For a place with death in its name, Death Valley National Park is surprisingly full of life. Vegetation persists even in the driest, harshest climates; birds, bats, and bugs thrive in their little niches within the ecosystem; there are even springs and creeks where vegetation and animals flourish in the hottest place on earth. And that’s all just describing the daytime – Death Valley is more full of life at night, when cooler temperatures bring animals out of holes where they escape the heat all day and stars whirl overhead.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to stargaze at many national parks; Death Valley was always on my list since it is so remote and offers so much area to explore – on hiking trails during the day and at Death Valley stargazing spots at night.
If you’re considering a trip to Death Valley National Park and want to include stargazing on your itinerary, this post has all the information you need to plan your time in the valley. From travel tips to an accommodation guide and plenty of places to both stargaze at night and enjoy the park during the day; read on to plan your own time stargazing in Death Valley National Park.
How to Get to Death Valley National Park
The first step of planning your Death Valley stargazing trip is knowing how to get to this stunning park. Before I give you the directions, let me warn you that you shouldn’t rely solely on your GPS to reach the park. Some travelers end up in the wrong area, so please, bring a map to check your GPS accuracy.
There are five ways to enter Death Valley:
- From Los Angeles and the south: Take Interstate 15 to Baker and follow Highway 127 north to either Highway 178 or 190 west into the park.
- From Las Vegas: there are many routes you can take, but the most direct is via Pahrump, NV, and California Highway 190.
- From the east: Take Highway 95 to Highway 373 (Lathrop Wells), Highway 374 (Beatty), or Highway 267 (Scotty’s Junction), all of which leads southwest into the park.
- From the northwest: drive from Highway 395 in Lone Pine, then take Highway 136 southeast to Highway 190 east into the park.
- From the southwest: Take Highway 14 north to Inyokern. Then follow Highway 178 east through Inyokern and Ridgecrest up to Highway 190. Take Highway 190 east into the park.
Where to Go Stargazing in Death Valley National Park
As an International Dark Sky Park, Death Valley National Park has no shortage of dark spots where you can surf the night sky. Nonetheless, here are four areas whose starry nights will leave your mouth hanging open.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a top spot to catch dramatic sunrises and sunsets. Naturally, the waving dunes also make a phenomenal area to peek at the stars. You’ll find the dunes close to Stovepipe Wells. The best feature of this area is that you get unobstructed views of the dark sky. However, the dunes are pretty close to the highway, and the light pollution generated from headlights might hinder your stargazing session.
Harmony Borax Works
Harmony Borax Works is another excellent spot for exploring Death Valley’s nightscape. It is close to Furnace Creek Visitor Center, so you won’t have to travel far to find the area. If you’re an astrophotographer, I believe Harmony Borax Works is the spot for stargazing in Death Valley. Given its elevation, there’s little to no obstruction from the mountains, and you’ll find a few historic buildings and a mule cart that might help you compose an interesting photograph.
Ubehebe Crater has some of the most photogenic (and darkest) skies. Located in the northern half of Death Valley, the crater resulted from a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Today, it boasts spectacular views, with the starry night unfolding over the massive crater. While the sky’s visibility might be limited, the crater still provides people with an ample horizon to gaze at the stars.
Badwater Basin has numerous advantages for stargazers. First, it is 17 miles south on Badwater Road, so it’s easy to find. Second, it is mainly salt flats, so you don’t have to engage in uphill hikes to find a decent spot.
However, Death Valley landscape comprises towering mountains that inevitably block certain sky portions. Since Badwater Basin is at a lower elevation, some stars might not be visible from here. Anyway, you’ll still find sprawling views of the sky. You just have to move around to find a good spot.
Where to Stay Near Death Valley National Park
If you’re coming to Death Valley for a few days, you might wonder what accommodation options the park offers. Luckily, there are a bunch of alternatives for all tastes and budgets.
Hotels near Death Valley
- Panamint Springs Resort: this venue offers resort accommodations and camping. It is a bit more laid-back and smaller.
- Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel: an authentic western lodge, the Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel sits on Highway 190. It has all the comforts, from a refreshing pool in the courtyard to a relaxing lounge area.
- The Inn at Death Valley: located on Highway 190, The Inn is a Spanish colonial revival resort perfect for travelers who want to pamper themselves after a night in the park.
- The Ranch at Death Valley: a former working ranch, the owners have transformed the venue into a stunning hotel. It’s family-friendly and is the perfect base for exploring the park.
Camping in Death Valley National Park
Besides being a haven for stargazers, Death Valley National Park is a dream park for camping lovers. The park has over nine campgrounds where you can spend the night.
National Park Service Campgrounds
- Furnace Creek Campground: The only NPS campground in the park that accepts reservations and has sites with full hookups as well as dry RV and tent sites.
- Sunset Campground: A first-come, first-serve, large campground near Furnace Creek It rarely fills, and the location has little to no vegetation. They allow car and tent camping; however, each site doesn’t have a fire grate or picnic table.
