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Death Valley Adventure Route

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

Death Valley, the famous home of the Manson Family. Things can get a bit weird out in this part of the desert, but natural wonders and relics of the past will keep you yearning for more.


Route Overview

Adventure Rating: Epic

Trip Length: 421 miles, 4-8 days

Season: Recommended November - May. The route can be driven anytime of year, but summer temperatures regularly exceed 115 F during the day.

Avg Trail Rating: 2-3

Peak Trail Rating: 5-6

Typical Terrain: A mixture of wide dirty and sandy roads, and some rocky and jeep trails required 4 low. The most difficult section is Dedeckera Canyon (spotter recommended), followed by Lippincott Pass and then the road up to Cerro Gordo.

Recommended Vehicle: High clearance SUV or truck with 4 low gearing, and all terrain tires.

Adventure Vans: If you've got a lifted Quigley or Sportsmobile, you should be able to manage the original (hard version) of the route. Sprinter 4x4s are recommended to take the alternative (easy) route.

Alternative Routes: Yes! We've created an alternative version of this route which bypasses the technical sections of the original route. Scroll to the bottom of route guide for info.

Permits: There is vehicle entrance fee (check Death Valley NPS website), but no additional permits are required for dispersed camping in approved areas.

Adventure Badge Get your Death Valley (Titus Canyon) adventure badge at our online store.


 

Route Details

At 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States. The park straddles portions of the Great Basin and Mojave deserts, in a land of unforgiving extremes. Not only is Death Valley one of the driest places on earth (avg rainfall is less than 2 inches), it also holds the record for hottest ever recorded temperature (134 F). The parched desert landscape creates quite the juxtaposition with the various subranges of the Basin Ranges within the park, and the rugged Mt Whitney and domineering eastern sierra looming over the desert to the west. During your time at the park you'll have the opportunity to see and experience lava flows and craters, rugged jeep trails, picturesque mountain peaks, ghost towns and abandoned mining times, eclectic art displays, petroglyphs, salt flats, wandering burros, hot springs, and so much more.


The route begins halfway between Baker and Shoshone near the Dumont Dunes. Be sure to fuel up before making your way north into the park as you hit the dirt headed for Badwater Basin. You'll find yourself traveling the valley floor between two mountain ranges, which are part of the greater Basin and Range province. The Panamint Range rises to over 11,000 feet to the west, with the less formidable Amargosa Range rises on the east. Along the way, you'll pass through the Badwater Basin (DP2) before reaching Furnace Creek. While traversing the wide dirt road, numerous trails lead to the canyons on the east, many of which contain remnants of old mines and secluded campsites deep within the canyons. On your right lies Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point within the North America. Even more amazing, just 85 miles away lies Mt Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48. Upon leaving Badwater Basin you'll hit the pavement for a quick scenic tour along Artist's Drive visiting the rainbow colors of the oxidized rocks at Artist's Pallete (DP3). From Artist's drive you'll burn the pavement towards Beatty, but not before making a quick detour to visit the giant wooden structure that is the Keane Wonder Mine Mill (DP4). Those that are feeling a bit adventurous may wish to scramble up the steep mountain trail to the Keane Wonder Mine. We'll head back to the highway for a few short miles, then we'll head back into the mountains via more dirt tracks. Chloride City is an old mining camp, but it is Chloride Cliffs (DP5) that is the highlight here, providing some of the best views of Death Valley. The dirt roads loop back around to the highway, which leads to Beatty, where the bas is considerably cheaper compared to stations within the park. Burros are also known to frequent Beatty, so be on the look out for them while driving through town. After fueling up towards the park, be sure to check out the ghost town of Rhyolite DP6) and the eccentric artwork of the Goldwell Open Air Museum (DP7). You'll soon find yourself on Titus Canyon Road, a narrow canyon, which provides some of the best natural scenery along the route. Before entering the canyon narrows, you'll pass another historic and well known ghost town, Leadville (DP8). With its near vertical canyon walls, Titus Canyon (DP9) is one of the oft mentioned highlights for people visiting Death Valley. After existing the canyon, you'll find yourself on the wide open roads of the valley floor heading north towards Ubehebe Crater (DP10). At less than 10,000 years old, one cannot help but wonder what sort of effect the massive asteroid that created the crater had on the local inhabitants at the time!

