Death Valley is the largest national park in the continental United States, spanning over 3 million acres. To boot, there are 1,000 miles of paved and dirt roads leading to remote destinations.
Free camping in Death Valley isn’t hard to find. In fact, this is one of just a few national parks that encourages dispersed camping.
The one rule you must follow is this: you can boondock in Death Valley National Park as long as you stay 1-mile off any paved or day-use dirt road.
This rule isn’t hard to follow with the abundance of dirt roads in Death Valley. We have a low-clearance AWD Chevy Astro van, which can make it down some dirt roads, and not others.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to find free campsites in Death Valley, and which apps and maps we use. We’ll also give you tips and tricks for boondocking in general if you haven’t done it before.
Free camping in Death Valley is truly a magical experience. You can even do it in a tent if you don’t have a rig.
How to find free camping in Death Valley
Since Death Valley is open to dispersed camping, you can download a map right from the national park service.
We uploaded this onto our iPad, and I used it to gauge distances, analyze road types, and plan our dispersed camping in Death Valley.
For example, the map tells you if the road is okay for a low clearance vehicle, or whether you need a high clearance 4WD to attempt the road. Many of the roads listed have descriptions of the road and final destination to help you figure out where to go.
We found the map extremely useful and used it in tandem with an app called iOverlander. With iOverlander, you an see where other campervans and RVers parked and read their description and assessment of the road.
We boondocked in Death Valley for three nights and loved the seclusion and beauty of these free campsites.
💡Boondocking tip: Remember to only camp in previously undisturbed areas. Don’t trample fragile desert plants and environments. Stay 100 yards from any water source. And most importantly, practice leave no trace principals!
Where you can’t boondock in Death Valley
While there are hundreds of miles of backcountry roads to drive down in a rig like a Jeep camper, there are still many places that are off-limits to dispersed camping in Death Valley.
Luckily, the national park makes very clear where you can’t camp.
This list is directly from Death Valley National Park’s website:
Camping is NOT allowed on the valley floor from Ashford Mill in the south to 2 miles north of Stovepipe Wells, on the Eureka Dunes or in Greenwater Canyon.
Camping is NOT allowed on the following “day use only” dirt roads:
- Titus Canyon Road
- Mosaic Canyon Road
- West Side Road
- Wildrose Road
- Skidoo Road
- Aguereberry Point Road
- Cottonwood Canyon Road (first 8 miles only)
- Grotto Canyon Road
- Racetrack Road (from Teakettle Junction to Homestake Dry Camp)
- Natural Bridge Canyon
- Desolation Canyon
- Pinion Mesa Road
- Big Pine Road (22 miles inside of Death Valley National Park)
Camping is NOT allowed at the following historic mining areas:
- Keane Wonder Mine
- Lost Burro Mine
- Ubehebe Lead Mine
- Skidoo Mill
- One mile from all standing mining structures. Generally camping should be avoided in mining districts for personal and resource safety.
Other than that, Death Valley National Park is your oyster when it comes to finding free campsites.
The best time of year to camp in Death Valley National Park
While Death Valley is the hottest and lowest national park in the United States, you can still visit in summer!
How, you might wonder?
Yes, it’s true that Badwater Basin is 300 feet below sea level, but its surrounded by towering mountain peaks. The highest mountain overlooking Death Valley reaches over 11,000 feet.
So during sweltering summer months, you can take dirt roads up to higher elevations to find free camping in Death Valley.
When we were there in March, it was still too wet and muddy to take West Side Road up into the flanks of the mountains rising on the west side of Death Valley, but this route would be amazing in drier months.
You can drive up a variety of canyons into the high mountains and find camping near old mine sites, in Juniper-Pinyon forests, and near crystal clear springs. Many of those roads require a high clearance 4×4 to get high enough in elevation to escape the heat.
During winter, spring or fall, you can also camp in Death Valley. Some of the free campsites we found were around 1,000 feet, which work well during the cooler months.
💡Boondocking tip: No matter the time of year, you must be aware of the weather to boondock in Death Valley. There are flash flood risks, and it can be very windy or cold. In one of our campsites, we stayed in the van all evening due to wind, and even cooked in the van. Know your weather!
We use a Garmin inReach satellite device to download weather, check our elevation, and have on hand in case of a backcountry emergency. Cell reception is VERY limited inside the park!
Which types of vehicles can boondock in Death Valley?
We saw all sorts of people finding free campsites in Death Valley! While you do need a 4×4 high clearance rig to go down many of the dirt roads, others are accessible to all vehicles.
We even saw people pitching tents next to their cars to take advantage of free camping in Death Valley.
My suggestion would be to use the Death Valley map and read road descriptions. You can always head partway down a road and turn around if it isn’t right for your vehicle.
Our low clearance Chevy Astro van found perfect spots in the Lee Flat area down a dirt road west of Father Crowley Point. We also spent the night down the road leading to Cottonwood and Marble canyons. Another night we drove down the dirt road leading to Echo Canyon and Eye of the Needle.
Some people even drove Class C RVs down these dirt roads to glory in the solitude and beauty of Death Valley.
As long as you do your research and understand your vehicle’s limits, you can find free camping in Death Valley.
Equipment for boondocking in Death Valley
It’s really important to have the right equipment when you’re boondocking in Death Valley. Weather conditions can change rapidly and its good to be prepared.
Having enough water when camping in Death Valley is essential.
We usually fill up with water for camping at the Death Valley Visitor’s Center in Furnace Creek, but there are probably other sources of water as well.
The type of gear you bring will largely depend on your vehicle. Some RVs have built-in boondocking gear already like solar panels and large water tanks.
A small campervan like ours needed a lot of gear to make boondocking truly comfortable.
Here are some of the things we have in the van:
- A Garmin inReach Mini satellite communicator for weather, maps, texting and SOS in case of emergency
- Two collapsible water containers, including a 2-gallon and a 5-gallon
- A one-burner camping stove for meals – we use this JetBoil Half-Gen, which I can’t say enough good things about.
- A 6-quart stovetop pressure cooker for quick and easy meals
- Since we spend so much time outside the van, we rely on a tiny foldable camping table for cooking, making coffee and setting drinks.
- We just love these little camping chairs by Moonlence, perfect for a small van. They are surprisingly comfortable, too!
- This portable handheld bidet is amazing for “going” out in nature. Trust me on this one!
- Solar panels and an inverter power our 37-quart ARB fridge, which we can’t imagine boondocking without
You may also like this post: 10 essentials for RV boondocking
Conclusion on finding free campsites in Death Valley
If you’re new to boondocking, Death Valley is the perfect place to start. Using the map provided by the national park lets you find free campsites with ease.
Plus, you can camp fairly close to main roads, so if you have a problem, you know help isn’t too far away.
Once you experiment with boondocking, you can take your 4×4 rig deep into Death Valley National Park to find free campsites in remote wilderness areas.
Also, you can find great free campsites all over California. These boondocking guides really help – author Marianne lists campsite locations, views, and whether the campsite has cell data. Check out her Boondocking Guides here:
I hope you enjoy finding free campsites just as much as we do. Happy boondocking!
Other free camping posts to check out!
- Can you camp anywhere in a national forest?
- 7 awesome free campsites in California
- The Dyrt Pro Review: Is this the best camping app?
Want to find FREE camping?
Download my FREE boondocking starter guide right now:
Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.