DEATH VALLEY, Calif. – As temperatures cool, Death Valley National Park is opening campgrounds. The National Park Service (NPS) and Caltrans are making progress reopening flood-damaged roads. Free permits will be required for overnight camping along the park’s most popular backcountry roads and trails.
Texas Springs Campground and Stovepipe Wells Campground will open at noon on October 15. A water system issue in Sunset Campground will delay that site’s opening until October 24. All of the park’s campgrounds are first-come, first-served, except for Furnace Creek Campground, which can be reserved at Recreation.gov.
Seven storms caused a series of flash floods from late July through mid-September. Navigation apps are giving travelers incorrect information about road conditions in the park. Only sections of California Highway 190 are open. Towne Pass, between Emigrant Junction and Panamint Valley on CA-190, will likely remain closed until mid-November. Complete information on road closures are on the park’s website at nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.
The flash floods also benefited the landscape: they erased some human impacts. The NPS is using this natural reset as a time to implement free mandatory permits for roadside camping and backpacking in the most heavily-used areas, to prevent damage from occurring again.
Free permits are required for roadside camping along Echo Canyon, Hole in the Wall, Marble Canyon, and Cottonwood Canyon Roads. Free permits are also required for overnight camping along the Cottonwood-Marble Canyons Loop. Backpacking and roadside camping permits are not required for any other area of the park, but they are encouraged.
The floods obliterated sections of many roads. In some cases, it’s not even clear where unpaved roads used to be. Park rangers closed some of the park’s backcountry roads until the legal roadways are re-established. NPS road crews are prioritizing clearing paved roads, and are likely to start work on unpaved roads in November.
“The floods gave us a chance to reconsider acceptable levels of camping impacts in these popular areas,” said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “Park visitation has doubled over the past decade, which has resulted in crowding on backcountry roads adjacent to developed areas like Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells.”
Permits are a way for park rangers to communicate with campers about Leave No Trace ethics, NPS regulations and other ways users can help protect the environment. Park staff compare usage information from permits with resource impacts on the ground to determine if use limitations are needed to protect the fragile desert. Permits are also valuable during search-and-rescue efforts.
Roadside camping permits are issued for nine campsites along Echo Canyon Road, six along Hole in the Wall Road, ten along Cottonwood Canyon Road, and four along Marble Canyon Road. No camping is allowed along these roads, except with a permit in designated site. The mandatory permits for roadside camping are free, and are available only in person at Furnace Creek Visitor Center (8:00 am to 5:00 pm) and Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station (intermittent hours). Roadside camping permits are issued on the day of, or one day in advance of, the first night of the permit. Permits are first-come, first-served, and cannot be reserved in advance.
Backpackers can get no cost permits for the Cottonwood-Marble Canyons Loop during business hours at Furnace Creek Visitor Center or Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station, online at nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/wilderness-permits.htm, or at the 24-hour self-service drop box outside Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station. These permits are not for specific campsites, and there are no limits on the number of permits issued.
“We really wanted to find a way to make the permits both free and reservable online,” said Superintendent Reynolds. “Unfortunately, we can only issue permits in person. We are likely to consider an online reservation option for 2023/2024, but that would require charging a fee.”
Death Valley National Park is the homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone and preserves natural resources, cultural resources, exceptional wilderness, scenery, and learning experiences within the nation’s largest conserved desert landscape and some of the most extreme climate and topographic conditions on the planet. Learn more at www.nps.gov/deva.