Death Valley National Park is a dream for any desert adventure enthusiast. Although a day trip in the park is still stunning, spending a few nights camping in or around the park is the only way to get a true feel for the landscape.
Death Valley has 12 developed campgrounds within the park and various backcountry camping options if backpacking is your goal. There are also unique backcountry road camping areas along the many dirt roads throughout the park if you want something in between.
To help you navigate the variety of camping options available, here are our top tips for camping in Death Valley National Park.
Camp according to vehicle capabilities
Where you camp in the park will be up to the type of adventure you want to have and the type of vehicle you use. There are over 1,000 miles of roadway in the park, but much of those roads are not paved and require off-road capable vehicles.
Getting to any of the 12 developed campgrounds in the park will be feasible even for RV’s or larger rigs that don’t have 4×4 capabilities or high clearance. Of those 12 campgrounds, only nine are owned and operated by the NPS. The other three are privately owned. The developed campgrounds will offer standard services like bathrooms, tables, and fire rings.
Death Valley is a desert, and much like visiting Joshua Tree National Park, there is a limited supply of water in the park. Not even all of the developed campsites have potable water available, so come prepared.
There are quite a few dirt roads that standard passenger vehicles can navigate, but to reach more remote areas in the park and the backcountry road campsites, a vehicle with high clearance and 4-wheel drive is required. Be mindful that these are dry, primitive campsites with no services. They are remote and will offer more solitude than the developed campgrounds, though.
If you are looking for an even more remote experience, Death Valley has some of California’s most amazing backpacking opportunities. Backpacking in a desert, especially a desert landscape like Death Valley, is dangerous and requires a high level of fitness, knowledge (not all areas have trails), and planning. So, before you set out on a Death Valley backpacking trek, consult the NPS website for necessary resources and recommendations.
Beware the temperatures
Death Valley is aptly named because for much of the year you can expect scorching temperatures. Camping is not advised in the summer months, and even in the Spring and Fall, visitors can expect temperatures encroaching on 100 degrees.
Winter can also be a shock to some visitors with cold temperatures and snow-capped peaks. Still, summer is the most dangerous time of year to visit due to the lack of water throughout the park.
No matter the time of year you visit the park, be prepared with the resources you need for your visit’s expected length.
Reservations and permits
Most camping areas do not require permits or reservations to stay. The only developed camping area that allows campers to make reservations is the Furnace Creek Campground. You can reserve spots during the peak visiting season (October – April). The rest of the NPS campgrounds are first-come-first-serve.
Furnace Creek is also the only NPS campground that has any RV hookups available. Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs private campgrounds also have RV hookups.
The three privately owned campgrounds in the park accept reservations. To do this, contact the campground directly.
Privately owned campgrounds in Death Valley National Park:
Backcountry road campsites do not require reservations, and permits are free. Permits for these areas are voluntary but highly recommended. Permits help the park track visitation to areas and provide some safety to visitors, so the park rangers know how many people are in an area at a given time. While permit information can be used in the event of a search and rescue, if you do not return by the date listed on your permit, it will not initiate a search and rescue. Tell a friend or family member about your itinerary, and they can notify park officials if needed.
If you are prepared for a backpacking adventure in Death Valley, the park recommends getting a free permit and having an itinerary. Backpacking itineraries do not have to follow only designated trails. They can also follow dirt roads, canyon bottoms, and washes. Even well-planned trips may need backups. When arriving at Death Valley for a backpacking trek, visit the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to discuss your trip plans with a park ranger. They will have up-to-date information on conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Camping in Death Valley
What’s the best time of year to visit Death Valley?
Spring is the best time of year and the most popular time of year to visit Death Valley. Spring has beautiful wildflowers and warm weather days that are not overbearingly hot.
Is it safe to tent camp in Death Valley?
Many visitors are wary of tent camping in the desert because of critters like rodents, lizards, spiders, and snakes. However, if you are tent camping, avoid giving them access to your tent by keeping doors closed when you are not inside. Do not store food in your tent and hang food bags to avoid attracting rodents.
Are dogs allowed in the Death Valley?
Pets are allowed in some areas of the park, but they must be kept on a leash. Pets are not permitted when backpacking, but they are allowed on some backcountry roads. Be aware of your pet and do not allow them to dig or sniff near shrubs or rocks, as that is where snakes and scorpions tend to hide. Do not leave pets unattended in vehicles any time of the year in Death Valley.