20 Death Valley Travel Tips Guide: What to Know Before You Go

20 Death Valley Travel Tips to Know Before You Go

Death Valley is one of the most unique National Parks we have visited so far. With unique landscapes and some extreme conditions, you might be wondering how to prepare for your trip. In this Death Valley travel guide, I am covering 20 Death Valley travel tips to know before visiting! 

Zabriskie Point Death Valley Travel tips guide
Zabriskie Point

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1. There is Little to No Cell Phone Reception in Death Valley

As with most National Parks, Death Valley has little to no cell phone reception. Because of this, you should not rely on your cell phone for navigation. A couple of Death Valley travel tips would be to download the offline version from your Google Maps, bring a compass, consider a Satellite GPS, and bring a paper map.

Even during Death Valley’s busiest times, the park can still feel empty. Death Valley is actually the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, so you might not see people for a while if you get lost. 

Additionally, if you plan on doing any hiking trails, make sure to download the trail map beforehand. A popular hiking app is called Alltrails.

If you are trying to get a signal, you are most likely going to get some service near the Furnace Creek area. 

Mesquite Sand Dunes day trip. Woman walking through dunes in red dress
Mesquite Sand Dunes

2. Death Valley is Best Explored By Car

Death Valley is a road trip kind of park. There is no public transportation and Death Valley is 3.4 million acres. That is almost twice the size of Deleware! There are also very few tours inside the park, so having or renting a vehicle is necessary for visiting Death Valley National Park. You can find Rental Cars here! 

Some Death Valley National Park Trails do require your car to have 4×4. One of the most popular off-road trails visitors frequent is Racetrack Playa. You may have seen photos of the rocks that appear to have left a trail of them “sailing” through the dried-up lake bed. Unless you have a couple of days in Death Valley, you likely won’t make it here.

death valley travel tips - you should rent a car. Woman standing outside a chevy trail blazer

3. Make sure to Keep Your Gas Tank Realitivly Full

There are only 3 gas stations in Death Valley, and of those 3, only 2 have diesel fuel. Because the park is so massive (more than 800 miles of road), it is important to have gas. Because there is no cellphone reception in the park, running out of gas could be a huge problem!

When we were leaving Death Valley to go to Los Angeles from Furnace Creek, it took almost two hours (99 miles) before passing our first gas station in Trona. 

The gas locations are:

  • Furnace Creek (has diesel)
  • Stovepipe Wells Village 
  • Panamint Springs Resort (has diesel)

Death Valley Gas Travel Tip: Gas inside the park is more expensive, so try an fill up about an hour outside the park (which is likely the nearest gas station).

Furnace Creek Gas Station in Death Valley
Furnace Creek Gas Station

4. Check Your Car is in Good Working Condition

This Death Valley travel tip may feel like a given, but again, it is very important to make sure you check your car. Even during the busiest of times, the park can feel empty, and the last thing you want is to be stuck on the side of the road. Having a spare tire and even jumper cables in the car is a good idea.

If you do need something checked, there are 4 automotive service stations in Death Valley.

  • Stovepipe Wells Village – (760) 786-7090
  • The Oasis at Death Valley – (760) 786-2345
  • Panamint Springs Resort – (775) 482-7680
  • Shoshone Village – (760) 852-4335 

Death Valley Tip: When you stop by the Furnace Creek Visitor Center you can pick up a guidebook that comes with these numbers along with additional Death Valley travel tips and information! 

5. Visit Death Valley in the Winter

Death Valley is open all year, but the best time to visit Death Valley National Park is in the winter! This is because the temperatures are milder, making the park much more enjoyable. During the summer months, the park’s heat is almost unbearable! In fact, the rangers and National Park Service urge you not to do any hiking in the summer due to the heat.

The most popular times to visit Death Valley are from November to mid-April. During these months you will be greeted with temperatures of 90 degrees high to 39 degrees low.

Even during our visit in February, the temperatures were close to 80 degrees, and the air was extremely dry! However, at night a light jacket was welcome because temperatures do drop as the sun goes down. 

See my full Death Valley Packing List Here!

Additionally, Death Valley is surrounded by mountains where it snows. For example, if you plan to visit Telescope Peak, you have a good chance of seeing snow with an elevation of 11,049 ft! 

