Death Valley is the largest National Park in the contiguous United States, encompassing 3.4 million acres in California and Nevada. It was first established in 1933 as a National Monument, then expanded and re-designated as a National Park in 1994. It is administered by the National Park Service. Over 90% of the Park’s area is designated wilderness. In 2013, it was designated an International Dark Sky Park, and the stargazing opportunities here are incredible. Death Valley is also the home of the Timbisha Shoshone tribe.
This site is primarily desert, known for being the hottest, lowest (-282′ at Badwater Basin), and driest land in the US. However, there are also mountains within the Park, including Telescope Peak, which tops out at over 11,000′. It truly is a park of environmental extremes, with enormous climactic range and biodiversity. Natural water sources are seasonal only, and typically dry. Unless you are planning to visit the mountainous regions of the park, it’s a destination best suited for the cold seasons as temps in the summer at the low elevations regularly reach into the 120s during the day. It’s a native habitat to rare plant species such as Eureka Valley evening primrose and Panamint Bird’s-Beak, and home to many types of wildlife, from desert bighorn sheep and tortoises to Mojave rattlesnakes and great horned owls.
I visited Death Valley in late March 2017, and was able to catch some of the wildflower superbloom and hike beautiful Mosaic Canyon. I wasn’t able to explore as much as I’d have liked, due to a haboob that about blew me out of the park!
The entry fee for a regular passenger vehicle is $25 for a 7-day pass, or free with an America the Beautiful Interagency Pass. There are both public and private campground options available, with fees ranging from free to $38 (full hookup). Backcountry camping is free, but requires a permit, and must be at least 1 mile from a developed campground and any paved road in the Park. Multiple visitor services are available at Stovepipe Wells Village and Furnace Creek, including several private concessionaires. The visitor center at Furnace Creek is well worth a visit. The ranger station at Stovepipe Wells is fairly small, and placed slightly apart from the private concessionaires that make up most of the Village.
TIP: If you are a AAA member, pick up a free Death Valley National Park Guide Map to help plan your trip and navigate your way through the Park!
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