When we planned our 1 week Southwest Road trip we purposely kept the plans very loose. We had rented a camera van through Escape Campervans and we only had a general route planned. We had no activities or accommodations booked, which allowed us a lot of flexibility.
I had been following the weather report and when we landed in Las Vegas I had to accept it. The weather was terrible. Our first stop was going to be at Zion National Park, but they were getting snow and hail. I thought about reversing our route, but we would of been dealing with the same issues in Flagstaff, Arizona.
We looked at a map and tried to figure out where we would could spend a day. West was the only direction with decent weather. We narrowed it down to the Mojave Desert and Death Valley National Park. We figured there was no better time of year when we could visit Death Valley since it was early March. So Death Valley it was!
Renting a Camera Lens Online
After picking up our van we had to swing by a USPS location in Las Vegas where I had shipped a camera lens to. My wide angle lens had broken and had been sent off by Best Buy for repair. (FYI the wide angle lens I usually use for my Canon Rebel t6 is a Canon EF-S 10-18mm).
It was important to me to have a wide angle lens for all the landscape photography I had planned on getting over the week, so I looked into renting one. After a lot of research I settled on Borrow Lenses, where I was able to rent this $1900 lens for just $100 for a week!!
–> If you would like $20 off your first rental with Borrow Lenses send me an email at [email protected] and I will forward you a code.
Death Valley National Park is about 150 miles east of Las Vegas and is located in California. Once your get out of Las Vegas there was very little traffic and the roads were in pretty good condition. If you are coming from Las Vegas then you will enter through Death Valley Junction. If you are coming from the West then you will enter through Panamint Springs.
‘Hottest, driest and lowest National Park’ in the United States
Lowest elevation in North America (Badwater Basin is 282 feet BELOW sea level)
Hottest recorded temperature in the world (134º F on July 10, 1913)
On paper Death Valley may not seem like the most desirable place to visit. However, if you visit at the right time of year you will be greatest with pleasant temperatures, gorgeous views, and if you’re lucky, see a rare wildflower super bloom.
The #1 thing to do in Death Valley, according to Trip Advisor is Dante’s View. It is located at the top of the Black Mountains and is accessed by a winding road. It was extremely windy and chilly when we stepped out of the van into the parking lot.
As soon as we got our first glimpse of the salt beds below though it took my breathe away and brought tears to my eyes. It was far beyond what I could have imagined. It is an an otherworldly beauty that you can’t find anywhere else in the United States.
While you can see Badwater Basin from Dante’s Viewpoint it will take about 45 minutes to reach it by car. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America and is a great stopping point to walk among the salt flats. The route to Badwater Basin will lead you past other popular viewpoints and attractions such as Zabriskie Point, Artists Palette and Devil’s Golf Course.
You will need to be alert for signs of flooding, as even if it is not raining in Death Valley the basin is prone to flash flooding from runoff from the mountains around it.
Where to Stay
Free: We had initially planned to camp at ‘The Pads‘ which is an abandoned attempt at an RV park on the outskirts of Death Valley National Park. For free camping options we used campendium.com throughout the Southwest and had great success. The site will show free and paid camping sites, reviews and GPS coordinates.
Budget: Amargosa Opera House & Hotel ($70/night)
Luxury: Furnace Creek Resort (starts at $179/night)
If you don’t mind the drive back to Las Vegas then there are plenty of deals to be found on and off the strip! Use the search engine below to find the best current deals.
Tips to Visit
- Be mindful of the weather. I find that NOAA is the most accurate weather service, especially in the desert where the weather can change so quickly. I use the NOAA Weather Radar iTunes app. It is a little more complicated to figure out than the iPhone Weather or Weather Channel apps, but it gets easier and like I said, is more accurate.
- Use a GPS. Cell phone service is spotty at best. Our Garmin Nuvi saved us so many times on the trip! If you don’t have a GPS, then you can save and download pinned locations on Google Maps on your phone.
- Bring a jacket. The wind can really make it feel much colder than it is!
- Bring plenty of water. Furnace Creek has a visitors center, airport and resort so there are places that you could water inside the park, but I wouldn’t count on it. Just prepare ahead of time.
- Plan on spending about 8 hours between driving & exploring the southern part of the park.
- If you plan on camping in the park bring enough clothes and blankets to keep warm! It can get well below freezing at night.
- For a comprehensive guide on hiking in Death Valley check out this post from Outdoor Project.
We decided to drive back to Las Vegas since we would have a long day of driving ahead of us the next day. There are a few free camping options outside of Vegas, but we stayed at the same place on our first and last night of the trip. Governement Wash is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Boulder City, Nevada. It is dispersed camping, so you just find a spot and park.
I read that if you arrive early you may have to pay a $20 fee for a 1 week pass to use the recreation area. We arrived after dark both times though and we were able to easily drive in and find a place and we never paid a dime. I also read that depending on where you are, it may be a little sketchy due to homeless people who live in their cars there. We drove pretty far down the road in Government Wash though and we only had a few RVs nearby. We never felt unsafe.
*note: there are affiliate links in this post. If you make a booking or purchase through certain links I may receive a commission, at no added expense to you!**