If you are looking to avoid the crowds during the winter, try to plan your trip during the weekday. We felt as if we had the whole park to ourselves during our Wednesday visit. The park was dead silent, making it slightly eerie.

The busiest weekends that you should try to avoid are during Thanksgiving Break and Christmas Break. According to the National Park, they see their lowest visitation in October and January and annually see around 1.7 million visitors!

Fun Fact: Death Valley actually holds the record for the highest recorded temperature in the world at 134 degrees Fahrenheit. They have also recorded a ground temperature of 201 degrees Fahrenheit! July is usually the hottest month in Death Valley with an average high of 116 degrees and a low of 90 degrees. 

Zabriski Point with a day trip in Death Valley
Zabriskie Point is a must-see with one day in Death Valley National Park

6. Plan to see the Sunrise and Sunset at Death Valley

When visiting Death Valley, you should definitely try to catch the sunrise and sunset at the park! Two of the most popular places to see the sunset and rise are at Mesquite Sand Dunes, Badwater Salt Flats, and Zabriskie Point.

During our one day in Death Valley, we caught the sunrise at Mesquite Sand Dunes (which was completely empty) and sunset at the Badwater Basin Salt Flats, which also was almost empty, and I can definitely recommend it!

When planning to see the sunset, make sure you consider the mountain ranges that surround the park. Although the sunset may be scheduled for say 5:30 PM, the sun may fall behind the mountains at 5 PM. 

Badwater basin Salt Flats in a must see at sunset with one day in Death Valley
Badwater Salt flats

7. Bring Extra Clothing Layers 

As mentioned above, under Death Valley weather, the park gets a little chilly in the early morning and night. Therefore, it is best to pack a light jacket and pants. If you planning to visit higher elevations, I would suggest checking the weather so you can pack appropriately. 

Additionally, you should pack lightweight, breathable clothing for daytime activities. Moreover, when packing, remember the sun is extreme, and Death Valley has little to no shade. Things like hats and sunscreen (this is my go-to for sensitive skin and mineral-based) are a great addition to bring with you! 

For more, check my essential Death Valley Packing List Here!

8. Death Valley National Park is Great for Day Trips 

Located near the California and Nevada border, Death Valley is a very popular National Park to take day trips. In fact, many people take day trips to Death Valley from Las Vegas because it is only 2 hours away. Las Vegas also has the closest airport to Death Valley!

Another popular area to take a day trip to Death Valley from is Los Angeles. Just a “fun” 4 hours away, you can enjoy the big city and then make your way out to the Desert. 

If you are planning a California road trip, consider road-tripping from Los Angeles to Death Valley, then Joshua Tree, Palm Spring, and ending in San Diego (what we did, but in reverse)! If this is something you are considering, also check out my Los Angeles Itinerary and San Diego Itinerary!

Mesquite Sand Dunes Death valley travel guide
Mesquite Sand Dunes

9. Death Valley Lodging Travel Tips

One of the best Death Valley travel tips I can give you is staying in Death Valley National Park is worth it! Although it is ridiculously expensive for “okay” accommodations, it saves you a ton of time. This is because hotels outside the park are an hour + away. To drive in and out of the park each day can be extremely daunting, especially if you are short on time! 

Furthermore, unless you are coming from Las Vegas, the other nearby towns seem pretty desolate. 

Staying in Death Valley will put you near convenient/general stores and put you minutes away from Death Valley’s attractions. Furthermore, you can view the “International Dark Sky” while in Death Valley for some epic stargazing! 

There are only 4 lodges in the park. Hence, they go fast, so you will want to book as far in advance as possible. You also have the option to camp at one of the 9 campgrounds. See the Death Valley campgrounds here.

Death Valley Hotels

We stayed at The Ranch Oasis at Death Valley. It is located in Furnace Creek, which is close to most major attractions. The Ranch is resort-style, with a giant pool, golf course, and tons of amenities. The rooms are nothing special; you are really paying for the location. They have a couple of dining options here, along with a General Store. The WIFI wasn’t great, but it did work. For one night, it was around $350 USD. Check Availability Here!

