miles to Eureka Dunes, 75 miles to Big Pine)
Beginning at Ubehebe Crater Road, follow the road north 32.6 miles then turn south on Eureka Dunes Road for the 10.7 mile trip to the 700 foot high sand dunes at the south end of Eureka Valley at the base of the stunning Last Chance Range. The road to the dunes splits up into may paths, the main track takes you to a flat parking area at the base of the dunes. Be sure to hike on the beautiful 700 foot high singing sand dunes!. If you circle the dunes towards the west you'll find a fairly nice NPS issue outhouse. The road is paved, sorta, down into Eureka Valley and to the abandoned sulphur mine (the Crater) on the top of the hill. The rest of the road is dirt, graded sometimes, from the mine east of Eureka on down into the north end of Death Valley near Ubehebe Crater and Scotty's Castle. Might want to call the Ranger station to see if this part is OK. Around the dunes to the east and south, you may find the rough road that crosses Steel Pass and drops into the Saline Valley.
Camp at least 200 yards from any water source (yeah right!) or along the first two miles from Ubehebe Crater Road. Eureka Dunes does have several informal campgrounds, which receive moderate to heavy use. The dunes are easily accessible by car while the springs can be accessed by car if the weather provides for good road conditions. The National Park Service traffic count figures indicate a monthly average of 200 cars that go to the dunes. The dunes are habitat to two endangered plants. One of the major threats to these plants is illegal off-road vehicle use. There are an estimated four or five informal campsites north of the dunes along dirt roads. Visitors may also camp along a spur road northeast of the dunes. A day use parking area with a vault toilet and two or three picnic tables is located on the northwest corner of the dunes.
Another day use parking lot is located on the north central end of the dunes. This parking area is large enough to handle an estimated fifteen to twenty cars, depending on how people use the space. A two-foot-high pipe fence frames part of the parking lot to contain vehicles and discourage any driving on the dunes. The parking lot provides direct access to the dunes for hikers and those wanting to play on the sand. To protect endangered plants, minimum impact activities are encouraged.
(21 miles from West Side Road)
Heading west off of the West Side Road, this road follows Warm Springs Canyon past several talc mines before leading into scenic Butte Valley, at an elevation of 4500' (4WD required beyond mines). The road in the upper canyon is very rocky and there is also flash flood danger here. The road leads to Striped Butte and several mining camps. A rough road leads out of the park over Mengle Pass and into Panamint Valley to the west via Goler Wash (4WD required).
No camping first 2 miles.
(15 mile loop)
This is one of the earliest sites of mining in Death Valley and can be reached via two roads. The rougher, but more interesting, route leave via the highway between Hell's Gate and Daylight Pass. After passing Monarch Canyon, (4WD is required).
The alternate road is located just beyond the park boundary east of Daylight Pass. Continue one mile south of the site of Chloride City for a spectacular view into Death Valley at Chloride Cliff.
No camping first 2 miles,.
(13 miles Marble Canyon; 19 miles Cottonwood Canyon)
The road begins east of the Stovepipe Wells airstrip and travels up the broad alluvial fan (deep sand) before reaching the canyon mouth (and flash flood danger). At 8 miles in, the road drops into the wash and becomes rocky and rough. One mile past the end of the first narrows, a side road leads to the right up Marble Canyon, ending in 2 miles. Hikers can continue up this canyon beyond road's end to see some of the finest canyon narrows in the park. The Cottonwood Canyon road continues for another 7 miles up the canyon ending at a flowing stream lined with cottonwood trees.
No camping first 8 miles.
This refreshing desert oasis is off Hwy 190, to the east of Crowley Point and west of the intersection with Hwy 178. It is located a few miles up Darwin Canyon from the Panamint Springs Resort on the Old Toll Road. In fact the water at Panamint Springs comes from Darwin Falls (just follow the pipe upstream to find the falls). It is in the Panamint Valley which is west of Death Valley proper. There is a small wooded sign at the turnoff onto a gravel road to the south of Hwy. 190. Soon you'll reach a fork in the road, to the left climbs out of the canyon to the town of Darwin, to the right (into the stream bed - 2WD high clearance) continues towards the falls. Continue upstream until you reach an obvious parking area (~1/4 mile) and barricade. Once you park your car and just keep walking up canyon following the stream until you reach a series of falls. Interesting to find such an abundant flow of water in the midst of such arid land. Here's a detailed description of Upper Darwin Falls.
