Updated: Jun 12, 2019
Visiting Death Valley in a Day!
Death Valley is the largest U.S. National Park outside Alaska at 3.4 million acres. However, 91% is protected as officially designated wilderness. Big horn sheep, tortoises and lizards are among the wildlife that roams the park. You can see many things in just a few hours so it's worth a stop even if you only have a 1-2 hours like we did!
The park is open 24/7 year round, with seven campgrounds for those adventurers that want to soak up all that it has to offer. The entrance fee is $30 and is good for 7 days. We have the $80 Interagency pass which has more than paid for itself since this was stop #7 on the Just Wandering National Park Tour!
Why is it called Death Valley?
Death Valley got its name in 1849 from a group of settlers traveling by wagon across the Sierra Nevada Mountains along the Spanish Trail from Utah to California in hopes of finding gold. You can check out the story of the '49ers here to learn more about how Death Valley was named. And now I know how a certain football team got its name too!
Best time to visit?
The temps can get pretty extreme in the summer months with August averaging 115º! The highest recorded temperature was 134º on July 10, 1913!! The best time to visit is in the spring when the average temperature is 70-80º. We had originally planned to visit in August but made some changes for side trip to Vegas which meant we came in March. Lucky break for sure!
The Furnace Creek Visitors Center was our first stop. Because we were just planning a quick drive through the park (mistake #1), we dropped the trailer at a rest area just inside park and drove the winding road toward the visitor center about 15 miles (I have no idea how far it was but it was a loooooong way!) We arrived minutes before they closed but managed to get our passport book stamped, a top 3 must see list from the ranger and approval for dropped trailer while we toured the park. The suggested stops from the ranger were: Dante's View, Artists Drive and Badwater Basin. We only made it to two of these before the sun set and we had to make our way back to the trailer but the sights along the drive added to the experience and made it a worthy, albeit short, trip!
Reasons to Visit Death Valley
Here are my top reasons to add Death Valley National Park to your list of places to visit!
#1 Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The area is a harsh salt basin and is said to be named by an early traveler who's mule refused to drink from the water.
#2 Artists Drive
A 9 mile one-way loop will take you through a unique and beautiful landscape.
It is a mix of dry, desert and vivid colors from the variety of minerals in the soil and a sight not to be missed, especially during golden hour when the sun casts a beautiful light across the hills making the colors even richer.
#3 Vast open roads and unique landscape
You can see for miles and miles...well, at least it seems like you can! Even though we did not allow enough time to do all the cool things we discovered at the park, the drive though was impressive enough to offset some of the angst over missing things like Dante's View, Zabriskie Point and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Tip: the park advises to stay on the roadway as numerous adventurers have discovered the average tow bill after you get stuck is $2,000!
Fun fact: Death Valley has been the site of several movie scenes including ones from Star Wars Episode IV and Episode VI!
#4 Scotty's Castle
This is an amazing oasis in the desert that was built by Walter Scott (Death Valley Scotty) and Albert Johnson. Scott was a rough rider for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and later became a purported swindler by selling shares in a gold mine that didn't exist. One of those investors was Albert Johnson and for unknown reasons the two became good friends. The road to see Scotty's Castle is currently closed due to flooding that occurred in 2016. It is due to reopen in 2020. Fun fact: even though the area only receives an average of less than 2" of rainfall per year it is prone to flash flooding!
#5 Hiking, #6 Dark Skies, #7 Wildlife, #8 The Race Track
If we had more time I would have loved to try several of the hikes mentioned in the park newspaper. Most required a commitment of at least 2 hours and we just didn't allow enough time. If we had camped there in one of the 7 campgrounds we would have been able to enjoy a nice hike, possibly see some Bighorn Sheep or a Desert Tortoise and some dark skies! I don't think the Milky Way was visible yet but just seeing the billions of stars is a wonderful experience! And we would have loved to see the interesting phenomenon, The Race Track, where rocks mysteriously move across the sand!
Check out our adventures on YouTube for Death Valley! Subscribe to see them all!
Next: Joshua Tree National Park!