Complete Guide to Camping in Death Valley National Park

Camping in Death Valley National Park is certainly not for those faint of heart and forgetful of bottled water. But as harsh and unforgiving as this place can be, if you approach it respectfully, you can have one of the best camping experiences of your life here.

There is hot sand, little-to-no water, cracked mud and tumbleweeds, and not much else for miles. Other than a chipmunk or two, a curious gopher looking for a root of a low-growing plant, or a bighorn sheep looking at you askew from a distance with its horizontally flattened eye.

Overview of Death Valley National Park Camping

Speaking of cracked mud and arid terrain, how about an ancient lake entirely scorched by the sun with only its solidified salt base layer testifying its former role as a body of water? Over thousands of years, it has slowly eroded this lake into a barren valley. The lowest point in the US at 282 ft below sea level, Badwater Basin, is where you can see mother nature’s true might.

Add to that that Death Valley receives less rainfall than even the Sahara Desert, and you can see why this place earned its ghastly name.

Not all is barren terrain and struggle in these parts, though. 

For all its lack of water and the summertime temperature averaging 115 degrees Fahrenheit, Death Valley is also well-known for its scenic dunes and landscapes rich with tumbleweeds. Endless rock formations with only an occasional deep-rooted plant break the otherwise beige and orange color patterns.

Then there are innumerous sandy hillocks, inviting hiking trails leading through parched and narrow mountain passes.

This place has an otherworldly, alien appearance and atmosphere, so it’s no wonder it served as a filming location for movie classics. These include Star Wars, Blade, and even the 1883’s hit comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Death Valley National Park Developed Campgrounds

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley’s vast ‘campable’ expanse of land has twelve developed campgrounds. The number of different amenities tends to vary between campgrounds, with some offering elaborate RV hookups and accommodations. In contrast, others give more of a bare-bones camping experience.

Typically, most of these campgrounds are approachable by RVs, with a set number of camping spots dedicated to tents. The sizes of these places also vary. From small, private ones suitable exclusively for tenting to the large ones with over 200 sites, RV full-timers and tent campers are welcome.

The great news is that there’s something here for everyone, so whether you’re into tenting or RVing, you’ll find a suitable camping spot. As far as booking a site is concerned, some of the campsites are first come, first served, while others require reservations in advance. Here’s the list of the twelve developed campgrounds in more detail:

Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek
  • Number of campsites: 136 (18 of these feature RV hookups)
  • Season: Year round
  • Charge: $22 a night for a tent site | $36 a night for an entire hookup RV site | $35-$50 a night for groups
  • RVs: Yes
  • Reservations: Available October 15th through April 15th

It’s hard to imagine a name more appropriate for a campground in Death Valley than Furnace Creek. As a gateway to Death Valley National Park, Furnace Creek has served as an entrance to a world of ancient dunes, rock formations unaltered by human hand, and more broadly – as a testament to what the tooth of time combined with the scorching sun can do to an area.

Some curiosities around these parts that I must mention include Desolation Canyon and Twenty Mule Team Canyon.

This campground is right at the official Furnace Creek Visitor Center. In case you want to gather some info before setting off on a Death Valley camping tour – picking Furnace Creek as the starting point can be a great idea.

Regarding vehicles, this campground is RV-friendly, with 18 of its 136 sites featuring a full RV hookup. The spots that are the broadest and, thus, the best for RVs are the ones closest to the visitor center. Farther from the center are several interconnected roads with pull outs more suitable for tents.

Other valuable amenities at this place include picnic tables, flush toilets, fire pits, and a steady potable water source. For RVs, there is an RV dump station, as well as a generator. If you need more advanced amenities such as laundry and shower services – the nearby Oasis at Death Valley can be a great free solution. 

Furnace Creek campground is open all year round, but from October 15th to April 15th, you will need to book a site in advance. During the off-season, though, this campground is first-come, first served.

Sunset Campground

Sunset Campground
  • Number of campsites: 270
  • Season: October 14th through April 18th
  • Charge: $14 a night  
  • RVs: Yes (no hookups available, though)
  • Reservations: First-come first-served

The season on Sunset campground starts October 14th at noon. At that time, you will find here little to no plant life, a likewise meager fauna composed of a gritty squirrel or two stubbornly braving the heat, but otherwise, an area with some of the most fantastic scenery on Earth.

