The Death Valley Salt Flats is one of our favorite places to visit In California and among the top-rated national parks in the USA. The Death Valley Salt Flats is liked for its uniqueness, vastness, natural beauty, and solitude. As soon as you enter the Death Valley Salt Flats you are greeted with a huge lake that looks like snow but, since the area is a desert, it is not snow, instead, it is the leftover salt from the water that has evaporated, This gives you a truly unique experience. You can see the salt as far as your eyes can see.
The best thing is that the Death Valley Salt Flats is the location between Los Angeles and Las Vegas thus an amazing road trip if you will be driving between these two cities. The Death Valley is among the largest dark sky parks in the universe meaning its night sky is almost pristine giving perfect stargazing opportunities. With amazing sceneries, the Death Valley Salt Flats can be your dream trip.
1. History of the Death Valley Salt Flats
The Death Valley is home to the Timbisha people of Native Americans. They have occupied the valley for the past Millenium. The Timbisha name for this valley is Tumpisa, meaning “rock paint” and is derived from the red ochre paint that is made from the clay found in the valley. Death Valley is surrounded by two mountain ranges, the Amargosa Range to the east and the Panamint Range to the west. The towering Mountain ranges include Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the neighboring U.S. This creates a massive rain shadow limiting the Death Valley to 5 centimeters of precipitation annually.
The valley got its English name “Death Valley” in 1849 during the time of the Great California Gold Rush. It was named Death Valley by individuals and prospectors who tried to cross the valley heading to the goldfields. 13 pioneers succumbed from an early operation of wagon trains. The Death Valley National Monument was revealed on February 11, 1933, by President Herbert Hoover placing the area under federal protection. In 1994, this monument was redesignated as the Death Valley Park and was substantially expanded to accommodate both the Eureka and Saline Valleys.
FAQ’s About Death Valley Boondocking Tips
Question #1: How do I Find Boondocking Sites in Death Valley?
Answer: Dispersed (Backcountry) Camping is allowed one mile away from any developed area, paved road, or “day use only” area.
Question #2: Is There a Map of the Major Roads in Death Valley?
Answer: Yes, the National Park Service provides a Backcountry and Wilderness Access Map in pdf format. Click Here To Download The Map. This map provides information to help you access the backcountry safely while protecting this spectacular resource. For example, the map tells you if the road is okay for a low clearance vehicle, or whether you need a high clearance 4WD to attempt the road. Many of the roads listed have descriptions of the road and final destination to help you figure out where to go.
Question #3: Do I Need a Permit to Camp in Death Valley?
Answer: When spending the night in the backcountry, please fill out a voluntary overnight “Backcountry Permit” at Furnace Creek Visitor Center or Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station during open hours.
Question #4: Is There A Fee To Enter Death Valley?
Answer: Death Valley National Park is open every day of the year. Entrance fees vary. For $20, passengers in noncommercial vehicles (cars, trucks, and vans) can leave and re-enter the park as many times as they wish for a seven-day period. For $10, an individual traveling on foot, motorcycle or bicycle can do the same.
Question #5: Is There A Fee For Getting A Backcountry Permit For Death Valley?
Answer: No! Free voluntary permits for backcountry camping may be obtained online, or in person at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center or Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station during business hours. Solo hikers may want to provide additional information about plans and emergency contacts.
Question #6: Why Do I Need a Backcountry Permit for Death Valley?
Answer: Permits are highly recommended for all overnight Wilderness users. Filling out a permit provides them information in case of a search and rescue, and provides you with a handy list of rules you must follow while camping in Death Valley.
Submitting a permit with your trip itinerary WILL NOT initiate a search and rescue if you are overdue. Tell a friend or family member when you expect to return from the Wilderness/backcountry. They can contact Death Valley’s Emergency Dispatch at (760) 786-2330 if you do not return from your trip. Only one permit is needed per group.
2. How to Get To the Death Valley Salt Flats
If you are driving, the Death Valley Salt Flats is transected from the east to the west through California Highway 190. On the east in Nevada, the U.S. Route 95 is parallel to the Death Valley Salt Flats from north to south using connecting highways at the Scotty’s junction, Beatty Route 374, and the Lathrop Wells Route 373. South of this park. Interstate 15 passes via Baker, California from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. If you are traveling by Air, Las Vegas McCarran International Airport is the closest airport. It is 120 miles from the southeastern area of the Death Valley Salt Flats.