Northwards we'll continue along the wide open sandy roads of the Mojave. You'll hang a left onto Big Pine Road, a wide gravel road that makes traverses its way up the mountain, across another crater, and back down to another valley floor. As you make your way south, the Eureka Dunes (DP11) will begin to appear in the horizon. Standing at just under 700 feet tall, these are some of the tallest dunes in North America. Please respect NPS rules, as driving on the dunes is not permitted. Beyond Eureka Dunes lies the most technical section of the route, the "waterfall" section of Dedeckera Canyon (DP13). Three consecutive steps will test your mettle and driving skills. The largest step can range anywhere from 2 to 3 1/2' in height depending on the conditions of the wash. For all but the most experienced drivers, we recommend a spotter to help through some of the more difficult sections. A lift and sliders are also highly recommended! Once you make it through Dedeckera Canyon, things open up, and as you climb higher in elevation Joshua Trees become more prevalent. Make your way over Steele Pass, but be sure to pay a quick visit to the Marble Bath (DP15), which is literally an old bathtub filled with blue marbles! Heading down from Steele Pass into Saline Valley is quite a treat, but the upper section is filled with numerous rocks and small boulders. Folks commandering full size trucks will want to take it slow in this section, especially through some of the tighter turns. Several miles downslop you can see the palm trees at Saline Valley warm springs (DP16). This respite in the desert has been a spiritual oasis for hippies and beatniks seeking in solace for well over 50 years. Many people stay several weeks to months at a time at the warm springs, and the facilities are all well taken care of for the community. The pools range in temperate from the mid 60s to 117 F. There's nothing quite like soaking in a pool under the stars on a crisp desert night! And if you're just looking to wash off the desert dust and sand, head to the shower behind the Wizard pool. Jet pilots on training missions typically use Saline Valley on their flight paths. It's a common occurence for these jet fights to flyby the springs at altitudes at low as 100'. It's quite the experience to say the least! Next up is the racetrack playa and Teakettle junction, but you'll need to summit Lippincott Pass first. Lippincott Pass (DP18) is a semi-technical and rocky jeep trail with lots of cliffside explore that connects two parallel valleys. Upon reaching the pass, you'll descend to the race track playa (DP19), a salt flat famous for the rocks that move across the dry lake bed. For years scientists struggled to figure out the cause of the ghost rocks that drifted across the playa. But then it was discovered that with the help of water but most often ice, wind would slowly push the rocks millimeters at a time over a period of months. Not far from the racetrack playa, is the quirky Teakettle junction (DP20), that is littered with-- you guessed it, it, dozens of teapots strung from a wooden sign. Depending on your fuel situation, you may consider heading south to Paramint Springs. The route makes its way to through the deep sand in Hidden Valley to the east (a great place to camp), and then over Hunter Mountain. You'll notice as you climb higher and higher in elevation the desert landscape gives way to Bristlecone Forests. As you make your way to the South Pass, be sure to make a quick stop at the Panamint Valley Overlook (DP22), which has increcible views of the Panamint Valley to the south. Beyond the south pass, things really open up and you'll feel like you're on top of the world with the exquisite views from all around. Keep an eye above you, as this follows along one of the more popular flight paths that jet fighters take as they move south through Saline Valley and up and over the south pass into Panamint Valley. The roads are wide open and graded, and it's easy to cover a lot of ground in short periods of time along this stretch. You'll drop into Lee Flat, which has perhaps the largest Joshua Tree forest within Death Valley National Park (DP23).