Suppose you take the Furnace Creek Visitor Center as a pivot point. In that case, Sunset campground is precisely opposite the Furnace Creek campground – perhaps slightly farther away. For this reason, you get all the advantages of camping at Furnace Creek by hopping off to the visitor center for more info.

At the same time, Sunset campground is significantly larger, less busy, and less expensive. At $14 a night, you can come here on foot, on a horse, by an RV, driving an RV with a horse in it – you name it. The flip side is, though – there are no RV hookups here, so pack all the bells and whistles you want in your RV’s boot.

There are 230 sites here, and they are all available with no reservations on a first-come-first-served principle. The camping season here is active from late fall to spring, and there is a potable water source and dump stations at this campground.

There are no picnic tables or fire rings here, but you can get your gas-burning stove with you if you own one. Personal fire grates or charcoal grills are not allowed.

Emigrant Campground

Emigrant Campground
  • Number of campsites: 10
  • Season: Year round
  • Charge: Free
  • RVs: No
  • Reservations: First-come first-served 

Emigrant Campground can be an excellent vantage point from which you can easily access other points of interest in Death Valley.

Access to this campground is free but relatively small, with only ten sites available. Each location features a picnic table and access to potable water and flush toilets. This place is only suitable for tents.

The convenient thing about Emigrant Campground is its proximity to Highway 190. If you need more complex services or amenities, getting on the Highway and heading for Stovepipe Wells will be a piece of cake. In this village, there’s a gas station and a general convenience store where you can restock your supplies. (By the way, the Emigrant campground to Stovepipe Wells is a ten-minute drive top.

Texas Springs Campground

Texas Springs Campground
  • Number of campsites: 92 (26 tent-only)
  • Season: October 15th through April 18th  
  • Charge: $16 a night
  • RVs: Yes, but no hookups are available
  • Reservations: First-come first-served 

The third member of the Furnace Creek quartet, the Texas Springs campground is close to Furnace Creek itself and Sunset campground. As such, it is also close to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. It is at the center that you can get all the necessary supplies and equipment during your stay.

Perhaps the biggest attraction outside of camping close to this campground would be the Texas Springs Trail. This relatively short route takes under an hour to complete in normal conditions. Dogs aren’t allowed here, and this trail has an entrance fee.

Compared to the other two Furnace Creek campgrounds, Texas Springs is set at a higher altitude, making it appear more secluded and private. Potable water, picnic tables, fire rings, and flush toilets are available.

If you want to visit this campground with an RV, be warned that using generators is not allowed. Even though there are no RV hookups here, there’s plenty of space. With 92 campsites (26 tent-only), you will have no trouble finding a suitable camping spot for your vehicle and other equipment.

Last but not least, it might be a good idea to get here early since this campground operates on the first-come-first-served principle. 

Thorndike Campground 

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
Photo by LHOON via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Number of campsites: 6
  • Season: Late spring through fall  
  • Charge: Free
  • RVs: Yes, but no hookups are available
  • Reservations: First-come first-served 

If you think the name Thorndike would fit a wild and remote place with little to no amenities, you can imagine what the Thorndike campground will be like when you get there.

Far from barren, this campground still is not for those faint of heart and without a high-clearance vehicle. (Preferably a 4×4 as well.)

This campground is relatively small, with only six sites. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in the unique atmosphere you get at this high place in the middle of a central desert. The sites are relatively secluded and private, giving you more of a tranquil setting in an otherwise harsh and unforgiving Mojave. The temperature is slightly lower here than in the valley.

The late 19th-century miners thought this place was unique, too. For this reason, the old Modock Consolidated Mining Company built ten large charcoal furnaces, which are nowadays a major tourist attraction known as Wildrose Charcoal Kilns.

Although RV-wise, this campground is RV-friendly, approaching it with a rig over 25 ft long is prohibited. (And it would not be easy to pull off.) There is no potable water source, so bringing your supply is necessary.

Thorndike Campground is open from late spring through fall. For more precise info about operating seasons & hours, visit the official Thorndike campground webpage.

