How to Get a Camping Permit for Echo Canyon & Hole in the Wall Roads in Death Valley

Cyclists on the Echo Canyon Road, Death Valley National Park, California
Cyclists on the Echo Canyon Road, Death Valley National Park, California

About a year ago, Death Valley National Park instituted a permit system for the two most popular roads for camping in the park – Echo Canyon Road and Hole in the Wall Road.  I gather that the two were simply overrun, so the park was trying to limit the wear and tear on the landscape.  They established several sites on each road, numbered them, and requested (ok, required) that campers sign up for a free permit to camp along the roads.  As someone who has camped multiple times along both roads before the permit system went into place, I can easily admit that having to get a permit is inconvenient.  However, thankfully, the park service has made it pretty painless.

Note: The Greenwater Valley Road now also requires a permit for dispersed camping. The process is pretty much identical to the method presented here.

Views through Hole in the Wall from HW6, the final campsite on the Hole in the Wall Road, Death Valley National Park, California
Views through Hole in the Wall from HW6, the final campsite on the Hole in the Wall Road

At this point, there are a total of 6 campsites on Hole in the Wall Road and 9 campsites on Echo Canyon Road.  The early sites on both roads are accessible by most vehicles, while others (specifically once you enter Echo Canyon) require 4×4.  In between these two extremes, several of the sites can be accessed with high clearance, with no 4×4 required. Read more about dispersed and roadside camping in Death Valley National Park.

A campsite (sort of!) in Echo Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California
A campsite (sort of!) in Echo Canyon

On a quiet Monday in November, I walked into the Furnace Creek Visitor Center at about noon and had a choice of three sites along Hole in the Wall Road (and I wonder if two others weren’t offered because I have high clearance, not because they were already reserved).  I imagine the sites would fill up quickly during busier seasons (say, spring break or Christmas week).

Views along the Hole in the Wall Road, Death Valley National Park, California
Views along the Hole in the Wall Road

Note: The reservations are NOT available on Recreation.gov and cannot be reserved in advance.  The campsites can only be obtained in person at Furnace Creek Visitor Center (8am-5pm daily) or Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station (“intermittent hours,” which in my experience means not very often).  You can reserve up to 7 nights on a single site/permit (so if you, for example, wanted to spend 5 nights at EC2 (Echo Canyon Site 2), you wouldn’t have to go back to the visitor center every day to get a new permit).  The permits are free, but you’ll still need to pay the entrance fee (or present your park pass with a valid ID).

Driving into Echo Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California
Driving into Echo Canyon

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to get a permit:

  1. Go to Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
  2. Enter the visitor center and approach the information/fee desk (straight ahead as you walk in the door).
  3. Ask the ranger(s) on duty if there are any sites available along your desired road (or either road if you’re not picky).
  4. The ranger will probably ask what type of vehicle you drive before pulling out a big white notebook with the available permits/sites.
  5. Fill out a paper form – it asks for typical details like the type of vehicle you’re driving, license plate, group leader, an emergency contact person, how many people/animals are in your party, the dates of your stay, etc.
  6. The ranger will review the rules with you (pretty logical if you know Leave No Trace, along with a few specifics like pets in campsites, etc. – see below).  The one important piece of information is that the rangers won’t check up on you – you must have the emergency contact person call the rangers if you don’t show up by the appointed time or get into trouble.  And since cell service is extremely spotty in Death Valley (Verizon and T-Mobile/Sprint), it’s best to let your emergency contact know your plans/schedule before you leave Furnace Creek.
  7. The ranger will give you a copy of the rules (which you’ll have to sign) along with a green tag with your site number (for example, I stayed in HW6 – Hole in the Wall Road, Site 6).
A campsite (maybe HW3?) along Hole in the Wall Road, Death Valley National Park, California
A campsite (maybe HW3?) along Hole in the Wall Road

That’s it!  You can then drive up to your designated site when you’re ready to camp.

Eye of the Needle Arch in Echo Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California
Eye of the Needle Arch in Echo Canyon

Here are the rules and regs on the printout I was given. (If you can’t read them, click on them to open Flickr and then click again to make it bigger.)

Side 1 of the Rules & Regulations for Roadside Camping in Death Valley National Park, California
Side 1 of the Rules & Regulations
Side 2 of the Rules & Regulations for Roadside Camping in Death Valley National Park, California
Side 2 of the Rules & Regulations

Remember that these sites are primitive.  You won’t have a picnic table, fire ring (fires are prohibited unless you can turn them off, like a camp stove), water, or other amenities – in fact, you’ll just have a half-circle, pull-in, or pulloff, likely made of gravel – and that’s it.  But the views tend to be amazing, and that’s worth a lot!

Views back through Hole in the Wall from HW6, the final campsite on the Hole in the Wall Road, Death Valley National Park, California
Views back through Hole in the Wall from HW6, the final campsite on the Hole in the Wall Road

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