I was not prepared to like Death Valley National Park as much as I did. I am no fan of the desert in general but I actually spent more days in Death Valley than any other national park so far.
There is so much to do in the park but it is also extremely massive and spread out. If you have a week pick a handful of things that interest you most and focus on those.
Things I noticed about Death Valley National Park that I wish I’d known beforehand:
– Fuel is EXPENSIVE. It is twice the cost of fuel found in Beatty, NV and it is worth filling up before you enter the park. Even in Shoshone it was $2 more per gallon.
– Recommended time to visit the park is October thru April when temperatures are decent and you can enjoy most of the park’s attractions. Even in February I found places like Salt Creek pretty hot. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to visit this place in mid-summer…they’d have to be slightly crazy already!
– Roads in and out of the park have pretty steep grades on winding roads. If you are coming into the park with a large Class A or towing a big fifth wheel or travel trailer I would highly recommend coming in via Death Valley Junction. I drove several of the passes in and out of the park and that was easily the best and least scary when driving a bigger rig…I was on my brakes or in a lower gear with just my truck on most of them. Be prepared to shift down and take it slow.
– The “campgrounds” in the park itself are basically large parking lots with hook-ups…not very pretty. If you want a view there are prettier places outside the park to take advantage of. Boondocking is great at The Pads, GPS co-ordinates: 36.3391221210022,-116.599555313587
There is also some great BLM land a couple of miles west of Beatty that can be accessed by most rigs and is really close to the park. Wild burros are also plentiful and fun to watch nearby, and Rhyolite and the Goldwell Museum are just a mile down the road on the way to the park.
– While I didn’t do nearly half of what there was to do in Death Valley I would certainly recommend renting a Jeep for half a day and doing Titus Canyon. It was, by far, one of the most amazing and rewarding 4 hours of my life and I will never regret that time spent. Look out for bighorn sheep once you get past Leadville; it is worth stopping and having lunch in the canyon as that is when it was quiet enough to hear them shift rocks and I would never have seen them otherwise.
– While Badwater is the lowest point in the US I’m not sure it is worth the mile walk out to the exact point…it all looks the same; flat and salty. Some may argue that it was, for them, but there are better hikes in the park. It was definitely worth driving to and seeing how far below sea-level you are but only you can make the decision if the mile-long walk out to the marker is worth it.
– Make a point to see the sand dunes during the sunrise or sunset when the lighting is best, or even head out when the full moon is out…apparently that is pretty amazing. The dunes don’t hold quite the magical appeal in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead. Watch for sidewinders at night.
– Carry plenty of water if you plan on hiking and hike early if you can. I carried a liter for the Golden Canyon-Gower Gulch hike at 4.8 miles and it probably wasn’t enough. The warmer the day and the later you start (more sun, less shade) the more water you need to carry. Start hikes as early as you can; in mid-winter this is less important but it still helps.
– There is almost no cell service in Death Valley (only found at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and minimally at Panamint Springs). If you are hiking alone or in remote areas carry a GPS SOS device and/or let someone know where you are going and when they should expect to hear from you. Death Valley is remote, rugged and dangerous…be prepared.
Death Valley is strangely beautiful and I am surprised at how much I really enjoyed my time there. It may look like a desolate, barren wasteland but there are so many hidden gems that are worth checking out.