Get the most of Death Valley by backcountry camping in the middle of the sand dunes. There are just a few rules to follow but it is shockingly easy and fun to do, especially in winter when you can see the radiance of the desert and be surrounded by snowy peaks all at once.
We went to the park this winter, right after one of the toughest winter storms that tackled California. Many roads were closed and our access to the park was limited to certain places. Death Valley is a massive park, having more than 3 million acres of wilderness and nearly 700 miles of backcountry dirt roads, so even if you see that some roads might be closed you can still visit and do many things.
Within all this terrain, camping is allowed under some regulations, so I would suggest you follow the backcountry rules at the end of the page.
HERE IS WHAT WE DID:
Just before sunset, we placed our car in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Parking and we headed by foot towards the north. We had to walk at least 1 mile (1.6km) from the parking spot, so going towards the biggest dune would be quite a useful reference to know the starting area where you’re allowed to camp. Once you go beyond it, you are free to place your tent anywhere.
You will see there are quite a few people around the car parking area, but as you keep walking towards the big dune, the crowds will fade rapidly. The further you go, the lonelier you will be.
Even in winter, the nights are not too cold. The rangers told us that it was colder than usual at this time, a low of 2 ℃/35 ºF., but historically it can go as low as -9℃/15ºF. In normal winter days, you shouldn’t have any problem camping in Death Valley.
If your cup of tea is other than camping in the dunes, check the backcountry camping rules I put here for you. There are infinite places where you can backcountry camp within the park.
BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING RULES
- go to a Visitor Center and obtain a FREE voluntary permit for backcountry camping. It is not strictly obligated but this way, the rangers can inform you of the weather conditions or hazards, if any.
WHERE YOU CAN CAMP:
- you can backcountry camp 1 mile away from any developed area, paved road, or “day use” only area. Although in official papers they say 1 mile, in the Visitor Center told us to go at least 2 miles afar.
- campsites must be 91 meters (100 yards) from any water source.
WHERE YOU CAN NOT CAMP:
- Titus Canyon Road
- Mosaic Canyon Road
- West Side Road
- Wildrose Road
- Skidoo Road
- Aguereberry Point Road (first 8 miles only).
- Racetrack Road (from Teakettle Jet to Homestake Dry Camp).
- Keane Wonder Mine
- Lost Burro Mine
- Ubehebe Lead Mine
- Valley floor from Ashford Mill to 2 miles north of Stovepipe Wells.
- Area Map of forbidden backcountry camping.
- Groups are limited to 12 people and no more than 4 vehicles.
- Campfires are prohibited.
Be aware of flash flood areas, as they are extremely dangerous on rainy days.