Camp at least 200 yds. from any water source (hard to do here in the narrow canyon).
The road begins two miles east of Furnace Creek Inn along Highway 190. The road tends to have deep gravel and is quite rocky 3 miles from the highway (4WD required) and is subject to flash floods. The Needle's Eye, a natural arch, is located within the canyon narrows. The Inyo Mine is up the right fork 9 miles in and contains several old structures and remnants of mining equipment. The left fork continues past other old mines eventually becoming very rough 4WD, with one (rock) waterfall section with a 35° climb up a narrow rocky slope, followed by a sharp turn over a steep drop and finally a narrow boulder-lined stretch. The road finally exits the park into the Amargosa Valley in Nevada.
No camping first 2 miles or at the Inyo Mine.
The road begins two miles north of Trona and crosses the Slate Range into Panamint Valley. Its on BLM land and is signed P168, although some of the signs read P68. The main road is usually in fairly good condition, a few steep, loose sections, and the final stretch into Panamint Valley is rough and rocky. Once in Fish Canyon proper, there is a 1 mile section of undeveloped wash that can be run, which includes some rock gardens and some nice ET signs and some good historical hiking opportunities ont he Escape Trail. Oh, and don't forget your fishing gear :-)
(26 miles from Dante's View Road)
To access this road, travel 13 miles south on the Greenwater Valley Road from the paved Dante's View Road. The rough road into Gold Valley (4WD required) leads off to the west, climbs over a pass in the Black Mountains, and drops into mountain-rimmed Gold Valley. The road ends at the spring in Willow Canyon.
Camp at least 200 yards from any water source.
(28 miles from Dante's View Road to Hwy. 178)
A graded gravel road, generally passable by 2WD, high clearance. After 2.8 miles, several side roads (4WD) go west to the old mining sites of Furnace and Greenwater.
Apparently this road has been closed to mechanized travel. No camping 2 miles from either end.
(9 miles from West Side Road)
This canyon drains from the park's highest elevation, 11,049 ft. Telescope Peak. The road climbs the huge alluvial fan before dropping into the gravel wash at the canyon's mouth 5 miles in (4WD recommended in wash). Upper section of the road has been washed out, is overgrown and has water flowing over it. Follow the south fork of the canyon to road's end, downstream from Hanaupah Springs. Hikers can continue past the end of the road to a waterfall.
Camp at least 200 yds. from any water source and no camping first 2 miles.
(4 miles to the "hole"; 6 miles to road's end)
The road begins 5.5 miles east of Furnace Creek Inn on Hwy. 190 and traverses east up a rugged gravel wash. After passing through the 400' deep gap called Hole-in-the-Wall, the road becomes rougher (4WD required). The road is closed 6 miles in at the old monument boundary. A primitive road continues 2 miles on to Red Amphitheater.
No camping first 2 miles.
(17.5 miles to old monument boundary, 40 miles to Hwy. 190)
Most of Hidden Valley is 2WD, but from Teakettle Junction the road becomes rougher and high clearance is required. At the junction 3.2 miles in the left fork (NE) continues 10 miles to White Top Mountain while the right fork leads 1 mile up to the Lost Burro Mine. The main road continues through Hidden Valley passing several abandoned mining areas on the way to Hunter Mountain. (4WD required to drive over Hunter Mountain). From here it is another 23 miles to Hwy. 190.
Camp at least 200 yds. from any water source or near historic buildings.
Located in Panamint Valley.
(10 miles from West Side Road)
2WD, high clearance recommended for the first 4-5 miles, 4WD beyond that point. The road forks 2.5 miles beyond the canyon mouth. Road in the north fork ends 1 mile farther at a spring. Beyond the end of the road a 1.5 mile hike leads up the canyon to Hungry Bill's Ranch, with its rock-walled terraces and fruit trees. You can continue on foot up the south fork another 1/2 mile to several old mining prospects.
Camp at least 200 yds. from any water source and no camping first 2 miles.
This extremely rough road (4WD required) starts 6 miles west of Stovepipe Wells. The start of the 4WD road begins at a dimly seen north side intersection 2.9 miles downhill from the Emigrant Ranger Station. A sign identifying the Lemoigne Canyon road is placed far enough away from the highway to be overlooked by casual motorists. Crossing an alluvial fan with numerous washes, the mouth of the canyon is reached in 4.4 miles (~1 hour) at a road fork where two canyons join, the road toward the left soon peters out. The right fork is a jeep trail in the main Lemoigne Canyon. The canyon walls narrowed down to barely vehicle width and the limestone bore patches of rubbed-off paint. Just ahead is where most of the vehicle tracks take a left fork which leads to the well preserved Lemoigne Mines. This fork is a severe vehicle test-piece according to the mine cabin log which tells about many broken axles and smashed vehicles. The final rock jump in the main canyon is a bit tall for vehicles and the jeep trail ends here. Vehicle travel beyond this point is not allowed.
