Overview and Route Information
At some point, all of us afflicted with the climbing or mountaineering bug (or both) face this situation:
You are with relatives or friends who don’t exactly share your passions and are content with the roadside stops recommended by the guidebooks. Having resigned yourself to this fate, this duty, you nevertheless get to thinking of some way to salvage things at least a little bit at the same time that you are serving out your sentence.
So here you are at Death Valley National Park, a place that is truly spectacular even from solely behind the windshield. You make the obligatory stop at Dantes View (why do names of geographic locations almost never have possessive apostrophes when they should?) in the Black Mountains, overlooking Badwater Basin, the continent’s lowest point, more than a mile below; the vast expanse of the Death Valley Salt Pan; and the towering Panamint Range, capped by 11,049’ Telescope Peak, the view of which from Badwater, at -282’, might offer the greatest vertical relief to be found in North America. On very clear days, you can see all the way to the Sierra Nevada, and it's possible to see both Mount Whitney and Badwater Basin, the contiguous states' highest and lowest points, respectively, from the same place.
What do you do to maintain a little mountaineering pride as the numerous other visitors here scurry about?
Why, you look to your right, spot the trail heading north up the ridge, and take it. In just less than 0.4 mi and with only about 230’ of elevation gain, you reach the highpoint and the benchmark, where there probably will be a cairn but probably won’t be a summit register. Some park hiking guides identify this spot as the highpoint of Dantes Ridge. This "ridge" actually has all the prominence it needs to qualify as a named peak, but all it gets is its unofficial name and the Dante benchmark. This snub is not high on the list of the world's gravest injustices, but the peak still deserves better.
The views are little different from what one sees below at Dantes View, with the exception of the views north along the crest of the Black Range, but you will have these views either to yourself or with only a handful of other people, and that makes the short hike up here worth it. Then you can head to the store at Furnace Creek, buy a map, and start planning a real climb. But you’ll at least know you did more to earn that beer with dinner than the rest of your party did, even if it was only a little bit!
Note: Speaking of real outings, I ought to note that the trail continues north from the summit and winds at least as far as the perspective there allows you to see. It is therefore within the realm of imagination that one could start from Dantes View and hike/scramble as far as Zabriskie Point (a badlands area at the northern end of the Black Mountains), a trip of 16-20 miles (estimate based on map studies only). Strong hikers could do this in a long day, but it might be more enjoyable to start in late afternoon, make a light camp for the night, and finish the next morning. THERE WILL BE NO WATER ALONG THIS ROUTE, SO PACK ACCORDINGLY.
That route is nothing more than an idea, though. What I do know is that it is possible to hike four miles from Dantes View, over and beyond Dantes BM, and then to Mt. Perry.
Do this one in fall, winter, or spring. Daytime high temperatures in the summer will range from 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit on average. It will likely be windy, but the hot desert winds of summer bring no relief. Even nighttime in the lower elevations is unpleasant in summer; the average lows are in the mid- to upper 80s.
From CA 190 east of the Furnace Creek area, take the well-marked spur to Dantes View, which climbs for 13 miles to the viewpoint and the start of the hike. Vehicles over 25’ in length are prohibited from driving the last quarter-mile, which is steep and winding.
Red Tape, Camping, and Links
There is an entrance fee of $20 for Death Valley National Park. There is a self-pay kiosk just south of the Dantes View turnoff. You can also pay at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. Because there are no entrance stations in Death Valley, it is easy to cheat on paying the fees. Remember, though, that your fees help support your parks.
There are no campgrounds along the access road, but you can sleep in the car or camp at least one fourth of a mile from the road. The nearest developed campgrounds are Furnace Creek, Sunset, and Texas Spring, all in the Furnace Creek area, about 11 miles from the Dantes View turnoff. Sites at Furnace Creek Campground can be reserved during the winter months.
Xanterra operates lodging facilities at Furnace Creek Ranch and Furnace Creek Inn. Rates are pricey, especially at the latter, but a stay at either facility often beats camping in the area, where nighttime temperatures are frequently uncomfortably warm.
Death Valley NPS site