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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.
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Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 426 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.
Technical Rating: Mostly green wide dirt and sandy roads, with some blue jeep trails (Lippencott Pass, Steel Pass-- a spotter or rock sliders is recommended on one section of this trail).
Typical Terrain: A mixture of wide dirty and sandy roads, and some rocky and jeep trails required 4 low.
Recommended Vehicle: High clearance SUV or truck with 4 low gearing, and all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: Much of the route and dirt roads in the park can be driven in a 4x4 Sprinter van, but avoid the jeep trails listed above.
Alternative Routes: n/a
Permits: There is vehicle entrance fee (check Death Valley NPS website), but no additional permits are required for dispersed camping in approved areas.
With 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 and is a land of unforgiving extremes. Not only is Death Valley one of the direst 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 Mt Whitney and the 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, 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 in Shoshone, a census designated place with a population of 31. Be sure to fuel up before making your way north into the park and into the namesake valley of the park along West Side Road. You'll find yourself traveling the valley floor between two mountain ranges. The Panamint Range rises to over 11,000 feet to the west, with the less formidable Amargosa Range to your east. Along the way, you'll pass through the Badwater basin before reaching Furnace Creek. From Furnace Creek, Hwy 190 continues the routes march northward, until it meets Daylight Pass Road. Daylight Pass is the first portion of the route that departs the valley floor to ascend the surrounding mountains. There's nothing technical about the road, which eventually leads to your your first fuel stop, at Beatty, NV. After making your way back towards the park, be sure to check out the ghost town of Rhyolite and the eccentric artwork of the Coldwell Open Air Museum. 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. Again, you'll find yourself on the wide open roads of the valley floor heading north towards Ubehebe Crater. 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! And northwards you shall 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 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. Your next stop will be at the racetrack playa and Teakettle junction, but you'll need to summit Lippencott Pass first. Lippencott Pass is a semi-technical and rocky jeep trail, connecting two parallel valleys. Lippencott Pass descends to the race track playa, a salt flat famous for the rocks that move across the flat with the help of wind, water, and ice. Not far from the racetrack playa, is the quirky Teakettle junction, 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 another valley sitting to the east, and then over Hunter Mountain, and once again up the mountains passing Cerro Gordo ghost town. The final leg of the route finishes outside of the park, on BLM land in an area known as Alabama Hills. Alabama Hills is famous for it's granite rock formations, with numerous campsites and opportunities to explore the surrounding desert and the eastern slopes of Mt Whitney. The route finishes in Manzanar, which has its own dark history (it was a former Japanese internment camp during WWII).
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
Furnace Creek Camp
Texas Springs (developed, fee)
Emigrant Camp (tent only site)
Recommended Points of Interest
Coldwell Open Air Museum
Rhyolite ghost town
Leadville ghost town
Cerro Gordo ghost town
Inn at Furnace Creek
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (NPS Visitor layer, NatGeo Trails illustrated layer, Gaia base layer)
Download GPX files
TIP: To expose alternative routes and points of interest in Google Maps, open the sidebar and select the desired layer.