Your survival guide to the Death Valley National Park in California

Death Valley Survival Guide

Death Valley National Park in California is a beautiful and enigmatic place that attracts people from all over the world because of its unique geologic features and triple-digit temperatures. 

And yet, many first-time visitors have little knowledge about Death Valley and often underestimate its potential dangers. My guide will teach you some of the Death Valley survival tips that first-time visitors often don’t know.

Death Valley National Park entrance fee

Death Valley National Park has an entrance fee of $35.

 You can pay it either at the unmanned pay station at the Eastern entrance or at Furnace Creek’s visitor center. If you plan to visit other national parks in the United States, I recommend purchasing America the Beautiful Pass for $80 that will give you access to the majority of national parks in the country. 

1. Do your research

If you come from an urban area, you may not know that like many wilderness areas on the West Coast, Death Valley can pose certain dangers. 

Several tourists have died in Death Valley over the years and some of these deaths occurred because of the heat exposure. If you are going to visit Death Valley from April through October, you should avoid spending too much time in the sun and stay hydrated. 

This rule especially applies to first-time visitors who might not be used to the hot desert climate. 

2. If you travel by yourself, avoid remote areas

If you want to see some of the park’s remote areas such as The Racetrack, Panamint Dunes, Ibex Spring or Eureka Dunes, consider convoying with someone else instead of going on your own. 

While it could be tempting to venture into such a far-away place. You will have to wait for a long time, should you need any help. This could be a dangerous combination coupled with the triple digit heat.

3. Don’t rely on your phone

Most of Death Valley has a scarce cellphone service, except for the Furnace Creek area where you can find visitor’s center, hotels and a gas station. By all means, you should avoid relying on your phone, especially if you travel on unpaved roads during the hottest months of the year. 

Bringing a paper map is a great idea as it could save you a lot of trouble.

However, if you plan on spending a few days in Death Valley and hiking in remote areas, you might consider brining an actual GPS device. 

4. Check your vehicle

Unless you are taking an organized tour, visiting Death Valley requires a car.

Make sure that your vehicle is in a sound condition before you begin your trip. Getting towed out of Death Valley is going to be expensive and may take hours depending on where you get stuck. The last thing you want to happen is to get stuck in a triple-digit heat, so checking your vehicle should be high on your priorities’ list before you travel to Death Valley. 

5. Stay away from remote roads

Some unpaved roads in Death Valley have jagged rocks that could easily puncture your tires. Those rocks are not round and smooth, they are actually more like shards of glass that have weathered the most extreme heat after they were broken off the mountains. 

6. Stock up on food and water

The air in Death Valley is extremely dry and hot, especially during summer. Whether you hike or not, your body is going to lose a lot of water. If you are going to hit the trail, don’t leave without water in your backpack. 

Put it in a stainless steel bottle to keep the water cool! 

It’s also a good idea to get a first-aid kit for your Death Valley trip, since you will be hours away from the nearest hospital.

Death Valley National Parks has one gas station and a few restaurants. The two places that have restaurants are Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek, so it’s also a good idea to bring some snacks with electrolytes and proteins.

7. Put on plenty of sunscreen

The desert sun can be harsh. 

If you don’t protect your skin, you can get a severe sunburn within a short period of time. Make sure to put on enough sunscreen on and take it with you if you are going on a hike.

8. Don’t hike during mid-day

 Death Valley has the hottest temperatures during summer, however, winter brings mild weather to the park. 

Unless you are going to visit Death Valley during off-season from November through mid-March, I don’t recommend hiking in the middle of the day. Being in the open sun could cause a range of effects from sunburn to heat stroke and dehydration, if you are not used to the harsh desert climate.

When you hike, make sure to put on lightweight clothes and a hat to keep yourself cool. 

A pair of good hiking boots will help to save your feet, as Death Valley terrain can be extremely rough in certain areas. Don’t make a rookie mistake and come here wearing flip flops! 

9. Be prepared to drive

Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States that has over 3 million acres of protected wilderness. 

While you can drive from south to north and east to west of the park, getting from place to place can take up to a few hours. Between the touristy spots, Death Valley has a lot of empty spaces and virtually no cell phone service.

PRO TIP: Wherever you drive, make sure to have enough fuel in your tank.

The two gas stations in Death Valley are located at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells, and gas prices tend to be high. 

You can fill up your car in Pahrump or Amargosa Valley in Nevada if you are driving from the East; Baker in California if you are driving from the South and Lone Pine also in California if you are driving from the West. 

10. Pace yourself

Since Death Valley is huge, you will need a lot of time to explore it. 

This is especially true if you want to visit some of the beaten-path locations. While most visitors spend a day in Death Valley, some stay longer exploring this enigmatic wonder. 

Consider staying in Death Valley for at least one night. 

After hiking under the scorching sun all day, you will be tired, and you don’t want to keep driving to your next destination while you are exhausted. There are several hotels in Death Valley as well as nearby Pahrump and Beatty.

My favorite hotel is the historic Amargosa Opera House located in the Death Valley Junction. You can even watch ballet here during a specific season! 

Camping in Death Valley

Death Valley has several camp sites. But before you head out, check the weather! If you plan to sleep in a tent, hot temperatures at night could be extremely uncomfortable.

Here’s a list of campgrounds in Death Valley: 

  • Furnace Creek – The most popular campground at Death Valley National Park, Furnace Creek is located near the visitor center and other amenities in the areas. While it takes reservations, it is one of the most popular campgrounds at Death Valley, so spots tend to fill up quickly. 
  • Texas Springs/Sunset – Also located at Furnace Creek, Texas Springs and Sunset campgrounds are first-come, first-serve and don’t take reservations. 
  • Stovepipe Wells – A first-come, first-serve campground, Stovepipe Wells doesn’t require a reservation. It’s open from late fall through spring and is located about 30 minutes away from Furnace Creek.

Thank you for reading my Death Valley survival guide. If you are planning you trip soon, take a look at my Death Valley Guide that will help you navigate the park.

PRO TIP: While it might be tempting to just swing through park with a few quick stops on your way to somewhere else, I don’t recommend doing it. Death Valley Valley National Park is an amazing place and has way too many incredible places that are really special. I hope you get to enjoy all of them and create some awesome memories.

Happy exploring! 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article. 

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