Updated: May 21, 2015
Death Valley National Park:Death Valley is one of those national parks that you should visit at least once in your life. This national park is remote so finding your way here is not that easy. One of the most popular ways to make the visit it to take a day trip from Las Vegas. From the Las Vegas airport to the park entrance is about 100 miles and you are looking at roughly 150 miles to Badwater, the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The landscape is perhaps the first thing you notice when you approach this area of California. There are gorgeous mountains, sand dunes, rock formations, and desolate roadways. I made my approach from the west side of things driving from the Bay Area through Bakersfield and out past Hwy 395 into Ridgecrest. Once you get close to the park you realize how desolate it really is. The amount of cars on the road is sparse and you start realizing you're pretty much on your own. The day I drove out there I saw some military jets on flight patterns really close to the ground which was really cool.
Besides having the lowest elevation in all of North America, Death Valley National Park also boasts the driest and hottest conditions imagineable. Temperatures regularly get around 120 degrees in the summer months and the average yearly rainfall is less than 2 inches. I had lived in California all my life and never visited this national park yet I had been to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia quite often. Death Valley NP is beautiful and if you plan a trip during a year with more rainfall than average, you will be witness to huge fields of wild flowers not seen anywhere else. Be sure to bring your camera and video camera to record all the special geography that exists in this valley. The colors on the landscape at sunset are perhaps my most cherished memories of this place. Since the temperatures in the daytime are so hot, I saved my energy for the early evening hours and did a little hiking into some canyons to get some incredible pictures and photos. I remember taking a picture of the gas prices at the time (something like $3.50/gallon) and I'm sure with todays high prices you are looking at $5.00 or more in the valley for gasoline. There are close to 3000 square miles of terrain to explore with limited road access to most areas. Camping and hiking are popular activities in the park, but weather will dictate when and where this is possible. There is even a golf course in this region, called Furnace Creek Golf Course. I stayed at the Furnace Creek resort (see details below) for a 3 day weekend and explored Scotty's Castle (tourist trap), Badwater (very cool), Stovepipe Wells, and Ubehebe Crater. A few days is all you need in this national park since most everything is only a short driving distance from the visitors center. The main website for Death Valley National Park is online HERE. You will find information on weather, climate, lodging, camping, hiking, park fees and hours, and detailed directions with maps.
Map - Directions:As we mentioned above, Death Valley is fairly remote. From Los Angeles or Las Vegas it's not too bad of a drive, but coming from the Bay Area you are looking at a long days drive to get out to the eastern side of the Sierras and all the way into the park. From LA you could come up Hwy 395 and head out east from Ridgecrest or you could take I-15 east and then go north on Hwy 127 into the south end of the park. From Las Vegas you go out through Pahrump on Hwy 160 and then onto Hwy 178. You can see some of the details on the map of Death Valley we have below.
For a more detailed map of Death Valley National Park showing trails, campgrounds, visitor center, picnic areas, and monuments go HERE. You will get a good idea of where the overlooks and view points are as well as see where Stovepipe Wells, Scotty's Castle, and Badlands are located in vicinity to the park headquarters and visitor center in Furnace Creek. Make sure you gas up your car before heading into the park and bring lots of water in case you have a breakdown.