Fiddler’s Campground

Furnace Creek in Death Valley
  • Number of campsites: 35
  • Season: Late spring through fall  
  • Charge: $24 a night
  • RVs: Yes (no hookups available)  
  • Reservations: Booking recommended (make a reservation here)   

Representing one of the rare oases in Death Valley, the Fiddler’s Campground is the fourth camping area set within Furnace Creek. This campground is private property and rests within the Oasis at Death Valley, which offers various facilities and amenities.

Given the sheer number of bells and whistles you get in this area, $24 a night seems pretty good of a deal. There are 35 sites with a restaurant and hotel nearby, making this place more akin to a glamping location than a standard designated camping spot.

The additional sporting facilities in this area include, among others, basketball and tennis courts, a bocce ball playing field, as well as the well-known Furnace Creek Golf Course. After you’ve had your fill of sporting activities, you can also use the pool, with hot showers available.

Regarding space, their sites are close to each other. Still, the large shade trees here offer excellent protection against the blazing sun.

There are some fantastic dispersed camping spots both within the National Park and just outside of it. Combining these two camping solutions can be a great way to get the best of both worlds in terms of the camping experience.

Mesquite Spring Campground

Scotty's Castle
  • Number of campsites: 40
  • Season: Year round  
  • Charge: $14 a night
  • RVs: Yes (no hookups available)  
  • Reservations: First-come, first-served  

Located in the northern section of Death Valley National Park, this campground is in the vicinity of some of the most notable tourist attractions of the entire Death Valley. Unfortunately, the 2015 floods severely damaged Scotty’s Castle. Today, the excursions to this castle remain one of the most sought-after Death Valley tours, with droves of curious visitors eager to see the ongoing restoration efforts.

This area’s sightseeing worth doesn’t expire with Scotty’s Castle. The otherworldly Ubehebe Crater remains a testament to how there’s barely a structure a human can muster that can come close to the beauty that might and whim of nature can create.

There are 40 campsites in this area, suitable for both tenting and RV rigs. Although this campground has virtually no shade, its vertical elevation of 1,800 feet keeps the temperatures reasonably low.

Regarding amenities, you can count on picnic tables and fire grates on each site. Also, there is an RV dump station nearby.

Panamint Springs Camping

Father Crowley Vista Point
Photo by daveynin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Number of campsites: 54
  • Season: Year round  
  • Charge: $10 – $40 a night (depending on the site
  • RVs: Yes (with full hookups)
  • Reservations: Booking recommended

Representing the westernmost camping outpost in Death Valley, Panamint Springs is a privately-owned campground that occupies an exciting spot on the map of the Mojave.

If you’re looking for a place to lay your head after the long drive from western California, this place will likely be one of the first campgrounds you’ll encounter. Also, there is a special place in the proximity of this campground that you might want to visit.

The Father Crowley Vista Point represents a notable curiosity and natural beauty site of these parts.

At this place, you can capture Nat. Geo-worthy photos, set up a tent nearby, or admire the breathtaking yet tranquil scenery the way the old reverend did back in the day.

Fifty-four sites on this campground, most of them equipped with a fire ring and a picnic table. You can get here by an RV, and there are 22 sites dedicated to this type of camping. (There are six full-hookup RV sites.) The rest are tenting sites.

Panamint Springs campground is a part of Panamint Springs Resort. This small rustic retreat offers its visitors lodging, RV services, a restaurant and bar, a gas station and a general store.

Thanks to the visitor frequency, it is recommended to make a reservation before you get here.

Mahogany Flat Campground

Telescope Peak
  • Number of campsites: 10
  • Season: Late spring to fall
  • Charge: Free
  • RVs: Yes (no hookups available); Vehicles longer than 25 ft cannot access this place
  • Reservations: First-come, first-served

Suppose you’re looking for a camping experience that combines fantastic off-roading and tenting. In that case, the Mahogany Flat campground can be just the thing for you. Located at the very end of a rough dirt road complete with sharp gravel and small boulders, you can enjoy some well-shaded sites once you reach this campground.

Each camping spot has a fire ring and a picnic table, but there is no potable water source. So, pitching a tent on one of these campsites means bringing your potable water.