No camping first 2 miles.
This extremely rough, rocky, washed out road connects Racetrack and Saline Valleys. The east end of the road is a few miles south of the Racetrack Playa and the west end meets up with the Saline Valley Road at the base of Grapevine Canyon.
(3 miles from Charcoal Kilns)
This short, but steep road climbs about 1300 feet over its length, most of that in the last mile. Between the roughness and altitude, this is a challenging drive in 2WD. My VW pickup *just* barely made it up in May, 1996. This road is your best bet for climbing Telescope Peak. It is usually free of snow from May through November.
Camping at Mahogany Flat - outhouses, but no water.
The road begins 11.7 miles north of Beatty, Nevada on Highway 95. Heading west across Sarcobatus Flats, the road forks in 12 miles to Strozzi Ranch on the left, and to Phinney Canyon on the right (about 17 miles from Hwy 95). Pinyon pine woodlands appear after the canyon is entered, and the road quickly becomes 4WD the last 3 miles. From the pass there are views of the Grapevine Mountains high country and glimpses of the Sierra Nevada Range. Phinney Mine is in a side canyon, accessible by a short hike from road's end.
Camp at least 200 yds. from any water source.
Located in Panamint Valley, the road begins at Ballart Junction and climbs to Roger's Pass at 7100 feet. Recent storms have made the road a bit tougher than in years past. The majority of this road is on BLM land and they have a good route description sheet, available here.
(22 miles to Teakettle Junction; 28 miles to the Racetrack)
The road begins at Ubehebe Crater climbs over a pass and ends at the Racetrack playa, an ancient lake bed famous for its "moving rocks". Although this rough gravel road is often passable to 2WD, conditions can vary. From Teakettle Junction, a road leads south and west through Hidden Valley, over Hunter Mountain, and finally to Highway 190. Beware of flash flood danger along this road and watch for the Joshua Tree forest.
No camping along Racetrack Road, no vehicles permitted on the Racetrack.
(80 miles from Big Pine Road to Hwy. 190)
The Saline Valley Road, as its name implies is a north-south road traversing the length of Saline Valley, with is north and west of Death Valley, proper. It is a graded gravel road, generally passable by 2WD, high clearance vehicles. The road at both north and south ends can become 4WD as well as subject to closure due to snow on the passes in the winter.There are many side roads/trails along the road giving access to the Inyo and Saline Mountains, including (N-S):
Saline Valley Warm Springs receives use throughout the year. Over several years, visitors to the springs have built concrete hot tubs, a water system for the tubs, dug pit toilets, maintained the short access road, planted palm trees and a lawn to make their time at the springs more comfortable. In 1997 the National Park Service began enforcing a 30-day limit on camping. Park employees have placed fiberglass posts in the ground to designate campsites. The posts are part of an effort to prevent the camping area from expanding from the present number of sites.
(Approx 25 miles from the Eureka Dunes to Lower Warm Spring)
This road runs from the south end of Eureka Valley to the east side of Saline Valley, near Palm and Upper Warm Springs. In Eureka Valley, the road begins south and east of the sand dunes. There are many unmarked (and mostly dead-end) roads around the east side of the dunes, so keep trying until you find the right one which climbs to the southeast up Dedeckera Canyon before turning south towards Steel Pass. There is reportedly only one interesting 4WD stretch. At the pass, the road turns southwest and descends (off-camber at the top) a long, broad side canyon into Saline Valley. There are some narrow sections as you drop follow the stream channel down. Just before you reach the end of the 4WD section of road, you'll make a drop off a rocky ledge, then you'll pass Upper then Lower Warm Springs with its user-developed/clothing-optional hot springs, which is a good place to stop, relax, and wash off the road dust. Continue onwards to meet up with the Saline Valley Road.
Camping at Eureka Dunes and Lower Warm Springs.
Located in Panamint Valley. It connects with Pleasant Canyon at Roger's Pass and features an exciting Indiana Jones-style rickety log bridge crossing and the infamous Chicken Rock with its off-camber, chicken-wire reinforced turn high on the canyon wall. The majority of this road is on BLM land and they have a good route description sheet, available here.
