Camping Guide:Death Valley

dunes and mountains in Death Valley National Park

At the far reaches of California, where the White Mountains begin to slip into Nevada’s desert landscape, a national park awaits travelers, ready to surprise them with exactly how colorful and alive a place with a name like Death Valley can be.

On a balmy July day in 1913, the temperature in Death Valley was recorded at 134° Fahrenheit, the hottest ever recorded anywhere on Earth. The park service considers it the driest place in America. The bottom of the valley lies 282′ below sea level, making it the lowest elevation in North America…yet only 85 miles away from Mt. Whitney, which at 14,505′, is the highest point in the Continent United States.

While all of these extremes, and the name itself, may give one pause to venture into its borders, Death Valley is also a place of beauty, the type of isolation that is a testament to how far humanity has come, as far as being able to survive and thrive in some of the most rugged terrain this planet has to offer.

When it comes to camping in Death Valley National Park, late fall, winter and early spring are easily the best times to go. Summer temperatures can remain as hot as 100° right into midnight. In January though, daily highs average a mild 66°, yet only drop into the 40s at night. By April, highs are back into the 90s, and this typically persists into November.

Even the smallest amount of precipitation completely changes the desert floor. In the winter of 2004-2005, when a record setting six inches of rain (that’s right, six inches is a record) fell, the entire valley floor erupted in flowers and lakes formed where none had been seen before. Flowers blooming, on a smaller scale, is a regular occurrence from spring and into June, however, making this season the best for visiting the national park.

No matter what time of year you visit though, colorful cliffs–painted with the magenta of manganese, mica’s green and various pinks, reds and yellows stained by iron in the rock itself–await, not to mention many miles of hiking trails, mountain vistas, everything one can wish to know about the region in its visitors centers, and the conundrum that is the golf course in the middle of it all.

Where Can You RV Camp in Death Valley National Park?

There is no shortage of places where even the largest RVs can find a place to camp within Death Valley proper, and there is nowhere that car camping is available which can’t be reached with our 4×4 Winnebago Revel Class B RV rentals. Much of the camping is centered around the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, in the middle of the park.

The Furnace Creek area has its visitor center, as well as restaurants, a gas station, and even a post office. Furnace Creek Campground (GPS: 36.4639, -116.8691) is easily the most popular, with its full hookups offering precious options to power your air-conditioner and making access to water as simple as plugging in your hose. Less than 20 of the 136 sites here have these coveted $36 / night hookups, though, so making a reservation well in advance is an absolute must. The rest of the sites are all dry camping, cost you $22 per night, and you’ll still have access to the same fire pits, picnic tables and flushing restaurants as the hookups sites. You’ll be within walking distance to everything Furnace Creek has to offer, including some short nature trails, and a short drive to magnificent canyons galore.

Other camping option provided by the park service near Furnace creek include Texas Springs Campground (GPS: 36.459, -116.853), which has the same amenities as the dry camping spots at Furnace Creek itself, and Sunset Campground (GPS: 36.4575, -116.8621), which is essentially just a parking lot. Sunset may be your best bet if you haven’t made a reservation, and the rest of the campgrounds are full, as it rarely fills up even during prime visitation. Both of these campgrounds are first-come, first-served.

Beyond those, the privately held Fiddlers Campground (GPS: 36.4605, -116.867), part of the Oasis Resort and Golf Course, also offers dry camping for $24 per night. These sites are golfing-adjacent, and also grant you access to the resorts other amenities, including a swimming pool, laundromat and WiFi.

Fiddlers Campground Reservations

Verizon, Sprint and T-mobile service is limited throughout the area, while AT&T has a bit more get up and go.

Not interested in being sandwiched into a campground, but still want to be close to Furnace Creek? Echo Canyon Road has dispersed, free dry camping along the road. This is where a high clearance vehicle like our Revel comes in handy, as this route–like many an entrance to a famous hike or overlook in the area–is a rocky crawl never intended for the average car or van.

Eager for a little more breathing space? Stovepipe Wells (GPS: 36.607, -117.1478) gets you half an hour outside of Furnace Creek, and rarely fills up. For $14 / night, don’t expect much more than a spot of your own (with the usual picnic table and fire ring setup), some flushing toilets and absolutely outstanding desert views. Or float next door to the full hookups Stovepipe Wells Village RV Park (GPS: 36.607, -117.1473), where for closer to $40 you can try and slide into one of the 14 unremarkable spots here, all with the same views as the national park’s offering, but top it all off with a swimming pool, restaurant, general store and showers (though note that as of this writing, the pool and showers are under renovation.)

Moving further away from Furnace Creek, Wildrose Campground (GPS: 36.266, -117.185) sits above 4200′ in elevation, making it a good 20° cooler than the valley floor. It’s significantly rougher an experience, with simple vault toilets, picnic tables and fire rings, and nothing else to get in the way of you watching donkeys skirmish about the treeless landscape surrounding you.

Want to really get away from it all? Both Thorndike (GPS: 36.237, -117.071) and Mahogany (GPS: 36.231, -117.068) campgrounds live an additional stretch of dirt road further up the mountain, both well over 7000′, and give you a chance to test your fortitude on the drive up. There are pit toilets, and actual campsites, but no access to water, so bring your own unless you’re okay driving back to Wildrose to fill up. All three of these campgrounds are free of charge and first-come, first served. Only Wildrose is open in the winter, though, so call ahead if you plan to take this road less traveled.

Climbing steep dirt roads isn’t your only option for disappearing into the desert, though. In a place by the name of Lee Flat (GPS: 36.4855, -117.6177), near the northwestern edge of the park, there is additional, free camping amongst a forest of Joshua trees. It’s true dispersed dry camping, with no designated spots, toilets or other conveniences of any kind.

Additional dispersed camping of this type can be had in Green Water Valley (GPS: 36.2531, -116.6516) and Homestake Dry Camp (GPS: 36.6374, -117.574), though checking with the rangers is always advisable to know exactly where this is permitted.

If you’re itching for hookups but the few offerings within the park are unavailable, Panamint Springs Resort (GPS: 36.3397, -117.4681) has it all–a general store, restaurant, flushing toilets and showers–for $40 per night. They only have 6 sites though, so making a reservation (by calling 775-482-7680) is an Einstein move.

Whether it’s part of an extended trip down US-395 and through the Eastern Sierras, or your final destination, Death Valley is a record-setting site to see.