Death Valley Adventure Guide - Furnace Creek Inn - Wildrose Peak - Sand Dunes

03.12.09


Desert Dreams

With names like Badwater, Hell's Gate, and the Funeral Mountains, Death Valley sounds like an unwelcoming place. But visit this spring and you'll find the lower 48's largest national park to be a place of ancient beauty and calming solitude. Here's a three-day itinerary: Mix and match as you please.


Death Valley Golden Canyon Hike
Furnace Creek Inn Death Valley

Friday: Golden Greeting


Fly into Las Vegas early, rent a car, and beeline two hours west to Death Valley (alternatively, it's a 9-hour drive from San Francisco). Christen your car with some sacred Death Valley dirt on the Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road, a 2.5-mile dirt road that loops and rolls through an old borax mining region; it's like riding a real-life version of Disneyland's Thunder Mountain Railroad. Fifteen minutes down the highway, stop and take an afternoon hike through Golden Canyon, a giant gorge glowing with orange, yellow, and red shades of sandstone. After a mile, lose the crowds and take the offshoot trail toward Gower Gulch (a map is available at the visitor's center). Skirt below the Manly Beacon sandstone formation, where the texture resembles swirls of giant marble ice cream. The trail runs through the quiet and narrow Gower Gulch, which is filled with old borax mines (don't enter!). After your canyon excursion, drive 15 miles south to the lowest point in North America, Badwater (282 feet below sea level). Step onto the salt flat and gaze up at 11,000-foot Telescope Peak, the highest in the park.

Kick back and relax at your base camp, Furnace Creek Inn. The red-tile-roofed Spanish architecture, palm trees, and wide views of the Panamint Mountains are all part of the package. And the naturally spring-fed swimming pool is a muscle-relaxing 82 degrees. Two outdoor fireplaces flank the pool, making an ideal setting for a day-ending toast.

TIP: The Furnace Creek Ranch is a less expensive sister property with 224 units that sprawls over several acres. This family-friendly complex has a saloon, three restaurants, tennis courts, and even a golf course. For tent camping, your best bet is the centrally located Texas Springs campground near Furnace Creek.

The Gold Canyon trailhead is 2 miles south of Hwy 190 on Badwater Rd. Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch, Hwy 190, Death Valley; 760-786-2345. The Inn is open mid-October to mid-May; the Ranch is open all year. Rates at the Inn start at $325 per night; rates at the Ranch start at $147. Camping at Texas Springs costs $14. Plan to visit Death Valley before May, or wait until November.


Wildrose Peak Hike
Death Valley Sand Dunes

Saturday: Rosy View

While Wildrose Peak isn't as high as Telescope, the unobstructed view it offers is arguably the best in Death Valley. Bring snacks, warm layers, a beanie, and allow plenty of drive time (1 hour and 15 minutes from Furnace Creek) to get to the trailhead. The drive, winding up and around the enormous Panamint Mountain Range, is half of the fun. Then it's off on a 4.2-mile (one-way) peak-bagging adventure into and through a pinyon pine and juniper forest. Within 2 miles you'll reach a grand eastward view of Death Valley and the Amargosa Range. If you're content with a relatively short, satisfying hike, turn around and head back here. For a more challenging trek, continue up and along the snow-speckled trail. The last mile to the top is a butt-kicker as the trail climbs in a series of switchbacks along the southeast ridge. At 9,065 feet, you'll"feel the altitude"—but the reward is worth the sweat: a view of multiple mountain ranges, with the snow-capped Sierras cutting a jagged sawtooth skyline. Below, the Death Valley desert rambles for 90 miles. Sign the logbook and snap some brag-shots. Big mission accomplished.

SHOW DUNES: On your way back, pop into the General Store in Stovepipe Wells and pick up some snacks to enjoy at one of the world's premier picnic spots—the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes—just 2 miles east of Stovepipe Wells. Park on the side of Highway 190 and start walking north. The tallest dune is about a mile away, with plenty of others rolling in the foreground. Pick a dune, climb its spine, and enjoy a picnic while waiting for the show: a sunset that colors the mountains in changing shades of rose and violet. The dunes are like a giant sandbox, perfect for handstands and logrolls (always a crowd pleaser). Don't leave too soon: This is a choice spot for stargazing or watching your moonshadow.

The Wildrose Peak trailhead is at the Charcoal Kilns parking area on Wildrose Canyon Rd. The trail starts next to the first kiln. You'll need good hiking shoes for patches of mud and snow. Allow 4–6 hours to hike it.


Death Valley Sunrise on Zabriske Point

Sunday: Catch the Sun

Shutterbugs unite! The sunrise light at Zabriske Point will make even the average photographer look like a pro. Join other photo-happy revelers and watch the sun make its entrance, slowly washing over the golden badlands at Death Valley's signature viewpoint.

Afterwards, head to the northern end of the valley to check out Ubehebe Crater. Two thousand years ago it was a volcano; today it's a 770-foot-deep crater in a moonscape environment. You have three options: hike down into the crater (super steep), walk 1 mile around the crater (not recommended for those with vertigo), or hike 1 mile to Little Hebe Crater (recommended). (If you like a little history with your outdoor adventures, make a trip to nearby Scotty's Castle—a Spanish-style "castle" built by a wealthy Chicago businessman in 1922 as a home base for his gold prospecting. The only problem: There was no gold.)

Take a long weekend... and discover why we think Death Valley is heaven on earth.

Zabriske Point is 3.5 miles east of Furnace Creek on Hwy. 190. The viewpoint is a short walk uphill from the parking area. Ubehebe Crater is 8 miles west of Scotty's Castle in the northern end of the park. The inside of Scotty's Castle is only accessed through a tour ($11 per person).


Yosemite Spring Special

Early spring in Yosemite equals waterfalls galore, especially with the recent storms. Yosemite Falls is the largest continuous waterfall in North America, and if you stay at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls it's literally out your back door. Go to Yosemite in the next few weeks and stay beneath these majestic falls at a reduced rate. Through April 2, book a $99 midweek stay at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and get a complimentary upgrade to the Bed and Breakfast Package. What's included? Breakfast, baby! Served up hot at the lodge, you can indulge in anything from fresh omelets, pancakes, and breakfast burritos, to fruit salads, hearty muffins, and more. Use promo code WKNDSHERPA.

The waterfall season has just started. Go with the flow!

The Breakfast Upgrade promotion is only available on midweek bookings through April 2. Book your room online with promo code WKNDSHERPA, or mention it when you call 801-559-4966.

Other Activities You Might Enjoy


  • 04.3.14

    Pfeiffer Beach
    Big Sur Threesome
    The three habits of highly effective weekend wanderlusters: 1. They start things off with a tasty ...
    Read Story
  • 04.3.14

    Monterey Bay Coastal Trail
    Inspiration Points
    Monterey is all about the coast. So here’s a classic hike that will literally put ...
    Read Story
  • 02.6.14

    Bay Area Curling
    You Go, Curl!
    Hard! Hard! Sweep! You know that sport where a 42-pound granite stone gets released across an ...
    Read Story
  • 02.6.14

    Curry Village Ice Skate
    Blades of Glory
    The outdoor ice rink beneath Yosemite's iconic Half Dome might be the best place this ...
    Read Story

Close