Death Valley National Park is known for being one of the driest, hottest, and lowest places in the United States. In fact, Badwater Basin, which sits 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level, charts as the lowest point in North America. Volcanic hills, snow-capped mountains, sand dunes, and badlands make up the rest of the park’s otherworldly and diverse landscape. Despite its ominous name, Death Valley is also home to bountiful wildlife, including big-horn sheep, desert tortoises, jackrabbits, and other animals who have adapted to the arid conditions.
The largest US national park outside Alaska, Death Valley encompasses 3.4 million acres (1.4 million hectares). It’s a popular day trip from Las Vegas, offering a remote respite from Sin City’s nonstop buzz. Tours showcase the Mojave Desert’s geology, history, and best views with stops at sites such as Badwater Basin, the Ubehebe Crater, the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Rhyolite Ghost Town, Zabriskie Point, Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Palette, and Dante’s Peak. For those visiting the park independently by car, the per-vehicle entrance fee is valid for seven days.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The weather is typically dry and sunny throughout the year with some winter storms. Bring layers and a jacket in the winter, wear shorts and light clothing in the spring, and avoid summer unless you want to experience temperatures as hot as 120°F (49°C).
- Stay hydrated with plenty of water no matter what time of year you visit, and keep it in on hand for emergencies.
- During summer, restrict outdoor activities to early morning; stick to paved roads in an air-conditioned vehicle.
- Furnace Creek Visitor Center offers informational exhibits, a bookstore, a short film, and ranger talks.
How to Get There
Death Valley National Park sits on the edge of the California–Nevada border, about two hours by road from Las Vegas. Enter the park on California Highway 190 from Death Valley Junction; 190 is the main road traversing the park from east to west and leads to the Furnace Creek area.
When to Get There
Many visitors purposely time their visits in summer when it’s hottest simply to experience the extreme heat, but spring, fall, and winter are the recommended times of year to visit, as it’s mild to hot but not dangerously so. Depending on how much rain is received during winter and spring, wildflowers can bloom from late March to early April at low elevations, in April and May at mid elevations, and into June in the mountains.
Ghost Towns Near Death Valley
When the once-booming mining industry for materials such as gold, silver, and lead came to an end, miners and other locals escaped the area for other pursuits, leaving Death Valley with a handful of ghost towns. Rhyolite—once home to two churches and 50 saloons—is the best preserved and most popular to visit, located just west of Beatty, Nevada. Panamint City, Ballarat, and Chloride City are also accessible via car or hiking.