Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest, and lowest of all the national parks. Located in eastern, Central California, and about 2 hours west of Las Vegas, it’s also the largest national park in the lower 48 states (second only to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Southern Alaska).
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater, centrally located within Death Valley, is the lowest point in North America. Mountains encircle the valley, enclosing the extreme amounts of summer heat, creating temperatures that are among the hottest on earth. Summer is not the ideal time for a motorcycle visit. Temperatures above 120 degrees are not uncommon.
The motorcycle riding is divine. In fact the primary route, officially designated as “Death Valley Scenic Byway” (comprising Route 190 in the park) ranks as part of the “National Scenic Byways” which is a treasure trove of riding destinations for motorcycle riders across the United States.
Starting from the west and heading east, this route begins in Lone Pine, CA, at the base of Mt. Whitney, which is the highest point in the lower 48 states. This desert ride is only about 125 miles from Lone Pine to the lowest point in North America.
Regardless of what time of year you motor through this 3.3 million acres of rugged, harsh and quietly inspiring country, you will experience temperature changes riding up and down the mountains while checking out the unique, desolate and magnificent beauty of this multi-colored geology. The route not only takes you through mountains, but along sand dunes, salt-encrusted lake beds (see photo above) and vast, desert scenery.
In addition to the official byway tour, there are a plenty of other roads to explore. There are over 1000 miles of roads in Death Valley accessible to you. If you are an adventure rider or dual-purpose rider, more than 600 of those miles are unpaved and backcountry, and quite a bit recommended only for 4×4 vehicles. (Note: Only street-legal vehicles with valid license plates and current registration stickers are allowed, so alas, this big chunk of land is no-go for pure dirt bikes.)
There are many places to visit, but for any motorcyclist there are two particularly noteworthy side trips to consider: Dante’s View and Artists Drive. This is one large motorcycle playground!