The Inn at Death Valley is the Ranches’ sister property but offers a lot more luxury. If you are looking to splurge, check out this 4-star Desert resort. You will enjoy updated rooms and amenities, including a sauna, fitness room, pool, tennis, golf, etc. Rooms are generally over $500 a night. Check Availability Here!

Stovepipe Wells is the most affordable lodging in the park and is located near Mesquite Sand Dunes. However, stories from other travel friends led me to pay the extra money for The Ranch. This property also seems to have the most limited availability when I was searching for dates, so there’s that. They do have a pool and bar/restaurant. Check Availability Here!

Panamint Springs Resort is located at the edge of the west side of the park. Because it is pretty far from the main attractions, I would go with one of the above 3 over this hotel, however, if there is no available at the others, you may want to consider staying here. Check Availability here.

Furnace Creek Visitor Center

10. Make Sure to Pack Snacks and Water

Another important travel tip for visiting Death Valley is to make sure you pack your car with lots of water and snacks. The National Park actually recommends drinking a gallon of water per person each day because of the heat. Additionally, they recommend having extra water in the car. 

Getting heatstroke and dehydration is common in Death Valley which is why it is very important to stay hydrated. Moreover, having lots of snacks with you or even a cooler can be a game-changer and help keep your energy high!

11. Death Valley Entrances and Fees

Death Valley National Park has 3 different main entrances to enter the park. If you are coming from Southern California or even Joshua Tree, you will likely enter through Death Valley Junction. When driving from LA or Northern California, you will likely come down Route 190. Finally, if you are driving to Death Valley from Vegas, you will most likely enter from Route 374.

Unlike other National Parks, Death Valley does not have an entrance gate. Therefore, you should pay for your admission at the visitor center. 

Admission into Death Valley is $30 per vehicle, $25 for motorcycles, and $12 for those on foot or bicycle. This gives you 7 days in the park. It can be paid for at the visitor’s center.

If you plan on visiting 3 or more National Parks, consider getting the America The Beautiful Pass which is $80 USD and offers entrance into all of the National Parks for 1 year. Two people can utilize the pass and it covers up to 4 people per car. 

Additionally, there are some free national park days. Keep in mind these will likely be the busiest days to visit. 

Death Valley Welcome Sign Day Trip

12. Plan Your Itinerary ahead of Time

When visiting Death Valley National Park, it is best to plan out your days. Consider making a list of some of your “must-see” Death Valley attractions and then map them out on Google. This will help you plan your road trip itinerary optimally and reduce backtracking since some attractions can be spread far from one another.

If you want to see how we explored Death Valley, check out my One Day in Death Valley Itinerary!

13. Consider Visiting Nearby Parks / Attractions / Ghost Towns

This Death Valley Guide wouldn’t be complete without sharing some of the best things to check out around the park. One of the most popular things to do is explore some of the nearby Ghost Towns.

Rhyolite is the largest ghost town near Death Valley and at one time had a population of around 10,000 people. Other ghost towns include Panamint City, Leadfield, and Ballarat. You will find remnants of old buildings, machinery, and wood.

If you are heading to or from Los Angeles, a hidden gem you may want to consider visiting is Red Rock Canyon State Park in California. It is small but very unique, with interesting rock formations, and it’s almost on the way!

Address: Address: 37749 Abbott Dr, Cantil, CA 93519

Of course, you also have Las Vegas, Joshua Tree, and even Palm Springs a hop, skip, and a jump away!

One day in Joshua Tree - Joshua Trees National Park Road Trip itinerary
Road Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

14. Learn About Death Valley’s Native History

Death Valley has tons of history and culture. From its archaeological gems and mining to the Native inhabitants, early settlers, and tourism. 

Archeologists believe that Native Americans have been living in Death Valley for at least 10,000 years! During those times, Death Valley looked completely different and even had lakes. Throughout the years, archeologists have identified several different native people, but the most recent is the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. They have been living on these lands for over 1,000 years, and you can see that the bottom of the Death Valley “Welcome Sign” attributes them. 

In 1849, the first pioneers (The Death Valley Wagon Trail of 1849) came in search of gold, silver, and borax. Mining companies began forcing natives from the land, however, the companies didn’t last very long.