Once you’ve made your encampment at this campground, you might want to check out the nearby trail called Telescope Peak. This fantastic trail can add a touch of adventure and some altitude to your stay there. You can both cool off and catch some truly spectacular scenery of the valley below. 

Wildrose Campground

Wildrose Peak
  • Number of campsites: 23
  • Season: Year round
  • Charge: Free
  • RVs: Yes (no hookups available); Vehicles longer than 25 ft cannot access this place
  • Reservations: First-come, first-served

Representing one of the rare Death Valley camping locations open throughout summer, Wildrose campground can be an excellent choice for high-elevation camping. Also, add to that some superb mountain trekking and hiking opportunities.

With its location high in the Panamint Mountains, at an elevation of 4,100 ft above sea level, setting up a tent at this campground offers fantastic stargazing potential. Also, it is an excellent starting point where you can prepare to take on a rather great trail to the very top of Wildrose Peak.

Due to its vertical elevation, this area is prone to high winds, so be prepared to seek shelter in your tent during the night if the weather gets rough. The road leading up to it is gravel and pointy rocks, so a high-clearance vehicle (a 4×4, preferably) is a good idea. No hookups are available at this place.

The campsites pepper the hillside; each site comes with fire rings and picnic tables. You can get here on foot or in an RV (though the vehicle shouldn’t be longer than 25 feet), and there is potable water on site.

However, besides these basic amenities, there’s not much else around these parts, and the closest civilization is miles away. So, arriving here well-stocked on food and water is a definite must.  

Stovepipe Wells Campground

Stovepipe Wells
  • Number of campsites: 190 (28 are tent-only)
  • Season: October 15th to April 15th 
  • Charge: $14 a night
  • RVs: Yes (no hookups available); Vehicles longer than 30 feet cannot access this place
  • Reservations: First-come, first-served

A massive campground that offers both tenting and RV-ing options and 190 individual sites, Stovepipe Wells is located a mere short 30-minute drive from the Furnace Creek campground.

The concept of this campground is quite simple. It’s a large flat parking area with gravel, small boulders, and more than enough space for your tents, camping chairs, RVs and other vehicles and equipment. At the same time, this also means little to no privacy, as this is not a particularly secluded area. Only 28 of the 190 sites are dedicated to tenting.

Arriving here early during the season is the best way to secure a spot you like. There’s an entrance fee of $14 for a night at this campground, but the entire area functions on a first-come, first-served basis. In terms of the operating season, this place is functional from October 15th to April 15th every year.

You will find a couple of picnic tables and fire rings on this campground, but not every site features them. Potable water is readily available, and dump stations are nearby, too. 

Stovepipe Wells RV Park

Sunset at Stovepipe Wells
  • Number of campsites: 14
  • Season: Year round 
  • Charge: $40 a night
  • RVs: Yes (full hookups available)
  • Reservations: First-come, first-served

Located on the opposite side of the Highway from the Stovepipe Wells campground from one entry above, this park is dedicated exclusively to RVs, as its name suggests.

This place rests in the very heart of Death Valley. As such, it represents a great vantage point from which you can visit incredible places. You can count on the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the entire Furnace Creek area, and all it offers.

It’s worth mentioning that the folks at Stovepipe Wells Village run this park. There are some adjacent facilities, such as a gas station, a hotel, and a restaurant. Thanks to these, you will not have any issues with supplies, even if you forget to bring your stock.

The Stovepipe Wells RV Park is not that large and has only 14 sites. That said, all 14 have their hookup station. You don’t have to have a reservation to camp here, but it might be a good idea to book a site in advance due to the large volume of campers that frequent this place.

Last but not least, at $40 a night, you get a glamping experience in the heart of Death Valley. You are even entitled to the Stovepipe Village Wi-Fi and swimming pools if you camp at their RV park, which is pretty neat.

Death Valley Dispersed Camping

Female Camper in Death Valley

In a region that’s as devoid of food, water, and shelter as Death Valley but beautiful and fascinating beyond comparison, camping is an activity that can be challenging but also immensely rewarding.

There are two practical approaches to camping around these parts – developed campgrounds and dispersed campgrounds. Developed campgrounds offer you some amenities and a secure place to park your RV or pitch your tent. On the other hand, dispersed camping gets you as close to wilderness and nature as possible.

