Thinking of an RV vacation or just a short road trip? This is a great place to start your planning. We will start with places we have personally visited but we welcome input from our readers.
If there's a particular destination you would like to recommend please send us an email with as much information as you can share. Pictures and reviews will be great. We will print as much as time and space allow. email
Please keep in mind, we will be putting this on the internet for all the world to see!!
Take a look at our "Where Are
We Now " pages. We'll be running pictures of places we've visited
that may be a little off the beaten path or maybe we just plain
forgot where it is. Can you tell us? Feel free to submit pictures
for inclusion on these pages.
Death Valley National Park, California
Well, I think it's pretty obvious the first two pictures weren't taken in Death Valley. We just included these to show the contrast in weather and what you might expect getting there in the winter or spring, then once you are there. We drove a couple hundred miles through the snow in central and southern Oregon on this trip (mid March 2012). Really, the weather was COLD and there was at least some snow almost all the way from Northwest Oregon to the edge of Death Valley. It didn't warm up until we were in Beatty, Nevada. The weather was pretty nice for most of our week long stay, only getting hot a couple days.
Be prepared for totally different weather in the different areas of the valley. This is a BIG place with BIG differences in altitude, and temperatures can easily vary by 30 degrees or more from Scotty's Castle at the north end to Bad Water Basin, almost at the south end. Some of the mountain passes (and campgrounds) are at high elevation and can be downright cold, even in the spring and fall.
Our plan for this trip was to ride our motorcycles (street bikes) in and around the park. We hauled them down in our small enclosed trailer. We could have easily spent another week exploring but unfortunately we needed to head back to work. The last day it was pretty warm (see the pic. above) and the wind kicked up. When you see WINDY in the weather forecast for Death Valley, they aren't kidding. Since it's such a dry area, windy means lots of dust so be prepared for that also.
And when you see HOT, believe it. Hot and dry is the key phrase here. A couple years ago we drove through Death Valley on our way back to Oregon from Moab Utah, the last week of September. When we went through Las Vegas it was around 80 degrees. By the time we got into Death Valley at Ashford Junction on Hwy 178 it was 105 F and never dropped below that until we got into the higher elevation close to Scotty's Castle. Our RV fridge really didn't like that.
Temperatures exceeding 100 degrees F are actually normal here for the spring and summer months, with daily highs averaging 115-116 in July and August. Daytime temps over 120 F are commonplace. Lows at night don't normally drop below 80 F from June - August.
Our "lodging" of choice on this trip was Sunset Campground, just across the highway from Furnace Creek Ranch. Furnace Creek Campground was closed until further notice for utilities repairs and Texas Spring was closed to RVs for the season. If you have an RV with a generator and plenty of fresh water capacity Sunset is not a bad choice. It's basically a big gravel campground with asphalt roads to drive on. For us it wasn't a problem. We drag race and the pits at most racetracks are laid out very much the same as this so we felt right at home.
The campground has decent
bathrooms, (which were clean) with running water and flush toilets,
plus RV dump facilities (also clean). There's a clean up area
outside one of the bathrooms with several sinks and some counter
space. We didn't ask about the purpose but people were doing dishes,
brushing their teeth and shaving, etc. That's a nice bonus feature
if you're in a tent or RV with limited facilities.
Texas Spring is just a few hundred feet up the paved access road from Sunset. It's mostly intended for tent campers, with a limited number of RV sites. The RV spots are only available through mid March, then it is tents only until it closes at the end of April. We never ventured up there, but it's another option in the Furnace Creek area.
Also, Furnace Creek Ranch has a very limited RV park. With all the roaming of the resort grounds we did, we never saw this facility. Maybe next time we'll check it out for you. If you've stayed in the RV park drop us a line with some info and your impressions.