The Timbisha Shoshone Natives still live in Death Valley. In 2000, The Timisha Shoshone Act transferred the Natives over 7,000 acres. Their original ancestral homeland is believed to cover 11 million acres in the Mojave Desert.

View of the Devils golf course with mountains in the background
Devils Golf Course

15. Keep a Safe Distance from Wildlife

This Death Valley travel tip might be a given, but it is important to remember to keep a safe distance from wildlife. There is dangerous wildlife in Death Valley, including rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders. Make sure you watch where you put your hands and feet.

Most Death Valley wildlife is active at night or very early in the morning when temperatures are cooler. Some other animals you may encounter are desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, kit fox, bats, and the desert iguana. 

16. Stay on Path and Follow the Rules

Remember, when visiting any park, it is important to stay on the path and follow any of the rules of the park. These rules were put in place to keep you and the park safe. Death Valley has extreme conditions, including flash floods and unbearable heat.

The park also has roads with sharp turns and roads that can be unsafe for vehicles without 4×4. Moreover, the park has mine hazards. Make sure NOT to enter mines, tunnels, or shafts, as they can be extremely dangerous (poisonous gas)!

Additionally, make sure to dispose of waste properly and leave no trace. Being knowledgeable of the park rules will help you have the best time while visiting.

Golden Canyon Hike Sign and mountains in Death Valley

17. Bring Your Camera, but Leave Your Drone

Death Valley is a beautiful park to photograph. In fact, many photographers have workshops in the park! If you are looking to step up your photography gear, you can see what I bring in my camera bag here, but remember to leave the drone behind. Drones are not allowed to be flown in any national park as well as some state parks. 

If you are not looking to go “all-out” with photography gear, I’d consider getting a point-and-shoot camera. 

18. Check National Park Road Conditions Before Visiting

Before setting out on your journey to Death Valley, make sure to check with the National Park Service on park closures and road conditions. This way there are no surprises before your visit! You can find Death Valley Alerts here.

19. Death Valley Hiking Travel Tips

Hiking is a popular activity in Death Valley. The park has easy, moderate, and strenuous trails. One thing to keep in mind when hiking in Death Valley is to make sure you have sun protection (aka lots of sunscreen), water, and snacks. Also, download or print out your map of the trail.

It is actually rare to find constructed trails in the park, so if there is a trail, it is important to use it. A place where you won’t find a trail but is fine to explore is the Devil’s Golf Course. 

Another thing to note is that bicycles and dogs are not allowed on any of the trails. 

Some of the most popular hiking trails in Death Valley are: 

  • Badwater Basin Salt Flats – 5 miles across
  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – 2 miles to the highest sand dune
  • Natural Bridge Canyon – 1.5 miles
  • Mosaic Canyon – 1 – 4 miles
  • Harmony Borax – 1/4 mile
  • Golden Canyon Trail – .08 – over 7 miles depending on if you do the full circuit. 
Artist Palette in Death Valley
Artist Palette

20. Where to Fly into to Visit Death Valley

Now that you have all this Death Valley National Park knowledge, you may be wondering what airport you should fly into when visiting Death Valley. Because this desert is kind of in the middle of nowhere, your nearest airport will be about 2 hours away. 

Airports near Death Valley: 

  • Las Vegas McCarran Airport (LAS) 2 hours; 106 miles
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) 4 hours; 218 miles 
  • Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) 3 hours; 202 miles
  • Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) 4.5 hours 232 miles
  • Check Skyscanner for flights!

If you are only planning on visiting Death Valley, flying into Las Vegas would be your best bet. However, if you want to see more of California, consider some of the other California Airports.

Mud Cracks and tiles in Death Valley
Mud Tiles off the side of the road

Death Valley National Park Travel Tips Guide Wrap-up

This concludes the top 20 travel tips to know for planning your Death Valley trip. I hope you have an incredible time visiting the largest, lowest, and driest places in the United States!

Have any questions, or feel like I left something out? Let me know in the comments below! 

If you found value in this Death Valley Travel Tips Guide, I’d appreciate it if you could share it below! 

Death Valley Travel Tips Guide
Photo of author

Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

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