Now, Death Valley camping does tend to be rather strictly regulated due to its exceedingly high temperatures. There are still some pretty excellent locations available, some of the best dispersed camping spots in California.

Here are the most notable authorities overseeing land in and around Death Valley suitable for dispersed camping:

Death Valley National Park – The land within the boundaries of Death Valley is subject to Death Valley National Park authorities. They also oversee most of the developed campgrounds (except those that are private property) and the dispersed ones. They are in charge of opening and closing the camping season, issuing warnings regarding extreme temperatures and other weather-related news. Also, there’s information about wildlife and current camping rules.

US National Forest Service – Just north of Death Valley, there is the White Mountain Wilderness Study area and Inyo National Forest. These two represent two regions where dispersed camping is possible. These are not strictly within the Death Valley National Park. However, they can be an exciting starting place in case you want to acclimate yourself to camping in the National Park later on.

Bureau of Land Management – The folks from the USFS oversee the northern part. At the same time, the BLM manages most of the land surrounding Death Valley National Park. If you’re familiar with dispersed camping, you have probably already come across this organization. Still, if you haven’t, you can learn about their rules for dispersed camping on their website.

For the most part, dispersed camping in Death Valley National Park is allowed along dirt and gravel roads in the outback, where there aren’t many visitors.

Important notice before I continue: Some locations suitable for dispersed camping in Death Valley require a special backcountry use permit. The others don’t. To be safe, it’s a good idea to get yours.

These permits are free and will help the local authorities understand your reasons for staying in areas considered secluded and with little to no facilities or tourist points of interest. (Exactly what makes them fantastic for dispersed camping, of course.)

Dispersed camping represents the rawest, most challenging, and most genuine way to get in touch with the surrounding nature, no matter how hot the sun is.

With the appropriate equipment and some self-sufficiency, dispersed camping can give you a feeling that any other form of camping can scarcely replicate. Also, it’s essential to follow the instructions and directives of the Death Valley National Park authorities at all times.

Echo Canyon Road Dispersed Camping

Echo Canyon
  • Map
  • Toilets: No
  • Water: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

The Echo Canyon Road is in the center of Death Valley. It has earned its name appropriately for being an ample open space where sounds travel far and come back with a vengeance.

Similarly to many other campgrounds, this Echo Canyon is located near Furnace Creek, as this area is just south of it.

Despite its centralized location within the road, this road is not easy to navigate.

Thanks to the rather hilly terrain and the rough, gravel-based driving surface, tackling this road should only be attempted by a high-clearance vehicle – ideally, a 4×4 off-roader.

In addition to approaching this road in an appropriately robust vehicle, having some driving experience is a plus.

The crowds around these parts aren’t that large. There’s no water or restrooms here either. Suppose you approach this camping area respectfully and bring all the necessary supplies (especially potable water). In that case, you’ll have a blast.

Hole in the Wall Dispersed Camping

Hole in the Wall
  • Map
  • Toilets: No
  • Water: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

Representing another noteworthy free campground south of the famous Echo Canyon Road, this place represents a fantastic roadside camping opportunity. It can give you an authentic desert camping experience without having to venture too deep into the unknown dangerous expanses of scorched salt and cracked ground.

If you wonder how this place earned its name, it has to do with the fact that there is a 400-ft deep gap in the otherwise hole-free ridgeline.

Due to the relatively short gravel road leading to this place, it will be challenging to approach it with an RV. Getting here with a 4×4 high-clearance vehicle is a great idea to avoid flat tires and other difficulties connected with a particularly bumpy ride.

Once you reach the campsites, however, you will be rewarded with fantastic beige scenery and ancient rock formations that haven’t changed since the Jurassic period.

The weather here is hot as everywhere else. Still, the atmosphere is relatively peaceful, with little to disturb the daytime heat other than an occasional tumbleweed and a bird or two landing on a small cactus with a flower growing out of it.

The only remotely tumultuous part of this camping area would be the nighttime. Fierce gusts of unrelenting wind can be pretty violent. So ensuring you’re safely tucked in your tent before nightfall sets would be the best safety precaution you can undertake.