3. Costs and Camping For the Death Valley Salt Flats
The Death Valley National Park is open throughout the year. The entrance fee varies. Passengers using noncommercial vehicles are charged $20 and they can leave and also re-enter this park as they wish for seven days. Individuals traveling on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle are charged $10 per head and can do the same. Frequent visitors pay $40 to get the Death Valley Annual Pass and get unlimited non-commercial vehicle entry for one year. An adult is charged $11 while children are charged $6 for a guided living-history tour of the Scotty’s Castle.
Visitors with the desire to enjoy the perfect outdoors can experience the desert grandeur up close in the many public campgrounds in the Death Valley National Park or the backcountry. The Death Valley Salt Flats has nine public campgrounds and they vary in specific amenities, size, and price. Only one of the campgrounds take reservations while the rest work on a first-come-first-served basis. For the most adventurous visitors, the Death Valley gives 3.3 million acres of pristine desert wilderness great for backcountry camping. If you decide to use the public campgrounds, do so judiciously. Plan and enquire with a ranger since the desert conditions can be harsh.
The Death Valley Salt flats have more than 600 miles of back-country roads that are open to camping. You can obtain free permits for backcountry camping from a ranger station or at the visitor center. Due to the rough and dirty roads at the Death Valley Salt flats, backcountry roadside camping can only be accessed by visitors with 4-wheel-drive vehicles or high-clearance.
4. Places and Things to Do and See
There is a lot to do and places to visit in the Death Valley salt flat. Ensure that you have access to a vehicle so that you can cover a lot of ground. The area has a long list of attractions including a massive blast crater, sliding rocks, ghost towns, and other historical areas and points of interest. Below are some of the places that you should visit in the Death Valley National Park:
Any trip to the Death Valley Salt Flat without a visit to the ghost towns is not complete. The conditions of these towns’ ruins vary, but they act as a reminder of the Death Valley’s tumble mining and rough history. Any piece of rusting machinery or wood is a representation of the past. some of the ghost towns include Ballarat, Rhyolite, Leadfield, and more.
Scotty’s Castle Area
Visit the Scotty’s Castle, a stunning and exotic edifice rising from the dust just like a desert mirage. The castle takes the name from Walter Scott also known as “Death Valley Scotty”. Scotty’s Castle is one of the best places to escape the heat and learn more about the history of the Death Valley Salt Flat and it is the only mansion in the Death Valley.
Stovepipe Wells Area
You should not leave the Death Valley Salt Flat until you have explored the Mesquite Flat Dunes. They are tucked away in the northern side of the park and are nearly surrounded by mountains. The source of the sand is the cottonwood mountains lying to the north and the northwest.
5. Things to Do at the Death Valley Salt Flats
Regardless of the season, there is much to do at the Death Valley Salt Flat considering it is a 156-mile stretch between the mountain ranges. There are numerous historical and archeological treasures not forgetting the lowest point in North America.
If you would like to drive and enjoy the desert landscape and the unusual geology, then pack up your car. Enquire about the road conditions and the necessary directions. Carry a lot of water in case your vehicle breaks down.
Biking is allowed at the Death Valley Salt Flat and many riders enjoy the challenges of the rugged terrain and the sizzling temperatures. Remember to keep your bike on the roads that are used by autos. Do not take your bikes on cross country or hiking trails.
There is a wide variety of hiking options in the Death Valley Salt Flat and you can hike a trail through the flat salt pans and up to the rugged mountains and across a massive crater.
The Death Valley Salt Flat has nine camping grounds that vary in specific features, size, and price. There is unlimited backcountry camping for you.
Most visitors enjoy the beauty of the Death Valley Salt Flat from a saddle, but you can enjoy one or two-hour horseback riding.
6. Top Trails to Hike at the Death Valley Salt Flats
The key in the Death Valley Salt Flat is to use your limited time well and visiting the top trails attractions as in this article:
Ask yourself how low you can go. In the Death Valley Salt Flat you can drop as low as 282 feet below the sea level at Badwater Basin. This is the lowest point in the USA and North America in general. About 20 minutes south along Badwater road, is a 200-square mile area full of salt flats on the valley floor. You can access this area from the parking lot through an easy boardwalk path. There is only a small amount of water in this area thus possible to walk out on these salt flats.