Located in Panamint Valley. Recent storms have created a new waterfall, bringing the total to 4, one of which almost always requires a winch. The trail is closed at the wilderness boundary at the top of the 4th waterfall, where the old road rejoins the trail up the canyon bottom. The lower part of the road is washed out above the old concrete slabs, making it a difficult trip in and of itself.
(5 miles from Indian Ranch Road to Chris Wicht Camp and another 6 to Panamint City)
About 2 miles north of the "town" of Ballarat (population 1 :Ballarat Louie) is Surprise canyon road heading east into the Panamints. The road is 2WD, high clearance, to Chris Wicht Camp. The road beyond here was washed out in the winter of 1993, making it impassable to all but the hardest-core 4wheelers. Most likely extensive winching will be required up as many as 11 waterfalls. In any event, the canyon affords a nice 5 mile hike to the ruins of Panamint City and surrounding area. Here's a link with some excellent information on Surprise Canyon.
Camping at Ballarat Campground, complete w/ only flush toilet for many miles.
Update: Ballarat Don has moved on (never got to meet him). Louie now runs the General Store and takes care of the surrounding area. Stop in and say hi! Apparently the latest word is that the Ballarat store may be closing.
This popular road is ONE-WAY from east to west. To find the beginning of the drive, follow the highway toward Beatty, Nevada. Turn left 2.7 miles east of the park boundary. The road re-enters the park and winds through the Grapevine Mountains, then drops down through one of Death Valley's most spectacular canyons. Along the way watch for the mining ghost town of Leadfield and Native American petroglyphs at Klare Spring. A self-guided booklet describing geology and trip highlights can be purchased at the visitor center. Although this road is often passable to 2WD vehicles, conditions can vary, so check at a visitor center for current road conditions. There are some steep grades and loose gravel. Flash flood danger exists in the spectacular, narrow, high-walled canyon. Only open from (Oct-May).
No camping along Titus Canyon Road.
(12 miles from West Side Road)
Climbing up the eastern flank of the Panamint Mountains, this road leads to a spring and old mining area at the forks of the canyon. The first 4 miles to the canyon mouth are 2WD, while the last 8 are 4WD with loose gravel. Although some old maps show the road connecting with the Aguereberry Point road, that section was officially closed to vehicle traffic after a wash-out made it impassable to vehicles, but the old road makes a nice 4 mile hike.
No camping first 2 miles.
(2-5 miles to Telephone Canyon fork, 10 miles to Tucki Mine)
The road begins 1.7 miles up Wildrose Road from Emigrant Junction. At the mouth of Emigrant Canyon the road can be seen climbing up the bank on the other side. After crossing the slope to Telephone Canyon and climbing up it, the canyon forks. The old road up the right fork has been closed to vehicle traffic, but a short walk up it will bring you to a natural arch and an old mill site. The road continues up the left fork to the Tucki mine.
No camping first 2 miles.
As of 4/99, Tucki Mine Road is closed temporarily due to flood damage.
While not exactly a backcountry road, the West Side Road is a less crowded alternative to the main paved road in the valley. As its name implies, the West Side Road runs down the west side of Death Valley. It is graded gravel with some rocky and sandy stretches (2WD high clearance recommended). Depending on how long ago it was graded, the washboard conditions may vary from good to bad The road is closed in the summer (June-September). You should check on road conditions at the entrance station. From north to south, it crosses salt flats en-route to the Dayton-Harris graves, the Eagle Borax Works ruins, and Scotty's Well, which is a fine place for a picnic among the trees. This road is the main access as starting point for the following spur roads:
No camping along West Side Road.
If there is one thing Death Valley is known for, it is its extreme climatic conditions (read ). Here's what you can expect for average temperatures and precipitation amounts in any given month:
|Average low (°F)||39||46||54||62||71||82||88||88||78||62||48||40||63|
|Record high (°F)||87||97||102||111||120||128||127||120||113||97||86||n/a|
|Average rainfall (")||0.24||0.33||0.24||0.12||0.07||0.03||0.11||0.12||0.11||0.09||0.19||0.19||1.76|
The background for this page is an image of Zabriske Point. I post-processed the image with Silicon Graphics Image Vision toolkit by running a Sobel Edge Detection filter on it, then rotated and cropped the image slightly to get the edges to tile properly.
[Last updated: 01.July.2018]