The largest dedicated wilderness in the lower 48, Death Valley might not rank first among your upcoming camping destinations. But this unlikely spot’s iconic scenery, relative isolation, and varied opportunities for adventure make it an alluring camping destination… with the right preparation. Read on for tips to optimize your next stay in the park.
- One. Think Seasonally. As the lowest, hottest, and driest national park in the US, you’ll want to carefully consider when to visit the park. To enjoy temperate weather, plan for a fall or winter trip. That way, you’ll avoid the record-shattering, triple-digit heat of the summer months.
- Two. Layer Up and Look for Shade. In the desert, daytime temperatures can sizzle while nighttime temperatures fizzle down to the single digits. To avoid discomfort, prepare for temperature fluctuations of up to 30 °F from day to night. Do this by dressing in comfortable layers during the day and setting up your camp around natural shade. Since this can be hard to come by in Death Valley, consider investing in a portable canopy or sun shield. For evenings, prepare for twilight chills by packing warm sleeping bags and extra coats.
- Three. Gear Up for Adventure. Death Valley offers limitless opportunities for the adventurous. From backcountry camping to hiking to four-wheeling, you’ll find a vast array of ways to go wild in the park. So, do some research, decide which adventures best suit you and your crew, and gear up accordingly. And while you’re at it, bring LOTS of water (at least two liters per person for a short winter hike, 4 liters or more in the summer or for longer hikes), binoculars, hiking boots, food, sunscreen, and first aid supplies.
- Four. Look up. Death Valley boasts some of the darkest, most pristine night skies in America. Certified by the Dark-Sky Association as the third and largest International Dark Sky Park in the world, stargazing represents an obvious must. Consider purchasing an app such as Star Walk. Its searchable database, night mode for outside viewing, and ability to show constellation shapes will definitely enhance your astronomical experience in the park.
- Five. Leave No Trace. As the name suggests, life’s hard in Death Valley. The park’s ecosystems remain vulnerable to disruption. They can take decades to recover from misplaced footsteps, let alone full-on assaults from bicycles, off-roading vehicles, and unprepared campers. Besides preparing to pack out trash and other evidences of your park sojourn, “leave no trace” means avoiding delicate vegetation and fragile ecosystems.
With a little planning, Death Valley represents a hidden gem for campers looking to maximize adventure and experience the magnificent solitude of a secluded wilderness. Thinking about camping in the area? Already a Death Valley camping pro? Either way, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
If You Go: Death Valley is accessible from Las Vegas, Nevada, via CA-190 westbound from Death Valley Junction; from Beatty, Nevada, via NV-374 heading southwest; from Lone Pine, California, on CA-190 eastbound, and from Ridgecrest, California, via Panamint Valley Road north of Trona, California. Lodgings vary from historic lodges and inns to primitive campsites. Due to the popularity of the park, make reservations to these facilities well in advance. Click here for more information.