The last weekend of January, B and I went camping in Death Valley. We went tent camping for the weekend. It was a short 3 day trip. The desert landscape was extremely surprising to me! It was way more beautiful than I was expecting. Death Valley basically looks like Mars. It’s such an interesting place to visit. So here is our itinerary for weekend camping in Death Valley.
WEEKEND CAMPING IN DEATH VALLEY
Best time to visit: November through March (coolest daytime temperatures)
Best Campgrounds: Furnace Creek (requires reservations); has fire pits, tables, water and flush toilets
Texas Springs: (first come, first served); has fire pits, tables, water and flush toilets
Mesquite Spring: (first come, first served); has fire pits, tables, water and flush toilets
Stovepipe Wells: (first come, first served); has SOME fire pits, tables, water and flush toilets
DAY 1: GETTING THERE
On Friday morning, we left before 8am. We wanted to beat the Friday traffic and hopefully get a good camping spot! We drove into Death Valley on my favorite highway in the world, Highway 395. The road basically goes through the desert the whole time, so there isn’t always much to look at. However, I have many, many memories of driving on the 395.
From the highway, we took the turn off to drive through Trona. We took Trona Road to Panamint Springs. Probably wouldn’t do that again! Trona is an inside joke with our family, so we had to take a picture! It is a really interesting mineral lake bed where they mine 93 out of the worlds 95 known minerals. If rocks are your thing, visit their museum. We headed from here to Stovepipe Wells!
Coming in through the Stovepipe Wells visitor center, we bought our National Parks Pass. $80 for a whole year of entry to every national park and then some. We decided it would be worth it for this year since we plan on visiting many national parks. This visitor center isn’t always open, but luckily it was for us. Close to here is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Check them out on your way to camp, or come back on the way home like we did. Either way, it’s something incredible to see.
TEXAS SPRINGS CAMPGROUND
After driving for another 20-30 minutes, we found our tent camping spot in Texas Springs Campground in the Furnace Creek area. This is one of the better campgrounds because they have fire pits, tables, water and flush toilets. See the recommended campgrounds at the top of this post. There are only 92 spots in Texas Springs Campground and most of them do not have shade. This didn’t matter in January though, because the high temperature only reached 68 degrees F. It was extremely nice weather. The temperature was in the low 40’s at night with no wind and made sitting around the campfire very nice. It was not as cold as camping in Joshua Tree National Park in December, let me tell you! You can read about that great adventure here. If you like our tent, you can find it here!
SET UP CAMP
So we found a great camping spot, set up camp, and just relaxed. Some suggestions for this time are to drive around and check out Furnace Creek visitors center. They have 4×4 Jeep and car rentals here at the gas station in case you were wanting to check out any of the off-road trails. Death Valley has many off-road trails to drive around. The visitors center has great suggestions for places to see as well! You could also ride bikes around. We saw many people riding bicycles around all over the place. Once we set up camp, we sat back and enjoyed the views. We were so ready to be camping in Death Valley!
SUNSET AND CAMP DINNER
Desert sunsets might be some of my favorite, especially in the winter. The clouds and the colors of the sky are just amazing! There are multiple amazing places to watch the sunset including: Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes or even in our campsite. Driving to any of these places would take less than 20 minutes. However, we stayed in our campsite to watch the sky and hills turn pink this first night.
Desert sunsets are seriously becoming my favorite. I mean just look at these!
For dinner, we made some really easy chicken fajitas. We picked up chicken tenderloin from Stater Bros. and prepped a little before we left home. We put the chicken in a bag and added the seasonings. Then, we cut up the veggies and put them in a bag with olive oil. So once we got to camp, all we had to do was take out the stuff, grill it up and add our toppings onto our tortillas! It was so easy and fast; a great camping dinner! Then it was time around the campfire and resting after a long day of driving.
DAY 2: EXPLORING
SUNRISE AND BREAKFAST!
We set an alarm and woke up at 6:15. Usually, when we go camping, we would never set an alarm. However, I had heard that the sunrise was not to be missed while camping in Death Valley. Therefore, we got up and set off to see the sunrise at Zabriskie Point. This was a recommended spot to see the sunrise. I would definitely recommend it as well. There was a whole group of photography students taking pictures with us, so I knew it had to be a good spot. Seeing the mountains change color with the sunrise was so beautiful. If you have time, I would say not to miss it!
After such a beautiful sunrise, we headed back to camp for breakfast and to get ready for the day. Eggs, bacon, and sausage burritos were on the menu. It was easy because we still had tortillas and burrito stuff from the night before! It also filled us up for the day since we were planning on being out and about.
Heading out of our campground, we kind of took the opposite direction from everyone else, which I think worked in our favor. We drove to the furthest point of our adventuring and did our sightseeing in the direction of coming back towards camp. This allowed us to beat the crowds and take pictures with almost no one around. It seemed like every time we were leaving a place, a huge crowd of people came off a bus right behind us. It was pretty nice knowing we were beating all the crowds! So we drove to the first spot, furthest from camp, Badwater Basin.
If I had to describe Badwater Basin, I would use the word trippy. It is over 280 ft. below sea level, and basically a salt lake. While walking out towards the mountains and the salt lake, I swear the mountains looked like they were getting further and further away! I would hate to be stuck out there, that’s for sure! I would get so lost! But we walked out pretty far where the salt was pure white. It was stunning and such a surreal place to see. And yes, it does taste like real salt. (Don’t ask how I know.)
Once we were done seeing this indescribable place, we drove North toward Natural Bridge.
