If I had to pick my “perfect” travel itinerary, I know one thing: it would include a lot of time outdoors in nature. National parks are one of my favorite attractions when on the road, but let’s face it: the further off the beaten path you go, the harder it is to find top notch accommodations.
When I decided to put Death Valley National Park on my list – North America’s most desolate plain – I couldn’t have imagined finding a four-star deluxe hotel in the middle of it all. I was wrong.
The Furnace Creek Resort is the often overlooked part of Death Valley’s story. Opened in 1927, the Inn at Furnace Creek remains an icon of the wild west, a desert oasis — literally – in a harsh landscape, welcoming affordable luxury travelers who want to explore the park’s incredible scenery and have a comfortable place to relax in the evening.
The Inn at Furnace Creek is the perfect weekend getaway, a rich blend of history and culture and outdoors. Here are some notes for planning your perfect getaway.
The History of the Inn
Death Valley actually became a trafficked area because of it’s rich mining potential – borax, mainly – though most of the mines in the area proved to be barely profitable. The hotel was built by the US Pacific Borax Company as a means to promote tourism and increase profitability of their railroad line that was built to transport borax out of the valley.
Famous western entrepreneur Fred Harvey took over the hotel from its mining owners and managed it for decades; in fact, the company that manages it today – Xanterra – was actually a company formed out of Fred Harvey’s company. Now with 66 rooms, the inn still exudes that pioneering feeling of being in the remote west, but with so many elegant touches, from the garden walkways to many places to sit and relax for a spell.
Rooms at the hotel are comfortable and well-appointed, considering the harsh desert environment, with air conditioning, flat screen TVs, and free Wifi. The best part are the showers; the hotel’s water reserves are smartly engineered, resulting in a power shower with so much pressure it nearly knocked me out of the tub. There’s no running out of hot water here in the oasis.
Relaxing in an Oasis
Despite being miles from civilization, the Inn at Furnace Creek has all the civilization that you’ll need. You’ll probably want to spend at least an afternoon lounging by the pool – after all, it’s a fresh spring water pool (no chlorine). Don’t worry – they recycle the water!
Golfers will want to head down to the ranch and enjoy a round at the Furnace Creek golf course – the world’s lowest elevation golf course. (Tip: finish off your rounds with a cold beer and a burger at the 19th Hole.)
Speaking of dining, the Corkscrew Saloon is another ranch option if you want some relaxed pub grub and a few drinks, though I find it hard to miss any meal at the inn’s main dining room. With a top shelf staff running this operation (and the ability to have the freshest products brought in from nearby Vegas), the quality of the dining at the inn was probably my biggest surprise. Fantastic wine pairings, incredible tasty seafood dishes, decadent desserts – the good food just never stopped. You can’t go wrong with the daily specials, though there are two things I should call out specifically:
- Date Bread & Date Butter: There used to be a functioning date farm down in Furnace Creek, but the date palms are no longer producing edible fruit. The inn still gets dates from a nearby farm and makes the most divine date butter I have ever had, along with their signature date bread – I loved it so much I took some from my room service tray home with me!
- Sunday Brunch: Folks come in from hours away to enjoy the Sunday brunch at the inn. As far as hotel brunches go, it leads the pack with piles of sweet and savory snacking. Don’t forget your mimosa.
(Note: The inn’s dining room is fairly relaxed, but does have a dress code – no t-shirts or tank tops. Reservations are not a bad idea.)
Exploring Death Valley
Death Valley is expansive with attractions, sights, and experiences that are like no other. At times, you feel like you are on Mars, alone. Pictured above is Dante’s Peak, which I think shows off how rugged the valley is – the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, is just down on the lefthand corner of the photo (282 feet below sea level).
Some other unique attractions in the park with a visit:
- Zabriskie Point: A beautiful lookout point; U2 filmed a cover album here!
- Mosaic Canyon: For a short but vivid hike try this canyon, which at times is so narrow only one person can proceed in either direction!
- Mesquite Flat Dunes: Not the largest dunes in the park, but the easiest to access and still incredible.
- Artist’s Drive: One of the most scenic drives in the park, very close to the hotel.
Good to Know
Death Valley National Park is the size of Connecticut, so don’t plan on exploring the entire park in a day or two – you really need about four days to see everything without exhausting yourself. The good part is that most of the major attractions are close to the main roads, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time on rough roads if you don’t want to. The fastest way to get to the Inn at Furnace Creek is to fly into Las Vegas – from there, it is an easy two-hour drive.
You probably know Death Valley for being the hottest place in the world, but it is a desert, which means it can be cool at night – pack accordingly. You’ll want to make sure you carry water at all times and stay hydrated, especially on hikes. It doesn’t rain often, but if it does – get to high ground, as flooding can happen in an instant.
Best times of year to visit Death Valley: Mid-February to April (wildflowers in bloom), Late October through December (calm weather, less traffic in the park at times).
Editorial Disclosure: Portions of this travel were sponsored by Xanterra, who manage hotels in national parks across the nation. A big thank you for their help in coordinating our trip!