How to Get to Death Valley Without Dying on the Way

Road going to Death Valley from the west
This is One Way to Get to Death Valley. ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Where is Death Valley? It's on the eastern edge of California, along the Nevada border, in the Mojave Desert. Death Valley is a national park that covers more than 3,000 square miles. If you're planning to visit, you can find out get directions on this page, and learn how to avoid the pitfalls that get some tourists lost.

Why Some Death Valley Directions Are Fatally Flawed

Trying to answer the question "where is Death Valley?" using a website, a smartphone app or a GPS can be a risky business. 

When I tried entering "Death Valley, CA" at the commonly used map websites and apps, results varied. Two of them located it near Furnace Creek in the middle of the park, but another one put it off the road in the mountains. You should also know that Death Valley Junction isn't really in Death Valley National Park, either. It's actually a town slightly southeast of the park.

Over-reliance on modern gadgetry to get directions to Death Valley can be frustrating and sometimes fatal. Occasionally, a GPS system may put you on a road that is closed or impassable, and people have lost their lives in the desert heat when they got lost. Your best way to avoid that is to use your common sense. If you're trying to get to a tourist spot and the roads start getting narrower and less maintained, you're probably on the wrong route.

If you're determined to use the latest technology, use the GPS Coordinates for Death Valley National Park published on their website. That may be more reliable than entering a place name. You can also enter The Inn at Death Valley (formerly the Furnace Creek Inn) or Furnace Creek Visitor Center, but take a look at the map and be sure the location your system found looks like it's on the main road in the middle of the park.

Death Valley is one place where an old-fashioned paper map may be best. Study your route in advance, so you know what to expect.

Most people get to Death Valley by driving. There's a small, public airport at Furnace Creek and another at Stovepipe Wells if you have your own airplane. Unfortunately, there are no public transportation options for getting there.

You can drive into Death Valley on several paved roads, but no matter which one of them you choose, you'll climb to several thousand feet before dropping into the park.

How Far Is It to Death Valley?

Of course, the answer to this question depends on where you are. Furnace Creek - which is in the middle of Death Valley - is 140 miles from Las Vegas. From LA, it's 290 miles, 350 from San Diego and more than 500 miles from the San Francisco Bay area. 

Directions to Death Valley

From the west via US Hwy 395 and CA Hwy 190 over Towne Pass (4,956 feet): You would use this route if you're traveling through eastern California on US Hwy 395. There's a 9% grade for several miles on either side of the pass, making it a challenging route for underpowered vehicles, long ones, and those towing trailers.

From the east and US Hwy 95 through Scotty's Junction and NV Hwy 267: This common route from Las Vegas or southern Nevada goes through Beatty Nevada on NV Hwy 374, over Daylight Pass (4,316 feet) or through Lathrop Wells, taking NV Hwy 373 to Death Valley Junction.

From the south through Death Valley Junction on CA Hwy 190: This route is the best way to get in if you're driving a long RV or towing a trailer. The highest point is 3,040 feet, and this road is the straightest. Unfortunately, it is also the least scenic route.

From the south through Shoshone, California on CA Hwy 178: The drive on Badwater Road goes over Salsberry Pass (3,315 Feet). It is by far the most spectacular way to enter Death Valley. In fact, it's the route I take every time I can. If you're short on time to see Death Valley, it takes you past some of the most-visited Death Valley sights on the way in and cuts down on time spent driving back and forth on the same road.

A lot of people like to take a day trip to Death Valley from Las Vegas. Use this guide to getting from Las Vegas to Death Valley to see your options for doing that.