- Texas Spring: Another first-come, first-serve campground in the Furnace Creek area. Located in the hills above Furnace Creek, the campground has great views, plus each site has a fire grate and picnic table.
- Stovepipe Wells Campground: Campground at sea level. It has views of Death Valley proper and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It is one of the most practical campgrounds adjacent to the Stovepipe Wells general store, ranger station, and a privately operated RV park.
- Mesquite Spring: Campground at an elevation of 1,800 feet. A perfect campground if you want to explore the northern parts of Death Valley National Park. Each site has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no hook-ups available.
- Emigrant: Tent-only campground. It overlooks the Cottonwood Mountains, which is a part of the Panamint Range. It is a small campground with ten sites southwest of Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station. A building with flush toilets is 270 feet down a dirt trail just outside of the campground.
- Wildrose: Campground with no additional fee high in the Panamint Mountains. Located at an elevation of 4100 ft. It has no hook-ups available, and generators are allowed from 7am to 7pm. This area is prone to high winds.
- Thorndike: A forested campground with no additional fee located at 7,400′ elevation. Accessible to high clearance vehicles (no longer than 25′), and 4×4 may be necessary.
- Mahogany Flat: Primitive campground with no additional fee located in a Pinyon Pine and Juniper forest at 8,200′ elevation. Great views down into Death Valley. Located near the Telescope Peak trailhead. Dirt road access requires high-clearance vehicles, often 4×4 required.
Private Campgrounds within the Park
You’ll find privately operated campgrounds within the park at Stovepipe Wells RV Park, The Ranch at Death Valley, and Panamint Springs Resort. During my trip to Death Valley, I rented a van from Travellers Autobarn in Las Vegas and camped at Panamint Springs Resort one night.
Death Valley allows backcountry camping in some places within the park. Check out Backcountry Camping Rules to know where you can go and the rules you should follow.
What to See & Do During the Day at Death Valley
At 3.4 million acres, Death Valley has endless recreational opportunities for those who visit. Read below what activities are popular in the park and may be a good complement to your Death Valley stargazing experience.
- Autotouring: Death Valley is home to breathtaking landscapes and rock formations. To name a few, Artists Palette, Zabriskie Point, and Badwater Basin are a few of the scenic locations you should visit, and all are easily accessible by car.
- Hiking: if you visit from November through March, Death Valley has tons of trails you can hike to discover its diverse landscape. Check out their website to learn about the trails’ difficulty level and location.
- Backcountry driving: Death Valley has hundreds of winding roads that traverse the fabulous park. From two-tracks to graded surfaces, there’s something for all skill levels.
- Road and mountain biking: Death Valley also has dirt and paved roads for bikers. Mountain biking is another way to discover the park and raise your adrenaline levels!
- Self-guided Star Wars driving tour: it’s no surprise that Death Valley’s marvelous landscape served as filming locations for movies. The most popular was Star Wars. The park has a map with all the different locations in the park where George Lucas filmed Star Wars and how to visit them.
- Watch sunrise or sunset: sunrises and sunsets at Death Valley are a breathtaking spectacle you don’t want to miss. The most popular places to see sunrise are: Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point, and the sand dunes. As for the sunset locations, Zabriskie Point, the sand dunes, Artists Palette and Aguereberry Point are very good spots.
- Explore nearby attractions: if you want to throw a bit of diversity into your Death Valley national park stargazing trip, you can visit Manzanar National Historic Site for a little bit of history, or Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge if animals are your thing or Rhyolite Ghost Town for a bit of spookiness!
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Death Valley National Park
Still have questions about stargazing in Death Valley National Park? Check out my FAQ section below. I’m sure you’ll leave with all the answers.
When is the best time to go stargazing at Death Valley?
The best time to go stargazing at Death Valley is during the new moon. If you didn’t know, the moon’s light washes out stars, making it difficult for stargazers to get a proper view of them.
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing at Death Valley? When?
The answer is a resounding yes! The best time to catch the Milky Way is near midnight from June to early August. If you visit during April and May, try to face your telescope or binoculars south and start the session at the pre-dawn hours. From Mid-August through September, the best time to spot the Milky Way is soon after the sunset, once the sky has grown dark.
Can you see the northern lights from Death Valley?
Unfortunately, no, you can’t see the northern lights during your Death Valley stargazing experience. However, there are other U.S parks, usually located much further north, where you can see them.
Is Death Valley National Park open at night?
Death Valley is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So you don’t have to worry about opening times to access the park or campgrounds. However, the Death Valley Visitor Center opens only from 8 am to 5 pm every day.
Are there guided night tours in Death Valley?
Yes, Death Valley rangers organize the Night Sky Talk, where visitors can discover the wonders of Death Valley’s incredible night sky with a park ranger. The tour takes place in Harmony Borax Works and lasts 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Is there a dark sky festival in Death Valley?
Yes! Death Valley hosts an annual Dark Sky Festival, where visitors explore the night sky and the unique park landscapes. In 2022, the park held the festival in February. So make sure you check the park’s website for the dates.
Have any other questions about planning your Death Valley stargazing trip based on my experience? Let me know in the comments!