Racetrack Road Dispersed Camping 

Racetrack, Death Valley
  • Map 
  • Toilets: No
  • Water: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

Representing one of the most rugged roads in all of Death Valley, the cheekily-named Racetrack Road is notorious for ripping through the tires of unsuspecting four-wheelers.

If you’re getting to this place in a vehicle, making sure it’s a durable, high-clearance 4×4 is very important. Approaching this area in a family car, a sedan, or an RV is not a good idea. The road is rough, and the lakebed is the last place you want to be driving such a vehicle. For this reason, the authorities strongly prohibit driving on any surface in Death Valley that’s not a designated road.

This area is an ancient dried-up lake with vast layers of solidified salt. What makes it particularly interesting, though, is the bizarre phenomenon of moving rocks, which surprises visitors today.

Be prepared to bring food, water, and shelter because you won’t find any at the campsites.

Warm Springs Canyon Road Dispersed Camping 

Rock Formations in Death Valley
  • Map
  • Toilets: No
  • Water: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

Since most backroads in and around Death Valley National Park require high-clearance 4×4 vehicles, if you don’t own one, you’ll love to hear about Warm Springs Canyon Road.

This backroad is not nearly as tire-puncturing rough as many other roads, and it has some great pullouts where you can pitch your tent.

You won’t find many amenities, such as drinking water or shelter. Still, you will probably have a more private camping experience thanks to the low frequency of visitors to this area.

Last but not least, even though this camping location is not as close to the hub of events at Furnace Creek, getting there is still a pretty short drive. So, even if you run out of supplies, getting some will require only a little bit of Diezel and navigating some dirt roads until you get to the Highway.

If you like camping in the desert, check out our pick for the best dispersed camping spots in Moab and our ultimate guide to free camping in Joshua Tree.

When to Camp in Death Valley

Regarding camping areas, Death Valley is one of the hottest destinations on Earth. With median summer temperatures reaching 113 degrees Fahrenheit, finding a drier and hotter place would be a good challenge.

Certain parts of Death Valley are notably below sea level, but this region is not without its mountains. This altitudinal diversity makes camping in Death Valley possible all year round.

Now, for the most part, Death Valley camping spots are open during the winter, when the heat is considerably more bearable compared to summertime. On the other hand, some campgrounds, especially those high in the mountains, are available even during the summer.

Here are some essential takeaways regarding winter and summer camping around these parts.

Wintertime Camping in Death Valley

Death Valley in Winter

If you entirely justifiably associate the word ‘winter’ with mistletoe, presents, and snow, in Death Valley, winter means something different.

Generally, winter around these parts could be summed up in words ‘not as horrendously hot as during the summer. Winter camping in Death Valley still means bringing along plenty of bottled water and other ways to keep yourself calm and hydrated.

Most of the camping spots in Death Valley are open during winter, with the visitor season-ending somewhere in early spring. Typically, mid-October to mid-April seems to be the peak months for Death Valley camping.

If you’d rather go camping somewhere where the weather is less harsh year-round, check out our list of the best free campsites in Big Sur and our list of the best dispersed campsites near Kern River, California as well.

Summertime Death Valley Camping

Death Valley in summer

When it comes to camping in the Death Valley National Park during the summer months, the word of advice is – to seek higher ground.

Once the snow has melted on the mountain peaks and the high trails have dried up, the temperature tends to be much more manageable than in the valley come summer.

For this reason, if you want to camp in Death Valley during the summer, consider visiting places such as Wildrose Campground, Mahogany Flat Campground, or Wildrose Campground.

If you love exploring Californian national parks, see our list of the best dispersed campsites near Yosemite National Park as well.

Conclusion 

Dunes, the likes of which you’d struggle to find in Africa, mountains with steep and craggy gravel trails with pointy rocks, boulders, and gophers poking around for sustenance and watching out for mountain lions peeking around the corner. Then the vast fields of salt-scorched Earth and cracked mud with nothing but a tumbleweed or two to remind you that life still exists here other than sun-creamed tourists.

Whether you like deserts or are a camping enthusiast or an appreciator of such masterpieces as National Lampoon’s Vacation and The Star Wars, Death Valley will have something in store for you.

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