Death Valley, California
Death Valley is a national park of superlatives. It’s the hottest and driest U.S. national park. It’s also as low as you can go in North America. Yet, the surrounding elevation is high: at 14,505 feet, nearby Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. So every road into Death Valley features incredible ups, downs and curves negotiating the dramatic terrain. There are numerous routes to follow. This drive enters the park from the southeast, where California highways 127 and 178 intersect. After dropping a few thousand feet to the valley floor on Highway 178, the road heads north past immense, shimmering salt flats. Soon there’s a pullout and parking area for Badwater Basin. At 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest point in North America. It’s worth following the short path into the salt flats. Covering nearly 200 square miles, they’re among the largest protected salt flats in the world. After leaving the sparkling white, it’s a riot of color as the road passes through a landscape of brown, yellow and red, with blue skies overhead. This particular video essay ends at the small community of Furnace Creek. Upcoming Wide Open Rides will feature other spectacular routes in Death Valley.
Keep in Mind
A full tank of gas, drinking water and snacks are essential. Death Valley is the largest U.S. national park outside Alaska and so distances can be vast. There are services inside the park providing lodging, food, groceries and gas. But fuel, in particular, is really expensive here and in communities just outside the park boundary. Gas and supplies are usually cheaper in towns like Olancha (westside) and Pahrump, Nevada (eastside).
Route & Map
Death Valley southeast entrance to Badwater Basin to Furnace Creek
2 hours with stops
Best Time to Visit
With daytime temperatures generally soaring well above 110° F, there’s no question that summer is the worst time to visit. And yet, there are a lot of people who go then just to experience some of the hottest temperatures on the planet. Fall, winter and spring are obviously much cooler.
Death Valley’s official website, maintained by the National Park Service, is a must-read before any visit. It gives the latest updates on critical information such as road closures, operating hours and wildflower blooming.