Camping in Death Valley, California is specific in many ways. While regular boondocking rules apply as always, there are some additional notes for Death Valley dispersed camping that we should consider. The goal here is to protect both ourselves and the environment we are camping in.
If you are boondocking, there are fewer camps that you can reach than if you were to go hiking and trekking. But, the upside is that you will have a much wider period during the year to do this. What is heatstroke for hikers is solar power for RV campers.
Currently, there are five camps that we can expressly recommend:
- Wild Rose Campground
- Panamint Springs RV Resort Campground
- Stovepipe Wells Village RV Park
- Texas Spring Campground
- Furnace Creek Campground
There might be more, and we welcome you to tell us in the comments if some of the other locations should be on a boondocker’s itinerary.
Best Places for Death Valley Dispersed Camping
When visiting a place with an RV, there are several things that you should consider. Aside from the law of the land and any documents that you should have in advance, there are also technical issues that can either work in your favor or you need to plan for in advance.
Most places in Death Valley are relatively remote and walking to the nearest gas station in the hot California weather in the middle of the desert is out of the question. So, you will need to carry most things with you.
But, thankfully, many of the camps below have both power and water connections, and even more, have places to drop your waste.
Wild Rose Campground
Wild Rose is quite up high. So much so that the temperature is a lot lower than in the Valley proper. The campground is located near the Charcoal kilns and it takes a while to go all the way up.
Although most RVs won’t have a problem getting up, trailers won’t be capable of making the trip. Anything over 25 feet isn’t able to access the grounds safely.
As far as amenities go, the campsite is fairly basic. There are no hookups and toilets are placed only in peak season. Because of this, you will need to carry most things with you.
But, if you are all set on camping from your RV you will have a blast. The nature here is magnificent, and watching the sunset and the star-lit sky at night will make the experience memorable for a lifetime.
Just remember to bring a sweater, because it can get nippy.
- A lot of space
- Good temperature
- Very clean
- Seasonal vault toilets, picnic tables, and fire grates
- No entry charge
- Relatively remote
- No hookups
- Only 23 spots
Panamint Springs RV Resort Campground
If money is not one of the problems you have in life then the Panamint Springs campground might be just the place for you. It’s about an hour’s drive from the visitor’s center at the western entrance.
Generally, Panamint Springs is not near to any of the big attractions and would serve best as a base for exploring the rest of the valley and camping elsewhere. There is a full hookup for $80 and even has cabins to rent if you need them.
The site has a lot of amenities and if you haven’t restocked and refilled before you came to the Death Valley it will be a great place to make the first camp. But, make sure to inquire about all of the charges in advance if you don’t want to have a nasty surprise.
- Excellent amenities
- Very accessible
- No quiet time
- Relatively pricey
- Not close to the best locations
- Can become crowded
Stovepipe Wells Village RV Park
Stovepipe is probably the best bang for the buck location from any on this list, and it has several hidden benefits that are rarely available for boondockers. It has a relatively small campground with only 14 places, making it sell out quickly.
First of all, the surroundings are amazing both in history and in nature. The Tucki Mountain is just behind the compound and there are several historic and natural sites within the walking distance.
Next, there are the amenities. Aside from the full hookup, which you can get for $40, which is quite reasonable, campers are also allowed to use the pool and lobby internet of the Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel that is just across the street.
Finally, there is a convenient trail just south of the camp following the Mosaic Canyon Road that furthers into a trail. This is one of the most exciting hiking trails in Death Valley and if you have the appropriate footwear we recommend you check it out.
- Excellent amenities
- Close to multiple sites
- Good surroundings
- Professional service
- Few places
- Relatively noisy
Texas Spring Campground
This is probably the biggest campground in the region and one of the easiest to plan with when it comes to Death Valley dispersed camping. There are 66 spots for RVs with some dedicated to vehicles under 25ft and others going up to 35ft.
The location is fairly accessible with a solid gravel road taking you to most campsites. Each of these will have a table and a fire grate. Take note that wood fires are only allowed in these grates.
Take note that there are no hookups and that generators are not allowed, so if you are planning for a longer stay make sure your batteries are full or that you are using solar. The weather is very nice and most days the sun is shining.
Camping at Texas Spring will set you back $16 per night, or half of that if you have the lifetime access pass.
- Large space
- Designated fire grates
- Quite dispersed
- Flush toilets
- No hookups
- Difficult access for larger RVs
Furnace Creek Campground
Furnace Creek is the focal point of the Death Valley and the place where the visitor’s center is stationed. The campground here is the biggest in the valley and there is a lot to see.
There are 136 spots in total, with amenities including water, picnic areas, and flush toilets. But, there are only 18 spots with electrical attachments, so you should reserve those if you want to use them.
While the campgrounds are massive, the approach to the Furnace Creek campground is tricky. Either the road or the passages are relatively narrow in places and novice boondockers might have an issue sneaking around, especially if you are alone.
If you have a bigger rig and not enough experience, it is best to call the management and ask for some assistance. Alternatively, you can park before the entry on the road and see the route on foot, just to make sure that you will pass.
