We love Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Ranch, but as room rates for this family-friendly Death Valley lodging option rise (justifiably…it’s a great place to stay), we’ve been exploring camping in Death Valley.
Families have their pick of several Death Valley campgrounds, and all fill up fast in the primary season from February through May. Families with RVs or trailers may do fine at one of the more exposed first-come, first-served campgrounds at Indian Wells, but for tent camping in Death Valley, Furnace Creek Campground is the clear choice.
Families can reserve a site at Furnace Creek Campground up to six months in advance, and I highly recommend doing so. The campground is comprised of both hook-up and tent-only sites, with the tent sites sectioned off in their own walk-in loop. (There are also a few drive-in tent-only sites, but they are directly adjacent to RV spots.)
The walk-in loop includes sites 115-150, and offers the full range of site quality: from fully-exposed and completely non-private to shaded and reasonably secluded. After spending four nights tent camping in Furnace Creek Campground, we recommend sites 133, 134, and 130 as prime location, with 121, 120, and 119 coming in a close second. These sites offer the most shade and comfort. It’s important to note that while these tent sites are labeled as ‘walk in’, the distance is only a matter of feet from the sites to the parking area. It’s also worth noting that sites are organized three deep: if you’re in 134, for instance, you’ll walk through the camp of 131 and 133 before arriving at your site. We disliked this structure, but it’s the nature of the beast: the desert terrain is wide and open. A walkway would be welcome, however.
In our site of 133, we had three alcoves shaded by mesquite trees for smaller tents, space for a large tent, and room to hang two hammocks. While we wished for more space from our neighbors, everyone camping during busy spring break in this section of the campground was respectful and fairly quiet, as patrons of tent-only sections of national park campgrounds tend to be.
Every loop at Furnace Creek Campground has restroom facilities with flush toilets, sinks, and water stations for filling drinking water containers, doing dishes, and the like. There are no showers. Every site has a fire pit with grate, and firewood can be bought at the Furnace Creek Ranch store. Garbage bins are located at the end of the tent-only loop, as well as camp stove fuel recycling bins.
The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is located adjacent to the campground, and offers an amphitheater, evening campfire programs, the Junior Ranger program, and a nice video overview of the park. This is definitely worth being your first stop.
Using Furnace Creek Ranch facilities:
The campground is a five to ten minute walk from Furnace Creek Ranch, which houses motel-style rooms, a few restaurants, a general store, gas station, and a park-like setting with tennis courts, lawn games, a basketball sport court, and spring-fed swimming pool. Can campground guests use these facilities? Yes, but read on for details:
Obviously, the store and restaurants are open to all (more on that below), and while technically the tennis and other sport facilities are designated for ranch guests, there’s nothing to stop campground guests from enjoying them with their own sport equipment.
To use the Furnace Creek Ranch pool (which you definitely will want to do), campground guests need to buy day passes from the Registration building. Passes are on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s worth stopping in during the morning before heading out to hike or otherwise explore the park. Use the pass in the afternoon. The pool house also houses showers, so take advantage of that amenity as well.
Tip: Don’t forget about gear! Everyone in your family will need quality hiking socks, and you can get additional camping and hiking gear information in our travel gear section!
Obviously, campers will be cooking most meals in camp, but a dinner or breakfast out at Furnace Creek Ranch can be a welcome treat. Expect higher prices at the 49er Cafe (and even higher at the buffet restaurant next door), but you’re paying for the convenience of skipping dish washing, right? Fare ranges from burgers to pasta and steak dishes, and breakfasts are typical: omelets, griddle favorites, etc. There is no kids’ menu at breakfast, so consider ordering for young children a la carte. Grab dessert from the store next door: they have a soft-serve station we enjoy. You can also grab perishables here, such as milk, ice, and cold drinks.
Distance from the interstate:
Furnace Creek Campground is on Highway 190, about 30 minutes from Beatty (Highway 95).
Tent-only sites were $16/night at the time of our visit. (Room rates at Furnace Creek Ranch were approximately $225.)
From Highway 95 at Beatty, follow signs to Death Valley National Park (along Highway 190).