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There’s something life affirming about driving into a place called Death Valley, and kicking out the other side unscathed. Visiting Death Valley in the spring, when temperatures are a little cooler, is a great time to explore this region of relentless heat.

Death Valley, 3.2 million acres of US federally designated wilderness, is known for its climactic extremes. A a maximum temperature of 134F (57C) recorded on July 13, 1913 and the lowest place in North America, at -282ft below sea level in Badwater Basin, a dried up former lake reduced to salt flats. But before climate change deniers latch onto that 1913 statistic, in both 2020 and 2021, Death Valley reached an impressive 130F (54C), the 5th and 6th hottest days ever recorded on earth.

Almost uninhabitable, and definitely inhospitable at times, heat exhaustion is a real threat in the summer. There are countless stories of people who perish simply because their car became disabled in the vast uninhabited stretches of land outside cell service. Choosing to visit Death Valley in the spring, where cooler temperatures are more likely, is wise.

Death Valley in the Spring

Spring can be an ideal time to visit Death Valley. Moderate temperatures make it safer for hiking, and travel in general. Fewer crowds make for easier parking at trail heads, lookouts and attractions, plus the ability to secure accommodation with less advanced planning is enhanced. Desert creatures and animals are also more apt to be active and sited in the spring.

History of the park

Death Valley National Park was established on October 31, 1994. The very name evokes a harsh, hot and hellish region. But within the park you’ll find a lively show of water-sculpted canyons, sensuous sand dunes, extinct volcanic craters, palm oases and mountains rising to 11,000ft.

At the center of Death Valley’s commercial hub is Furnace Creek, offering a gas station, ATM, post office, restaurant, general store and lodging. There’s a small airstrip located west of park headquarters, and the village is surrounded by several National Park Service public campgrounds.

Furnace Creek was formerly the base for Pacific Coast Borax Company mining operations, and the historic 20 Mule Teams hauling wagon trains of borax across the Mojave Desert. Originally established as Greenland Ranch in 1883, named after the alfalfa fields planted there, it was renamed Furnace Creek in 1933.

The Timbisha tribe compose the majority of residents of Furnace Creek’s permanent population at the tribe’s reservation.

Music fans will relish a photo opp at Zabinskie Point, a stunning first stop when entering the park from the eastern gate. The lookout is the location where U2’s 1987 Joshua Tree black and white album cover was photographed. Be sure to line up like stoic Irish rockers, huddled to the left, staring down the camera, while your designated Bono stands back to the scenery for the shot. Then step back and really cast your gaze over the endless view of Death Valley.

Getting to Death Valley

There are two main entrances to Death Valley – east and west. The eastern entrance, accessible within a two hour drive (120 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada is by far the most well used. The western entrance, just south of Lone Pine, via Hwy 395 is the best option if approaching the park from the California coast.

Since cell service doesn’t exist in the park, it’s best to utilize a paper map, easily obtained at a visitor’s center when entering the park. Park rangers are also happy to mark up your map with suggested sites and activities, noting any current road restrictions or cautions. This is particularly important when traveling in the spring, since rainwater run off can cause damage to road banks and unsurfaced routes very quickly.

Park passes can be purchased at the park entrances. Vehicle passes are $30 per vehicle, and are valid for a 7-day period from time of purchase. Motorcycle passes are $15. An annual park pass is $55 valid for one year. In person purchase locations include: Furnace Creek Visitors Center, and the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station.

What to see?

The following are the must see locations in the park. We visited them during our spring in Death Valley tour – all very doable 2-day itinerary.

If you are entering from the West side, Father Crowley’s Vista Point and Rainbow Canyon are likely to be your first stop. If entering from the East side, you should stop at Zabriskie Point.

Rainbow Canyon & Father Crowley Vista Point

The canyon reveals layer upon layer of volcanic rock spewed across the rolling plain by lava flows, baked and oxidized by flowing water at the canyons floor. The top of each layer of sediments then “rusted” into colorful “rainbows” that contrast with the storm-cloud dark cliffs.

