Thoughts about campgrounds in Death Valley
We have now stayed at most of the campgrounds in Death Valley. Here's a quick take on what we like and don't like about each one:
Stovepipe Wells: It's a gravel parking lot, and unless you get one of the tent sites, it doesn't even have picnic tables or a fire ring. But it's cheap, it has good cell-[phone coverage (data is sketchy) and we've never seen it fill up. There is a small store, a gas station (prices only about fifty cents more than Ridgecrest or Lone Pine) and a hotel that does offer pool and shower facilities to the campers ($5 for both, all day) Not our favorite by a long-shot, but did we mention it's cheap and never fills up? The best spots--and the first to fill up--are the ones around the outside. The last ones to fill in are the ones in the middle of the parking lot.
Furnace Creek: this is the only campground that you can reserve in Death Valley. It's much more expensive, and has both tent sites and full hook-ups, picnic tables and fire rings at every site. We don't think it's worth the extra money, but we don't live in campgrounds, we really just sleep in them. If you want to hang out in the campground, this might be a good option. Showers and pool are available at the nearby resort for a fee. There's a larger store here, but still pretty limited in terms of food. You can survive on what you buy here, but fresh fruit and veggies are rare and costly. You can figure that gas at Furnace Creek will be about two dollars MORE per gallon than at Stovepipe Wells. You've been warned.
Texas Springs: Just up the hill from Furnace Creek, this one fills up early in the spring and fall. Your best bet is to get there very early and cruise around, looking for a spot to open up. It's the only campground that actually has a few trees in the desirable tent sites in the lower section of the campground. The upper section has no trees. Cheap and nice, if you can get a spot--especially if you can get a spot in the tent section with trees for shade.
Furnace Creek Overflow Campground. This is just a gravel parking lot between Texas Springs and Furnace Creek. It has the advantage of being cheap and rarely full. And you might get cell coverage from the nearby hotel. There is a store at the hotel as well, and you are walking distance from the Visitor Center. That's a plus.
Mahogany Flat: A tiny, ten-site tents only campground very near the highway above Stovepipe Wells. It's free. It fills up early, and we've never stayed there. It's also a trailhead for the Lemoigne Canyon hike. Eight miles from the facilities at Stovepipe Wells--and we had cell phone coverage here.
Mesquite Springs: This is at the far northern end of the park, which means it's close to Scotty's Castle (closed for years now) Ubehebe Crater, and not much else. The road past Scotty's Castle into western Nevada is closed, so the only way to get here is from the south past Stovepipe Wells or, if you are truly adventurous, over dirt roads through the desert. For obvious reasons, this campground doesn't get as many visitors. There are only about 40 sites, and plenty of space between them. Running water, flush toilets, picnic tables, fire rings and barbecue grills at every site. Garbage dumpsters (but no recycling, except for used fuel canisters). $14 a night, $7 with a senior discount. We loved it, but it would not make a good base camp for exploring Dante's View, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, Artists' Palette, Badwater, or any of the other primary attractions of the park.
There are more campgrounds up in the Panamint Mountains, but they are often closed in winter. And we don't go to Death Valley in the summer.