Destination: Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park
On my last post I talked about Yosemite, but this week we’re looking at a very different kind of national park, Death Valley. Death Valley is hottest, driest and lowest national park in the U.S. and sounds grim and uninviting. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Death Valley National Park is probably one of my top favorite national parks because of the beautiful desert landscapes as well as all the historical exhibits of the Old West that can be found there. In fact, there’s so much to do and see there that I would love to take another Airstream road trip out there some day.
From our garage in San Jose, Death Valley National Park is about an 8 hour drive. So we suggest splitting the drive across 2 days with a pit stop on the first day at Bakersfield, which is what we did. Bakersfield is about 4 hour drive from San Jose, and that is probably the max amount of hours you want to tow, especially if it’s your first time towing an Airstream. We stayed at Bakersfield River Run RV park, which is your standard suburban RV park with full hook-ups. Nothing particularly exciting about this RV park, but at least you can take long hot showers, send some last minute emails, unhitch to get gas in the truck, and organize your Airstream in preparation for some dry-camping at Death Valley.
From Bakersfield to Death Valley is another 4 hour drive, and we suggest taking the CA-58 to the US 395N and then down the 190E. We recommend avoiding the 178E route from Bakersfield because the 190E west of Panamint Springs is very narrow and windy with a steep grade going down hill. This is the link to our recommended route.
Glamping at Death Valley
Death Valley has a lot of campsite options for RV’ers though most of the campsites cannot be reserved. Here are all the campgrounds at Death Valley. As you can see most campgrounds are only open Fall to Spring so as to avoid the the hottest times of the year. We happened to go in October, and so we stayed at Furnace Creek, which is one of the few year-around campgrounds. Furnace Creek is also the only campground with partial hook-ups with electric and water sources, but there are only 18 sites with hook-ups. Furnace Creek is also the only campground that takes reservations.
However, there are so many other campsites that Death Valley is rarely booked to capacity so you will probably be fine on a first-come-first-serve basis. It is also important to note that Texas Springs is the only campground that prohibits generators (and believe me you will probably want to rent one of our generators when glamping at Death Valley because it gets H-O-T!). The main campgrounds also all have a dumping station (with access to water to refill your fresh water tanks), which you will want to take advantage of if Death Valley is just one of your stops on your Airstream road trip (if you’re only staying at Death Valley and coming back, then you don’t have to worry about it since dumping tanks is included in the trip price).
What to do there
Pictures above are of Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. From the parking lot, if you look up about 300 ft, you can see where they marked where sea level is on the rock face. Badwater Basin itself is a salt flat that you can walk on and feel as if you’re on another planet.
Other spectacular sites are Zabriskie Point (pictured at the very top of the post and right below) where you can do a short hike and great for sunrises and sunsets, Dante’s View where you can see both the highest and lowest points of North America in one spot (on a clear day), and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where you feel like you’re somewhere in the Sahara.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes:
I also enjoyed the historical exhibits at Death Valley including the still running Furnace Creek Inn, built in 1927, which has that old-timey glamour. I also enjoyed exploring the Harmony Borax Works, famous for the 20-mule team used to transport the borax.
We also took a 45 minute drive (from Furnace Creek campground) to Rhyolite, a ghost town just across the Cali-Nevada border. I love a good Wild West ghost town and old Union Pacific Rail cars, so this trip was especially fun for me.
Things that we missed and are on our list for our next visit include Devil’s Gold Course and Artist’s Drive. See the full list of must-see places here.
Where to go next from Death Valley
If you’re planning for an Airstream trip for about 4-5 days I recommend spending that time solely for Death Valley. But if you plan to do a longer road trip then I recommend either going up the US-395 (which is gorgeous) and spending time at Alabama Hills, June Lake, going to Yosemite (through the east entrance, summer time only), or going up to Lake Tahoe (we loved Silver Lake) and cutting back through the mountains to come back to San Jose. If you have another 4 days and want to see a very different but equally stunning national park, then Zion National Park is 4.5 hours away. Or if you want to come back through Barstow, you can hit up King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park and Yosemite (through the west entrance) before heading back to San Jose.