Zabriskie Point at Sunrise
Even if you are not an early riser, drag yourself from your bed and get to the Zabriskie point for sunrise. The overlook is only six minutes from the historic Inn if you are driving. Moreover, you will not regret observing the first light of the day as it begins to light the amazing badlands below the point. During this time, the Panamint Range across this valley takes a red glow.
Ubehebe crater was formed approximately 2,100 years ago. After the big blast, smaller eruptions resulted, but the crater is quiet nowadays except fr the occasional gusty winds. The crater was initially 800 feet deep, but its 600 feet after rocks partially filled it.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
The Mesquite Sand Dunes rise to about 100 feet high and are photogenic at sunset or sunrise when light points up the patterns and ripples in the sand. This is a must-visit place for long-lasting memories.
7. How Much Time Do You Need For Your Visit?
Before deciding how much time you would spend in the Death Valley Salt Flat it is important to at least know that it is 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, 5 hours from Los Angeles, and 8 hours from San Francisco. It is not reasonable to spend less than a day in the area, but everyone has his/her plans and schedule.
Less Than a Day
There are several approaches, but the guidelines below are awesome:
Spend about 45 minutes in the visitor center and get oriented while seeing the park’s film and the exhibits. Drive to the Badwater Basin and enjoy the lowest point in North America. Turn around and take the Scenic Artist Drive and then head east and enjoy the views from Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.
One Long Day
With a full day, you can visit the places described above as well as other amazing areas. You can visit the Scotty’s Castle and the neighboring Ubehebe crater. From the crater, you can turn around and visit Furnace Creek.
Death Valley Salt Flats in Two Days
With two days in the park, you can visit all the places suggested above and have time to explore sights along your way including the Devils’ Golf Course as well as the Golden Canyon on your way to the Badwater.
Death Valley in Three Days
This is the best number of days to tour the Death Valley Salt Flat. This allows you to see most of the major sights and go for short walks as well. Typically the much needed time to explore the Death Valley Salt Flat is a minimum of three days.
8. Accommodations and Dining Near the Death Valley Salt Flats
There is a variety of accommodation and dining options beyond the Death Valley Salt Flat; within the park.
Furnace Creek Inn
The Inn Dining Room provides desert-themed dishes such as crispy cactus, rattlesnake empanadas, and more conventional options such as New York strip steak, lamb, and cumin-lime shrimp.
Furnace Creek Ranch
There are several dining areas on this Ranch including Forty-Niner Cafe, Wrangler Steakhouse, Wrangler Buffet, Corkscrew Saloon, and more.
Accommodation services are offered by the Furnace Creek Inn, Furnace Creek Ranch, Panamint Spring Resort, and Stovepipe Wells Village. All with amazing services that you mind find it hard to choose your option.
9. Best Time to Visit the Death Valley Salt Flats
The best time to travel to the Death Valley Salt Flats is either in spring when there are blooming wildflowers or in autumn when the skies are clear. Both seasons are associated with pleasant temperatures. The Winter months are colder but since the area is a desert, it is great in terms of weather and when it is least crowded. During summer, the region gets hot and this is the busiest time.
Regardless of the season, you can visit the Death Valley Salt Flats year-round. You just follow the tips to avoid when the area is most crowded in summer and understand what to do when the temperatures are extremely hot exceeding 46 degrees Celcius.
10. What to Pack For Your Visit To the Death Valley Salt Flats
Below is a basic packing list for your trip to the Death Valley Salt Flats:
Water. You should carry at least a gallon per head per day.
Food. You can carry more food than you think you will need or visit the dining areas in the region
Ice and ice chest. Since the area is a desert, you expect high temperatures during the day.
> Sunscreen and a sun hat
> Layers of light clothes
> First aid kit
> Sturdy footwear
> A camera
> Your smartphone or tablet
In conclusion, the Death Valley Salt Flats is an amazing place to visit. With vast numbers of archeological sites and historical scenarios, you are left with memories that do not fade. Having read through the article, you are in a better position to plan a successful trip to the Death Valley Salt Flats.