I always like to come in through Death Valley Junction. I like to stop at Dante's View for the opening act of my trip and get the bird's-eye view. Then Zabriskie Point comes next for another wow.
Last week in Ridgecrest I got a surprisingly good rate from Priceline for the Carriage Inn.
What time of year are you coming? Why not stay in Death Valley itself instead Beatty or DV Junction. Agree with Danny to drive via Pahrump and DV Junction from Vegas.
End of December! The prices for lodging inside the park seems to be very expensive!
Have you checked any of the other recent threads here? Several of them have similar questions and discussions, and you’ll find conversations about the main things to see and do.
If you have only one night to spend in the park, it’s a better use of your time to enter through Pahrump and Death Valley Junction. The Badwater route is very scenic and beautiful, but the southern part is more about long-range vistas of the Valley and mountains than specific natural wonders. The major natural wonders are in the northern 17 miles from Hwy 190, and are better approached from the north for people with limited time. This is especially true if you decide to stay outside the park, which will mean more commuting time and less time to explore Death Valley.
Beatty is about 40 miles from Furnace Creek. For people with limited time who want to see most of the major natural marvels, some of the “lesser” ones, and the park visitor center, it’s somewhat off the direct route. The Amargosa Hotel and Opera House in DV Junction is 10 miles closer, and it’s a historic property with great ambience if you are adventurous and like history. But it is a bare-bones place with limited amenities; this is a ghost town with no other services except the hotel complex which includes a café (no store, gas station, post office, etc). I hope you weren’t considering the Longstreet hotel in Amargosa Valley, which is around 55 miles from Furnace Creek and is in the middle of nowhere, but not in a good (rustic, backcountry, quaint) way; there is nothing to see or do outside the hotel for miles around.
Really, the best choice is to stay in the park so you can be near most places of interest, enjoy an authentic desert experience, be able to enjoy the natural landscapes all the time, see sunrise and/or sunset, stargaze, and have a chance to see wildlife. When you think about all those pluses of staying in the park, there is no comparison with any town. Consider Stovepipe Wells Village, which while not cheap, is less expensive than Furnace Creek and will give you a real feeling of being in Death Valley.
If you stay there, you can spend your first day seeing the sights on the east side (Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point, the park visitor center at Furnace Creek, and the sights along Badwater Road). On the second day, before leaving the park, you can see the Sand Dunes (magical at sunrise and also sunset), Devil’s Cornfield, perhaps Salt Creek, and maybe do a hike in Mosaic Canyon.
There is another small resort on the west edge of the park, Panamint Springs. It's a cute place with a more rustic atmosphere and good food, and slightly lower rates than Stovepipe Wells. But the location makes it less practical for seeing all the major sights of Death Valley, because you'd have to either finish all your exploring the first day or backtrack on the second morning to see what you missed. Considering the cost of gas in and around the park, staying at Stovepipe Wells might be as economical as staying outside and driving in and out of the park.
Be aware that you cannot drive directly to Ridgecrest by the usual routes from DV (Emigrant-Wildrose or Panamint Valley roads). They are closed due to summer storm damage. You will need to continue on 190 to 395 (or 190 and 136 to Lone Pine if you'd like to see Mt. Whitney), then go south on 395.
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