There are a few other NPS campgrounds in the park to choose from and many of them are in cooler (higher) locations. Due to our street bikes we opted for Sunset because we didn't want to ride on gravel roads getting in and out of a campground. Since we'd been stuck in the cold, wet Oregon weather for almost 5 months we were looking forward to the "warm" dry change. Also, Furnace Creek is basically in the middle of the valley, so day rides north or south are practical.
Here's a chart showing all the NPS improved campgrounds in the park. Note that all of the lower elevation (read, HOT) campgrounds close the middle of April for the summer.
At Stovepipe Wells, in addition to the motel, there's also a 14 space "RV Park" with full hookups. It's just behind the General Store and basically just a separate section of the NPS campground, which is very much like Sunset Campground at Furnace Creek. If you want to run your air conditioner from shore power this would probably be the place. However, you might want to call ahead. We showed up on a Sunday afternoon and were told nothing was available for almost two weeks. Furnace Creek, here we come!
Furnace Creek Ranch also has motel like accommodations for the non RV crowd. The reviews we've seen would have us leaning toward our RV, but the resort in general was clean and well kept. If you need provisions there is a general store that has a little of everything. Water, spirits, a small produce section, a little ice cream, deli type sandwiches, the typical tourist trap clothing and lots of trinkets are all available at a premium price.
Furnace Creek Inn, up on the hill, has a hotel and restaurant. This is VERY high end. We ate at the restaurant one night and were a little out of our comfort zone. The food (and presentation) were both good but just a little above our pay grade, so to speak. That said, we're glad we did. The atmosphere was nice and the employees very professional, just a little "stiff". Reservations are an absolute MUST at the restaurant. Our reservations were right at opening time (5;30 PM) and even though the dining room was less than 1/4 full we saw a family of 4 without reservations turned away. Call ahead!
You may have read other places on the internet that fuel is expensive here. They weren't lying! We stumbled on to the cheapest fuel we've seen in a long time just outside the park in Beatty Nevada, the last little town on your way in from the east side. We filled up our truck with diesel @ $3.99 then drove to Furnace Creek where the diesel at the Chevron (only game in town) was $5.74. Premium gas was $6.05!
There IS one thing here that's actually FREE. The Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch didn't cost us a dime to wander around. We enjoy the history and old west type atmosphere so it was right up our alley. Free is a very good price!
Then of course there's the Furnace Creek golf course, dotted with date palm trees. Yeah, really! We don't play golf but there's a nice trail along the south edge of the course that goes back to a nice little raised deck with some seating overlooking the million watt solar array that powers most of the area. Due to all the trees and green grass it was noticeably cooler than our campground. While we were hanging out at the back of the park we were visited by a pack (well, 4 anyway) of coyotes. This was broad daylight mind you. They were not afraid of the humans and were content to eat the dates lying all over the golf course. Be that as it may, if you have small pets or really small children, keep a close eye on them. There were also at least a couple coyotes wandering the grounds at Scotty's Castle. Don't be fooled by their apparent tame nature, these are NOT house pets! Keep your distance.
Many of the side trips like the "Racetrack" require driving on dirt and gravel roads. Some of these are a little challenging for your grocery getter and can require 4 wheel drive, high ground clearance and off road tires in good shape. If you don't own one of these vehicles all is not lost. You can rent a Jeep that's been prepared for this purpose right across the highway from Furnace Creek Inn. These are nice, new vehicles and the price we were quoted seemed very reasonable. However, at least one of the major insurance companies will not cover this activity so do some homework here. Again, ask the rental place, they'll clue you in on this situation. The Jeep rental place also runs a general towing service so if you need your car towed in Death Valley they're probably the people to call.
Here are a few useful phone numbers:
Creek Visitor Center (NPS)
There are so many places to see and things to do in Death Valley we can't condense it down to just one page. Take a look at some of the pics we've included and check back, we'll be adding more pages. The next installment is on Scotty's Castle. We've been there a few times and have lots of pictures. We did the inside (house) and also the underground tour on this trip. It's a very interesting place, see the link below.