- Lots of amenities
- Abundant hiking trails around
- Good weather
- Good bang for the buck
- Might be a problem to access with a big RV (over 25ft)
- Usually a lot of people
- Almost always needs a reservation for electrical hookups
Quick Guide to Death Valley Dispersed Camping
Death Valley is not called this way only because of its history, but also the weather. Camping here is very exciting and every boondocker should experience it. But, preparations are needed and you need to know how to protect yourself from the heat if you want to have a good time.
Additionally, extreme caution is needed to prevent issues such as bushfires and forest fires in the California summer. You don’t want to contribute to what is becoming an increasing problem every year. Also, you want to know how to move quickly if you get caught up in one.
Regular rules about preparation and conservation will still apply. It will always be best to plan your route in advance and make reservations where you want to set up.
Still, because the campgrounds are generally small for places that have hookups, it is highly recommended that you don’t plan your resources tight. Make certain that you have a lot of water, that your batteries are full and your sewage tank is empty before you get going.
When is the Best Time to Camp?
When it comes to the desert, camping rules gain the summer break as well as the winter one. Death Valley in December can get lower than 30 degrees with dry winter winds that often carry sand as well and are possibly worse than any snowstorm you have ever been in.
On the other side, there are summer temperatures that can reach well about 120 degrees, and that is the temperature of the air, not the ground. The pavement can get blistering and the reflection of the sand alone will give you a heatstroke even if you are covered from above.
This is why the best time to go is the middle of spring and the beginning of fall, late September or early November. It will still be warm in these periods, but both the night and the day will be at least manageable for everyone.
That being said, you will need a night and day set of clothes. For the day, you will want something white and loose, and definitely, something to cover your head. Most hikers will get a deeper understanding of the Bedouin fashion sense and wrap a cloth over their head, ideally a wet one.
But, at the night you will want something warm. Not saying that the nights at these times become especially cold, but they do drop into the high sixties, and that change alone can give you a cold.
Access and Elevation
While most RV parks can be accessed with any RV, some are exclusive for those who have rigs under 25ft. This is not because of some discriminatory practice, but rather because of the elevation and the nature of the road.
Most roads are gravel and if you have anything longer there is a chance to run off the road. Because of the elevation, this is very dangerous and help is a long way away.
Regardless of your rig, it is always a good idea to call in advance and ask the campground manager if your RV will be able to access the grounds and at which times of the year.
Licenses and Fees
Many campsites in Death Valley are free for visitors. Federal and State grounds usually have stricter rules but are free of charge for camping alone. Sometimes you will need to pay for a camping license, but that is not the norm.
But, if you want to have hookups for power, water, and sewage then you will need to pay the fee. Such costs range from $30 to $140 so you will want to call in advance. Additionally, some campsites will have surcharges for pets and similar costs, so you will want to know about that in advance.
This is something relatively new but very understandable from the position of the campsites. Even including free campsites your groups will be limited to a party of 8 per spot and only one RV. There is no circling of the wagon if you are going with a larger group.
You will probably be allowed to go slightly over that limit, but anything over a party of 12 will make a fire hazard and a possible noise complaint. If you want to risk the fine that is okay, but the amount is not small (up to $5000) and the fine is because you are too visible and easy to hear.
Follow the Rules
Rules for Death Valley dispersed camping is similar to what you are used to across California and the whole nation in general. But, it is always good to reiterate some of the points. Having this boondocker’s mantra ensures that we never forget anything when planning.
These rules are not just there to make you a good camper, but also to keep you safe and happy. In all due honesty, most of these rules were made because someone, at some point, got hurt.
2-weeks Stay Limit
This is a rule across California and even on the other side in Nevada. You can’t stay in the same spot for more than 14 days. On the fifteenth day, you must move at least 25 miles from the current campsite.
The fine for not following this rule was $4500 at the moment of writing with plans to increase it in the future.
Campfires and Fire Pits
If you are not aware of the California forest fires I am very honored that this is the first thing you are seeing after rejoining society and learning what the internet is. They are a huge problem virtually every year, and in more cases, than not they are human-made.
You don’t want to be that human and you need to protect the campsites from any fire hazard. Thus only use the grates that are available or electric stoves if necessary. No fires outside of fire pits, and especially no open fires on the ground.
Most RV campsites in Death Valley have some sort of noise rule. To be on the safe side plan annoying activities like running your generator and playing music up to 9 or 10 p.m.
Acoustic music and singing might be allowed, but if you have such a group it is best to ask the camp manager first.
As previously mentioned, large RVs won’t be able to access all locations. In some there will be no space or attachments, in others, it is a question of the road. There is no real way of circumventing this rule.
If it’s not clearly stated, it is always best to call the campsite and ask if you can get to it safely with your vehicle.
Keep it Clean
You don’t want to attract Coyotes, both for their sake and for yours. They will come out at night but will always stay away from people and fires. Still, if you litter food around and wander away from camp at night they might be tempted to see you as a snack, and not in a good way.
Finally, there are water stations for wildlife but they are away from all camps. If you see one, make sure to camp at least a mile away so as not to disturb the local fauna.
Death Valley dispersed camping is incredibly fun and every boondocker should experience it sooner or later. Several excellent campsites are accessible with an RV and even those with full hookups and other amenities.
Still, campers should be aware of the risk from wildfires and wildlife, as well as extreme temperatures and temperature differences.
If you follow the rules of the camps, follow boondocker’s rules, and use just a bit of common sense and preparation you will have an awesome time.