Rainbow Canyon is part of one of the largest military aircraft training areas in the US. Used since the 1930s for fighter jet flight training, military pilots use it for low level high speed navigation exercises. The canyon is actively used for military flight training, so be on the look and listen for approaching jets! Driving distance is 1.5 hrs from Furnace Creek, if approaching from the east.

Badwater Basin

The Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282ft below sea level. A short walk on the boardwalk takes you over the salt water flats, and a slightly longer 1-2 mile walk leads you to the surreal landscape of vast salt flats and salt polygons.

Zabriskie Point

This spectacular look out is a frequent first stop for those entering the park from the eastern entrance, or traveling in from Las Vegas. There is a paved path from the parking area to the viewpoint. From the lookout, the view is vast over the golden colored badlands. A spectacular spot for a sunrise, it was also the setting for the cover photo of U2’s 1987 album, Joshua Tree.

Artists Drive

This one-way road is a scenic loop drive through multi-hued hills. You can enjoy the views from your car, or make a short stop at Artists Palette to get out and take a few photos up close of the uniquely colored rock formations.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Quite outer worldly, these dunes stretch for miles over the Mesquite flats, with some windblown dunes rising nearly 100ft. Visitors are free to wander through the dunes. Best viewed at sunrise or sunset to get the casting shadows which accentuate the ridges of windblown sand, resembling rippled water. One of joys of spring in Death Valley, is to be able to walk among the sand dunes, and not feel instantly baked!

Dantes View

This breathtaking viewpoint is 5,475 ft above Death Valley. Vehicle length access is restricted to 25ft or less, due to the narrow and twisting road access.

Harmony Borax Works

Borax was one of the most profitable resources mined in the park. This preservation of the historic processing ruins and the original 20-mule team wagon to haul processed borax out to the coast is a definite must stop, to truly appreciate the history of the area.

Devils Golf Course

There’s not a patch of green to be seen, and no place to tee up, so don’t let the name fool you. But the spiky salt formations covering the valley are a curious site to both see and hear. We were fortunate enough to experience the area in the spring after a brief shower, and we could literally hear the salt formations building again towards a spiky finale, after being rounded off by water.


One of the joys of exploring spring in Death Valley is the ability to do day hikes. During the summer extreme heat makes hiking virtually impossible, or at the very least extremely dangerous due to heat exhaustion. If you are fitting everything into a 2-day itinerary, you will likely want to choose only one half day hike. But if your schedule allows a third day, toss in Mosaic Canyon, or drive up to the Ubehebe Crater, at the north end of the park, with a moderate trail leading around the crater.

Golden Canyon Trail

If you’re looking for a half day hike that captures many of the unique geological formations as well as a spectacular look out, be sure to do the Golden Canyon Trail. The hike to Red Cathedral lookout is accessed from Golden Canyon parking lot area. Doable on its own as a destination and return within 2 hours, you can also combine it with the Gowler Gulch Loop to Zabriskie Point via the 2.7 mile Badlands Loop (pg530 for more details). During the spring, and in particular a wet spring like 2023, some trail areas can be susceptible to wash outs. Very cool rock formations and colors! Zabriske Point looks out over parts of this trail, and the magically varied rock formations and colors. Trail access south of Furnace Creek, before Artists Palette Drive turn off.

Mosaic Canyon

This is another popular hiking area. The 4 mile in and out Mosaic Canyon trail weaves through polished marble walls carved from 750 million year old rocks. Trail access is via a 2.3 mile gravel access road just west of Stove-pipe Wells Village.

Ubehebe Crater

Roughly 2,000 years ago, rising magma came into contact with groundwater, resulting in a steam and gas explosion that formed this 600 ft crater. Driving distance is about 1 hour from Furnace Creek. Access is at the north side of the park, past Grapevine and Mesquite Spring. When we visited in the spring of 2023, roads were not open to the crater due to washouts. It’s best to check with park rangers about up to date road conditions, particularly in the sping.

