Where to sleep, where to hike, and where to fuel up in California's hottest National Park
At Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, my husband, Jim, and I are watching the world change colors. At this canyon overlook in the southeastern California desert, the striated rocks stretch in sculptural towers and eroded gullies off to the eastern horizon. With every passing moment, they shift shades, emerging from predawn violet and slate to glowing pinks and golds as the sun peeks over the ridge to the east.
TOURING DEATH VALLEY
Death Valley National Park is 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
Average November highs are in the 70s, with nighttime lows in the 40s. November is one of the quieter months in the park, so campsites and lodging should be reasonably easy to find. The exception is the week of the annual Death Valley '49ers Encampment (Nov 7-11). INFO: $20 per vehicle for a seven-day pass; nps.gov/deva or 760/786-3200.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center & Museum (off State 190, adjacent to Furnace Creek Ranch; 760/786-3244) is the best place to get information and maps. The center offers regular ranger talks and guided walks. The General Store at Furnace Creek Ranch (on State 190; see below) has groceries and camping supplies.
WHERE TO STAY
Furnace Creek Inn Glamorous 1927 lodge with 66 rooms; also has a spring-heated swimming pool. INFO: Open through mid-May; from $275; 888/297-2757.
Furnace Creek Ranch A mile down the road from the Furnace Creek Inn, the ranch has 224 standard motel-style rooms centered around a lawn and swimming pool. Though in high season the place can feel like a boisterous summer camp, in fall it's a great, affordable choice. INFO: From $120; 888/297-2757.
Camping Numerous sites with toilets and some with showers at Furnace Creek Campground, Mesquite Spring, and Stovepipe Wells. Emigrant Campground sites are tent only. INFO: Sites $12-$18 a night; all campgrounds except for Furnace Creek are first come, first served; recreation.gov or 877/444-6777 for Furnace Creek reservations.
WHERE TO EAT
Corkscrew Saloon Drinks, pizza, and hot dogs. INFO: $; at Furnace Creek Ranch, on State 190; 760/786-2345.
Forty-Niner Cafe Casual, filling meals all day. INFO: $$; at Furnace Creek Ranch, on State 190; 760/786-2345.
Furnace Creek Inn Dining Room The most upscale dining in the park. INFO: $$$; at Furnace Creek Inn, off State 190; 760/786-2345.
Wrangler Steakhouse Steaks and salad bar. INFO: $$$; at Furnace Creek Ranch, on State 190; 760/786-2345.
WHAT TO DO
Artists Drive A 9-mile scenic loop past vibrantly colored canyons. INFO: Off State 190, 10 miles south of Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
Badwater Basin A boardwalk and short trail lead to the salt flats (stay on paths). INFO: On Badwater Rd., 18 miles south of Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
Hiking Stunning hikes, but unlike in many national parks, few marked trails. Ranger stations have day-hike guides. Two moderate routes are Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail, a 2-mile round-trip journey to Red Cathedral (park in lot at trailhead off Bad-water Rd., 2 miles south of State 190), and Natural Bridge Canyon, a 2-mile out-and-back walk passing a dramatic rock bridge (park at trailhead at end of gravel road off Bad-water Rd., 13.2 miles south of State 190).
Mesquite Flat Dunes up to 150 feet high. INFO: On State 190, 2.2 miles east of Stovepipe Wells.
Scotty's Castle $11 for 50-min. guided tour of interior; on State 267, 53 miles northeast of Furnace Creek Visitor Center; 760/786-2392.