In order to get here, you have to drive down a dirt, washboard road. So be prepared! We didn’t know about the drive until we turned onto the road. But if our Toyota Camry made it, and a low-riding BMW behind us, I think most cars could.
We hiked about 0.3 miles to the Natural Arch that makes you feel like you are in Utah. You can hike further in, but we decided against it. We just wanted to see the cool arch. It was almost like walking through slot canyons, but the sides weren’t that high. It was still really cool to see this hidden in the middle of the desert. Once we took our pictures, we walked back to the car and were off to another cool place!
Next up, Artist’s Drive. This is a one-way only drive and vehicles longer than 25 ft are not allowed due to how narrow the road is in some places. Please only drive in the correct direction. We were almost hit head-on because someone decided they wanted to turn around and go back the other direction. This is not allowed, obviously. There is only one lane going through the whole drive. The drive was extremely interesting. We saw gorgeous desert-mountain views. You can see from the pictures, it’s a very diverse place.
Toward the middle of the drive, there are amazing rocks that look painted but are actually naturally occurring colors on the rocks. I bet this would be a great place to see a sunset and watch the colors change with the sun!
Unfortunately, Golden Canyon was too crowded. We could not find a place to park, so we had to leave this one undone. From what I have read, it is a very easy hike into a pretty canyon. If anyone has done it, let me know what it’s like in the comments! If you ever go camping in Death Valley, this would be a cool one to see!
After all these adventures, it was back to camp for lunches. Our fast and yummy lunches included tuna sandwiches and PB&J. So exciting, right?!
We were supposed to take off from here and drive up to Ubehebe Crater. This would have taken the rest of the day to drive up there, hike and drive back. However, I had a really bad headache and started feeling awful. (Still can’t figure out why.) I was very disappointed we couldn’t make the crater, but B was very happy to not be driving. He was totally content with me napping and him reading his book.
Camp dinner: Spaghetti and green beans
This was a really easy dinner to make. We actually made the sauce at home before we left so we could add the Italian sausage to it and make it super easy. We stuck it in a Tupperware and brought it in the ice chest. Then all we had to do was boil water and cook the noodles. It was such an easy and great dinner to make. It would definitely be good for a family sized meal as well.
DAY 3: SAND DUNES AND LONE PINE
Camping in Death Valley was such an unexpected thing for me. The fantastic scenery and weather was just so calming and fun! I was somewhat disappointed, however, that we really had not seen any wildlife. Aren’t there supposed to be tons of animals out in the desert? Well we had not seen any, of course, until the last morning.
I was half asleep still in the tent when I heard a howling noise. At first I thought it was a dog, but then I sat up and listened. It was a coyote! I grabbed my jacket and pulled on my shoes to run outside and see where it was coming from. To the left of our tent was a big hill of dirt, and there he was just sitting on top howling for his friends. We could hear at least 3 of them howling from other directions in answer to his calls. It was so fun to sit and watch. My long lens of my camera captured some pictures as you can see.
So a coyote wake up call before sunrise was so cool to experience. We also watched sunrise from our campsite again since we wanted an early start to drive home. We loved camping in Death Valley!
Breakfast: KIND bars. The fastest, healthy thing I could find for when you are packing up camp!
~Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
So once we packed up camp, we took off to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. This would have been a great place for sunrise or sunset pictures! In fact, many people were coming back from their sunrise photo shoot set-up. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes looked like Morocco in America. It was so interesting to see massive sand dunes in the middle of mountains and rocks. I could just imagine Aladdin coming across the dunes with Genie and a camel! Haha. I’m a Disney addict so beware! I have lots of blog posts showing how much I love Disneyland!
So once we visited the “Aladdin” sand dunes, we started the drive home. We took highway 190 the whole way back until it reaches Lone Pine. Best views of my life! This was probably the best part about camping in Death Valley. I loved the views!
~Father Crowley Vista Point
Father Crowley Vista Point was a very pretty place for a quick stop to take some pictures. From here, you could see most of Death Valley below.
My absolute favorite part was coming out of the canyons, you drive through on highway 190 when the gorgeous Eastern Sierra Mountains come into view. Topped with snow and stretching as far North as I could see, these mountains almost brought me to tears. I have seen these mountains every summer since I was a baby, and yet have never seen them from this angle. Coming straight onto them is quite the experience.
Mt. Whitney is back there somewhere. Bishop is just a few hours north. Mammoth is up toward the far right of the pictures. And my beloved Yosemite and favorite campsite is back beyond those peaks. It was something special to see, let me tell you. Definitely worth camping in Death Valley to come home to these views!
Once we reached Lone Pine, we stopped at the Eastern Sierra Visitor’s Center. It is the gateway to the Eastern Sierras and they have magnets and t-shirts for so many places. Most of the souvenirs are for Mt. Whitney since it’s so close. But Death Valley has some stuff in there too in case Stovepipe Wells was closed when you left.
We ate lunch in Lone Pine at The Grill. They had really good burgers. We sat by the window and started out at Mt. Whitney. One day I will climb that mountain. But for today, I will just enjoy looking.
If you still had time and wanted something fun to do before heading home, you could drive about 20-30 mins up the hill to Whitney Portal. It’s a cool place to camp and they have a restaurant and gift shop. This is the place where people start their trek up Mt. Whitney. We were tired and needed to get home so we didn’t stop. Maybe one day we will camp there instead of camping in Death Valley.
We had so much fun camping in Death Valley! If you ever have the chance to do it once, I would definitely recommend it! It was such an interesting place. And there are so many more things to explore that the small amount we did. So let me know in the comments your favorite place to explore while you are camping in Death Valley!