By Car / 4-Wheel Drive, Death Valley National Park
I go to Death Valley at least once a year, sometimes multiple times. We stay in Beatty, NV and drive into the valley each day. Be sure to pay your park fee at one of the park ranger or info booth locations. SAFETY: If you want some honest advice about the road trip, here it is. PLAN THIS TRIP BEFORE YOU DRIVE INTO THE HEAT! Plan all of you destinations and where/when you will get fuel. Fill your gas tank wherever you see a filling station. There are only two main stations. One at Furnace creek and one at Stovepipe Wells. Make sure your Air Conditioner works VERY well. A/C output will be diminished greatly in the Valley. If your car is junky, don't take it. You will be stranded by unreliable machinery. Rent a car if this is the case. Remeber, bring LOTS of water and some type snack. Use good judgement when site seeing. It is mostly 2 lane roads in the Valley and a lot of blind hills and curves. The whole place is breath taking, but don't stop and gawk unless you have pulled off the road. There are areas every so often to pull off safely. You will know because the shoulder will open up and a gravel parking area will be evident. Try to see as much as you can. No two places are alike in Death Valley. BADWATER is a must see. If there is nothing else you can do, do this. DO NOT use the restrooms if you can avoid it. They are clean and well furnished, but the vile stench is guaranteed to make you ill. If you think I am exagerating, try it. I hope you find this helpful!
Many of the roads leading to the most popular Death Valley attractions are not paved. In fact, most of these are gravel roads. It is perfectly safe to drive on these roads in an ordinary car, but its murder on your suspension.
Certain roads at higher elevation, such as the Wildrose Canyon Road, may be closed in winter due to snowfall. Other dirt and 4X4 roads close after rain or snow as the roads become impassible in these conditions. Its a good idea to check on the road conditions before heading out and about after a period of rain or snow.
So, what's a BEV anyway? Well, this is my moniker for the type of vehicle I use to explore the Death Valley region. It stands for Backcountry Exploration Vehicle, more specific I thought than the all-too-common SUV. For the best peace-of-mind, I always use a 4wd BEV with low range capability just in case an unexpected precipitation event alters the backroad I happen to be exploring.
Having been walking and driving around and through Death Valley since 1955, I recommend never leaving anything to chance out here! Preparation is the key to most eventualities. Whenever possible, have at least two vehicles in your group, both rigs well-stocked with water, food, all-weather clothing, spare parts, tools, and emergency survival gear. I keep this stuff in my rig at all times so I don't have to worry about packing so much on each expedition.
Visit one of the websites that is devoted to maintaining current info prior to departure. One I particularly like is: http://www.ridgecrest.ca.us/~matmus/DeathV.html because it has more great thoughts than others I have found. Take the advice seriously because the gal that maintains it at the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, California knows what she's talking about!
Besides things like a cell or satellite phone, ALWAYS leave your itinerary with a responsible friend or family member. This is perhaps your best insurance for surviving in the event of a rare or unexpected breakdown (of course, when is a breakdown ever expected?).
If you love this Park as much as I do and want to chat about it, or simply pick my brain for what I know, ship me an email!
This is not the kind of place in which you would want to break down. There are occasional radiator water reservoirs along the road for those who happen to get into trouble at approximately the right place. If you car is not highly reliable, I strongly recommend renting a car for your trip.
There is a $20 per car fee. This includes the car and all passengers. Once paid, the fee is good for 7 days. The fee can be paid at a vending machine at Stovepipe wells, in a tollbooth near Scotty's Castle, or at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
There is a reduced fee of $10 for motorcycles.
Supposedly, most of the fee is used for park matters and the money stays in the park.
Death Valley is a large National Park, and there are no park run bus tours or other types of transportation within Death Valley. You will want to travel the Badwater Road (California Highway 190), the Scotty's Castle Road, and other roads that will take you to major scenic viewpoints, hiking areas, and historic sites within the park. The park also contains more than 350 miles of unpaved and 4-wheel drive roads to provide access to wilderness areas for those of you who wish to leave the main paved roads behind. Be aware that all vehicles, even off road varieties, must be licensed and "street legal".
The road winds along the valley floor, but in many places you'll go up and over "alluvial fans" were centuries of rain has eroded the mountainside and left huge fan-shapped mounds at the base of ancient stream beds.
Crossing the alluvial fans one place you will see a lot of flowers (because that soil is better for flowers compared to the salt-ridden valley floor). Here you can see the gentle slope of an alluvial fan on the horizon. Along side the road you can see the yellow of Desert Gold, the flowers that showed up in the spring of 2005 by the trillions.
The best way to go around Death Valley is by your 4 wheeler/2 wheeler. A 4X4 with high clearance is needed if you want to get off the proper roads. We didnt have one and we tried our best (as you will read in our trip to the Keane Wonder Mines) with our Dodge Stratus. The vehicle took some beating but survived the ordeal. But things could have got worse.
