Death Valley National Park awaits adventurous souls with the perfect example of desolation at its finest. Though the park does have two areas that provide gasoline, try to eat and fuel up outside of the park whenever possible if you’re on a budget. Then explore this expansive desert wonderland on nothing but a tank of gas and a solid sense of wonder.
Traveling from Las Vegas, take I-15 north to US 95 north. At Nevada Route 267 West, turn left at Scotty’s Junction and follow the signs to Death Valley National Park. All told, the drive takes about 2.5 hours.
Stop Along the Way
China Ranch Date Farm
China Ranch 8
Tecopa, CA 92389
Tecopa, Calif., should be the first stop for travelers, with signs then leading to China Ranch Date Farm. The farm, down the driveway through eroded canyon walls, is family run. China Ranch harvests dates and sells products made from the fruit of the family’s labors. Cookies, muffins, bread and its date shake are must haves, as well as gifts and curios for souvenirs. China Ranch also boasts a bed and breakfast, as well as a restaurant.
(760) 852-4335 or
From China Ranch, travelers can find the park’s boundary and then Shoshone, Calif. Shoshone has a gas station, road-side restaurant, general store, a museum and motel. This is one of the better places to stock up before hitting the desert. The museum documents the history and prehistoric life of Death Valley. Plan to fill up on traditional American fare at the Crowbar Cafe before getting back on the road.
Death Valley National Park
U.S. 95 and Nevada Route 267
Death Valley, NV
Click here for prices
From Shoshone, Calif., the actual descent into the park begin as the valley floor spreads out in front of travelers for miles at a 1,500-foot elevation. To the west, the mountains tower at 11,000 feet. Multi-hued views near Badwater Basin, the lowest place in North America, include Zabriskie Point, Artist’s Palette and Dante’s View right in the park. Badwater Basin is also home to the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, which has been living off the stark land in the basin for generations.
In Death Valley Junction, visit Amargosa Opera House and become part of the painted audience. The park service accepts cash, Visa, Mastercard and Discover card. Spring and fall are the most comfortable times of the year to visit the park. No matter when you visit, don’t skimp on water and skin protection. The environment is extreme and visitors should make every effort to protect themselves. Plan to drink a gallon of water a day, avoid canyons during the rainy season and don’t hike low elevations when temperatures are especially high. Come prepared with the necessary tools to change a tire, snacks and if you’re spending a lot of time outdoors, an emergency medical kit as most cell phones don’t work throughout the park.
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Furnace Creek, CA
The park’s headquarters is in Furnace Creek, so be sure to stop here on your tour. With a visitor center, hotels, RV park, museum, restaurants, market, gas station and of course, a golf course, Furnace Creek is a severe, yet well-developed area. Don’t miss out on a round of golf in the desert of Death Valley National Park. National forest rangers may be found close to Furnace Creek, usually at Stovepipe Wells or Panamint Springs. Both areas are close to Furnace Creek. For more solitude, drive out to Emigrant Canyon Road. Here, the Thorndike, Wildrose and Mahogany Flat campgrounds wait for those wanting more than a day trip at the park.
Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort
Death Valley, CA 92328
Price: from $163 a night
If you’re looking for a little bit of luxury, look no more. Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch resort is no mirage. This oasis boasts spring-fed swimming pools, horseback riding, tennis courts and the worlds lowest 18 hole golf course (at 214 feet below sea level.) Not feeling active? No problem – get massaged, grab a cocktail at the on-site saloon or do a taste test of the four restaurants the resort has to offer.
Price: $11 tours/$10 park entry on two wheels/$20 for other vehicles
More areas in Death Valley National Park include a drive up Grapevine Canyon. This route takes travelers to Scotty’s Castle. The castle was built by Walter “Scotty” Scott, because of his interest in finding a gold vein with his partner, Albert Johnson. Scotty’s Castle offers tours of both the castle and the tunnels under the castle grounds. Take the Scotty’s Castle Living History Tour or the Scotty’s Castle Underground Mysteries Tour. Close to Beatty, Nev., Rhyolite rests as a modern ghost town. Rhyolite was founded in 1904 and became a ghost town after 1916. Not only are the ruins of the city still visited by tourists, but the Goldwell Open Air Museum promises draw for any traveler. This collection of sculptures includes a ghostly DaVinci’s “Last Supper” revision and other statues that surround the visitor center of the museum. If possible, before leaving Death Valley National Park, visit Racetrack Playa, Ubehebe Crater, Darwin Falls and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
Toll Road Restaurant
Stovepipe Wells Village Highway 190
Death Valley Junction, CA 92328
With new owners and a revamped menu, if you’ve tried Toll Road and not loved it, it’s time to give it a second chance. With Mexican-inspired cuisine and an adjacent bar, this is a great stop for a solid meal any night. While the breakfast buffet and lunch fare are relatively standard, it’s the dinners here that set it apart. Do not miss out on chili at this delicious Stovepipe Wells restaurant.
Amargosa Opera House Cafe
Route 127, Death Valley Junction
Death Valley National Park, CA
Like with any dining experience this far out in the desolate desert, the menu is limited entirely by what is available, but this restaurant manages those restrictions beautifully. Though it feels a bit like a hole in the wall, the food is simple and delicious any time of day.
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Amber Campbell is a writer who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. She has been writing for Examiner.com since 2009, as a gaming, fantasy book reviewer and now as the Las Vegas Literature examiner. She has published stories under her writing name, Micaela Fischer, and also has a novel, Hidden From Destiny. She is also a proofreader, editor and typesetter. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.