Where to stay

Camping is plentiful in the park, but options within the park are limited, expensive, and often book up long in advance. Gateway towns offer a good base to drive in and out of the park daily. Beatty is 40 miles from Furnace Creek. Lone Pine is 40 miles from the parks eastern entrance. Death Valley Junction is 30 miles from Furnace Creek, Shoshone 60 miles and Tecopa 70 miles from Furnace Creek.

Trails Motel, 633 South Main Street, Lone Pine, CA

We stayed at Trails Motel in Lone Pine the day before entering the eastern side of the park. And then we stayed at Delights Hot Springs Resort in Tecopa, during our two day tour of the park. Lone Pine is a small quaint town with several restaurants, an old school hardware store, a grocery, and a couple outdoor gear provisioning stores.

Delights Hot Springs Resort, 368 Tecopa Hot Springs Rd, Tecopa, CA

Delights Hot Springs Resort has four private soaking pools, filled with water bubbling up from local mineral springs. There is also a communal pool and additional hot pools for soaking your hiking muscles under a big starry sky. The rooms are somewhat charm free, but equipped with kitchens, bathroom, and bedroom sitting area. No TVs, but when you’ve got star gazing to do from an outdoor mineral springs, that’s your entertainment. Day passes for the spring can also be purchased for $15 if you’re not staying there. The spa is open 8am – 10pm

What to bring?

What to bring for a spring in Death Valley tour, really depends on your planned activities and accommodations. If you plan to hike, hiking shoes or boots are recommended. Hiking poles would also be useful. A backpack, hat, water bottle, sunscreen, guidebook, map, and something warm if it gets windy. If you plan to stargaze at night, a tripod for night photography is recommended, as well as a portable chair and warm clothes and blanket, since the desperate heat of the dessert can turn quite cold once the sun goes down.  

Precautions when visiting Death Valley

Death Valley National Park is a massive landmass area, where it’s easy to misjudge the amount of time required to drive tour different areas. And although spring in Death Valley weather is certainly more hospitable than the virtually uninhabitable temperatures reach during the summer, it still commands respect.

Always enter the park with a full tank of gas, since there is nowhere to get fuel within the park. You must be prepared to fix your own flat tire if you venture off road. We heard stories of people walking for help after getting a flat, only to perish in the heat before being found.

Beware: No cell service!

There is no cell service within the park, so depending on a cell phone for emergency help is futile. Having a paper map is essential. Leave an itinerary and expected return with a responsible adult before venturing out. It goes without saying that having lots of fresh water is necessary. Park rangers recommend one gallon per person per day. Beyond the ranger stations at the park’s entrance, there is nowhere to get fresh water, so you must bring your own into the park.

Washouts and flooding are a real danger. Run off on trails in the spring can be particularly problematic. It’s best to check with park rangers for current conditions and warnings. It’s best to stay on only paved roads unless you have a 4 x 4 vehicle, but also be aware that becoming stuck can be catastrophic if you are in a remote area, far from help. Most rental car companies prohibit travel in off road areas for this reason, and levy hefty fines, in addition to towing costs, for those who challenge the policy.

Distances in general are huge between sites within the park, so be sure to allow ample travel time. The road in from Las Vegas to the eastern gate is much better paved than the western side. Shoulders are narrow and often have dirt or rocks from run off as hazards. Many corners are not banked, making navigating at speed a challenge, especially for motorcyclists.

More California travel inspiration and National Parks you can visit close to Las Vegas

Spring in Joshua Tree: A blooming good time to visit

A Harley Davidson Road Trip Out of San Diego

Is Angel’s Landing Really That Scary? (Zion National Park)

Bryce Canyon in One Day: Hikes and Sites not to Miss

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