Coming to fuel, there are 5 places (that we know of) in Death Valley that can serve this cause. Fuel is costly here. So here are your choices in increasing order of cost. The station @ Beatty is the cheapest one (This is becuase its falls in Nevada and is not part of the Death Valley). but if this is not in your path then bad luck. The station @ Stovepipe Wells is the next cheapest and is inside Death Valley. The pump here (when we were there) was very slow and it tooks ages before we could get the 5 gallons in. Then comes the Chevron station @ Furnace Creek (right in the middle of DV). Then there is the fuel station @ Scotty's castle which we didnt try. Finally if you are out of luck in all these places try the Shell station @ Panamint Springs. This is COSTLY!!! There is another station @ Shoshone on the south eastern edge of Death Valley. We didnt visit this place so we have no idea about this one. If you are approaching DV from Los Angeles, some good places for fuelling would be Bakersfield, Inyokern, Ridgecrest, Trona ( when driving from LA to DV).
Since we are new to US, we dont know if the fuel prices (between stations) will change drastically from time to time. So we have just penned down what we experienced. Any discrepancies are unintentional.
Feul prices (per gallon) for unleaded gas (rating-87) @ the various stations that we tried during Feb '05.
Station @ Beatty - 2.199
Station @ Stovepipe Wells - 2.469
Chevron @ Furnace Creek - 2.609
Shell @ Panamint Springs - 2.799
Death Valley has many off the beaten path type roads- unpaved excursions through canyons, to ghost towns and up mountains. If you have a 4X4 vehicle and the guts to try it, this is a great way to visit the largely unexplored regions of Death Valley.
For a list and description of these roads, see http://www.death.valley.national-park.com/sights.htm#aut
Hwy 190 is the major road which crosses the park. There are several side roads which lead to the Amargosa Valley (closed as of November, 2004), the Wildrose Canyon Road and the road leading to Scotty's Castle. In addition, several gravel spur roads lead to points of interest such as Mosaic Canyon and Salt Creek. Driving on any other roads is prohibited, unless its in an off road vehicle or one with 4X4 clearance.
Death Valley National Park is transected from east to west by California Highway 190. On the east in Nevada, U.S. Route 95 parallels the park from north to south with connecting highways at Scotty's Junction (State Route 267), Beatty (State Route 374), and Lathrop Wells (State Route 373). South of the park, Interstate 15 passes through Baker, California on its way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. State Route 127 travels north from Baker to Shoshone and Death Valley Junction with connections to the park on State Route 178 from Shoshone and connection with California Highway 190 at Death Valley Junction.
If you plan on visiting the backcountry of Death Valley be prepared and have a vehicle that is up to the trip. Also realize that the family Exploder might make it over 50 miles of washboards to the Eureka Dunes, it's not likely to be rattle free when you return to pavement. Also take seriously park service signs that read "High Clearance 4x4", many wrongly assume that the SUV is up to the task but many new SUV's have easily damaged vital components that hang perilously low.
With that in mind, if you still want to wander into the backcountry, take your time and you will most likely be fine. Again, be prepared for extremes and the possibility for being stuck for several days. 5-years ago three German tourists drove their rented Minivan into Butte Canyon. The minivan was found with three flat tires but no sign of the "Lost Germans" was ever found.
We drove north from Los Angeles on a drive that took us nearly 4 hours in the daytime. Our return trip was via another route and due to nightime driving we missed an interstate so the drive home took us a little more than 5 hours. Going to Death Valley you'll have several options to choose from...here are some of them:
*From Las Vegas, NV, Route 160 leads to Pahrump where a left on Nevada Route 132 (which becomes California Route 190 at the state line) leads to Furnace Creek through Death Valley Junction;
* U.S. Route 395 passes west of Death Valley and connects with California Routes 178 at Inyokern and 190 at Olancha, both of which enter the park from the west;
*15 passes to the southeast of Death Valley, connecting with Route 127 at Baker, California. Drive 60 miles north then turn left on Route 178 just past Shoshone, or drive 20 miles further north to Death Valley Junction and turn left on California Route 190 to enter the park;
*U.S. Route 95 passes north-south through Nevada east of the park connecting with Nevada Routes 267 at Scotty's Junction, 373 at Amargosa Valley and 374 at Beatty, all of which lead to the park from the east.
Make sure your vehicle is well maintained, has plenty of coolant, good breaks, and perfect tires. It would be costly to break down in Death Valley so far from civilization.
Travel and recreate with minimum impact
Respect the environment and the rights of others
Educate yourself--plan and prepare before you go
Allow for future use of the outdoors--leave it better than you found it
Discover the rewards of responsible recreation