As you move your way north across Lee Flat, the absolutely massive crag of Cerro Gordo Peak (DP24) starts to come in view. Things start to get steep, loose, and rocky quick! Expect to be in 4-low as you make your ascent up Cerro Gordo, and you'll likely remain in 4-low until reaching the Cerro Gordo Ghost town (DP25). Cerro Gordo Ghost Town is the most impressive ghost town within the surrounding Death Valley Area with numerous historical buildings and mine structures still standing. After a fire burned down the old American Hotel in 2020, the current owner is currently in the process of rebuilding the hotel and updating many of the old buildings. Be sure to drop in for a local tour and support the good work of the owner by making a donation or buying some memorabilia. After visiting Cerro Gordo, head north to the giant wooden structure that is the old Salt Tram (DP26). You'll snake your way down the steep mountain trails to the valley floor and follow the pavement until you reach Alabama Hills (DP27). With the Mt Whitney (DP29) and the jagged peaks of the eastern sierra acting as a backdrop, Hollywood directors filmed numerous western movies among the giant granite boulder fields of Alabama Hills. It's also a favorite camping location for many visiting the area, but please note BLM is in the process of transitioning the area to a limited number of assigned sites (the days of free for all camping is coming to end). As you meander through Alabama Hills, considering stopping and getting out on foot to explore these strange boulder fields. At the very least, we recommend making a quick trip to Mobius Arch (DP28). Movie Road eventually heads back down to Highway 395, where the route concludes. However, history buffs may wish to pay a visit to the old Manzanar Japanese Internment camp. A memorial marks the pain that Japanese Americans experienced while interned at Manzanar during WWII, certainly one of the darker periods in American history.

Camping Recommendations

Dispersed camping is allowed along dirt roads at least one mile away from any paved road or "day use only" dirt road. Camp only in previously disturbed areas and park your vehicle immediately adjacent to the roadway to minimize impact. The wilderness boundary is 50 feet from the center of most dirt roads. Campfires are not allowed anywhere in the park except at developed campgrounds.

  • Saline Valley Warm Springs camp (fires permitted)

  • Eureka Dunes (fires permitted)

  • Homestake Camp (fires permitted)

  • Hole in the Wall

  • Johnson Canyon

  • Boulder Camp

  • Lee Flat

  • Hidden Valley

Discovery Points

  • DP1 - Ashford Mills Ruins

  • DP2 - Badwater Basin

  • DP3 - Artist's Palette

  • DP4 - Keane Wonder Mine Mill

  • DP5 - Chloride Cliff Viewpoint

  • DP6 - Rhyolite Ghost town

  • DP7 - Goldwell Open Air Museum

  • DP8 - Leadfield Ghost town

  • DP9 - Titus Canyon

  • DP10 - Ubehebe Crater

  • DP11 - Eureka Dunes

  • DP12 - Last Chance Mountains

  • DP13 - Dedeckera Canyon

  • DP14 - Steele Pass

  • DP15 - Marble Bath

  • DP16 - Saline Valley Warm Springs

  • DP17 - Inyo Mountains

  • DP18 - Lippincott Pass

  • DP19 - Racetrack playa

  • DP20 - Teakettle Junction

  • DP21 - Hidden Valley

  • DP22 - Panamint Valley Overlook

  • DP23 - Lee Flat Joshua Tree Forest

  • DP24 - Cerro Gordo Peak

  • DP25 - Cerro Gordo Ghost Town

  • DP26 - Salt Tram

  • DP27 - Alabama Hills & Movie Road

  • DP28 - Mobius Arch

  • DP29 - Mt Whitney


Alternative Routes Avg Trail Rating: 2

Peak Trail Rating: 3

We've created an alternative version of the original route which bypasses the technical waterfall section of Dedeckera Canyon, Lippincott pass, and Cerro Gordo. The alternative "easy" version is suitable for novice off roaders, oversized vehicles like Sprinter 4x4, or those that may not have a lift or body armor to make it up/down Dedeckera canyon. The alternative routes covers 416 miles (approx 4-8 days) and while it covers thee majority of the original route, it does bypass some major discovery points like Cerro Gordo.

 

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