Planning Your Time at Scotty’s Castle and the Eureka Valley

Somehow the words remote and vast don’t quite do justice to the Eureka Valley.

These words are often used to describe Death Valley, but the Eureka Valley takes them to the next level. In this northernmost valley, the only existing modern building is the tiny pit toilet at the Eureka Dunes. The trade-off for all this remoteness is the lofty and pristine Eureka Sand Dunes; the alien dry lake bed of “The Racetrack,” where rocks move and leave tracks; the shining and desolate views of the Saline Valley from Ubehebe Peak, the highest peak in the Last Chance Range; and the copper mining camps, forgotten and few.

Two rocks and their trails on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, California.
The Racetrack playa– this dry lake bed has long attracted visitors because of its strangely moving rocks, which glide across its surface leaving trails. Photo © Mike Norton/123rf.

The one bastion of modern civilization, Scotty’s Castle, exists thanks to Death Valley Scotty, an infamous swindler who convinced his benefactors to build this Spanish colonial-style mansion in the middle of the desert. The castle stands high and incongruous in the rocky twists of the Grapevine Mountains. Crowds wander its lush green grounds and tour the period-furnished house. Except for restrooms and water, there are no services here. Campgrounds are few and primitive, and there are no gas stations, restaurants, or lodging.

The Last Chance Range divides this area, and its name alludes to the fact that it’s the least accessible range in the least accessible region of the park. The sprawling and rugged Eureka Valley is studded with hidden gems. Come prepared for long drives on teeth-rattling roads and take the time to find them. The effort you spend planning to become self-sufficient will pay off with the quiet dazzle of pristine desert, gleaming sand dunes, and starry nights.

Planning Your Time

Scotty’s Castle and the Eureka Valley are the least accessible regions in the park. There is one developed campground and two primitive campgrounds; there are no other accommodations in the region, no services or food, and water is only available at Scotty’s Castle and Mesquite Campground. Plan on roughing it and develop a strategy for exploring the area, especially if you want to spend most of your visit here. However, it is also possible to visit a destination or two in this region from one of the park hubs.

There are three focal points in this region: Scotty’s Castle, the Racetrack Valley, and the Eureka Valley.

Scotty’s Castle

Scotty’s Castle is one of the most popular destinations in the park. The 1920s mansion is on the itinerary of many first-time visitors, and it’s common to see tour buses crowding the parking area and folks lining up for tour tickets. Scotty’s Castle is within easy reach of both Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells, about an hour’s drive along paved park roads. While at Scotty’s Castle, it’s easy to add an interpretive hike along Ubehebe Crater, about a 20-minute drive west.

A metal snake forms a bracket holding up a lamp at Scotty's Castle in Death Valley, California.
The interior of Scotty’s Castle is fully furnished with the owner’s original possessions, including 1920s period furnishings, rich tapestries, mosaic tile work, arched doorways, and a spiral staircase. Photo © Quinn Dombrowski, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

The Racetrack Valley

Despite its remoteness, The Racetrack is the biggest draw. Many visitors make the long and difficult drive to this eerie expanse of dry lake bed scattered with the faint trails of rocks that have skated across its surface. Access is via Racetrack Valley Road, 26 miles of rutted, rocky washboard. Many people stay in Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells and turn the adventurous, three- to four-hour drive into a long day trip, but you could easily spend several days here. Set up camp at primitive Homestake Dry Camp and explore Ubehebe Peak, hidden mining camps like Ubehebe Mine, Lost Burro Mine, Lippincott Mine, and the Goldbelt Mining District, and even the occasional canyon.

The Eureka Valley

To explore the Eureka Valley, start your trip at the Eureka Dunes before heading south into the park. Consider camping at the primitive Eureka Dunes Dry Camp so you’re not rushed for time. Big Pine-Death Valley Road offers northern access to the Eureka Valley. Otherwise, it’s a drive of 50 miles (two hours) from Scotty’s Castle.

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