It was Day 3 of our Death Valley road trip. We dedicated the entire day to visiting Racetrack Playa. After a fun pitstop at the fun and quirky Teakettle Junction, we continued the drive down the long and winding dirt road to the famous site. After a fun day exploring this remote area, Buddy and I are sharing Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Racetrack Playa in Death Valley.
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What is Racetrack Playa?
Racetrack Playa is a dry lakebed in a remote part of Death Valley known for its famous and mysterious sailing stones. Sailing stones are rocks that move along the playa on their own leaving behind tracks that mark their movement.
Is it worth visiting Racetrack Playa?
That is a great question!
It takes between six to eight hours to explore Racetrack Playa. And a lot of that time is spent on the road driving to the site. Because it takes so long to explore this remote area, visitors to Death Valley National Park with limited time might wonder if this site is worth exploring.
There are some things to consider.
If you like road trips and spending hours on a dirt road in a four-wheel drive sound like a fun adventure, then Racetrack Playa is great for you! Likewise, if you like to experience remote areas that are a bit more isolated and less frequented by fellow tourists, then yes Racetrack Playa is great for you too!
However, if you are traveling with littles who aren’t keen on a day long road trip. Or if you are someone who gets carsick easily, you might want to skip a daylong drive on a bumpy windy road. And if you are pressed for time during your travels to Death Valley, you may want to skip this excursion. Not to worry though, you will see the unique beauty of Death Valley when you explore some of the more easily accessible iconic Death Valley sites.
And in case you were wondering if we think if it is work visiting Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, yes absolutely! Visiting this iconic site was the highlight of our trip!
In our opinion, Racetrack Playa, or the Racetrack, is a must see in Death Valley!
10 tips for Visiting Racetrack Playa in Death Valley
1. You need four-wheel drive
The only way to get to Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa is with a four-wheel drive vehicle. This is because road to the dry lakebed is on a graded washboard narrow dirt road lined with sharp loose rocks. If you are traveling to Death Valley in your own four-wheel drive vehicle, which many travelers did when we visited, then you are good to travel on all the of the National Park’s dirt roads!
However, if the vehicle that you drove into Death Valley is not a four-wheel drive, you will need to rent a Jeep to visit Racetrack Playa. There is one Jeep rental in Death Valley, Farabee’s Rentals & Tours located in Furnace Creek. We rented a Jeep from Farabee’s to get to Racetrack Playa and had a great experience!
2. Start early
Visiting Racetrack Playa is a day long trip. From both Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells, it is a 1-hour drive on Highway 190 and Scotty’s Castle Road to Racetrack Road near Ubehebe Crater. From there, driving the 28-mile Racetrack Road to Racetrack Playa at an average of 25 miles per hour takes approximately another 2 hours. So, getting to Racetrack Playa takes and average of 3 hours.
If you want time to explore Racetrack Playa and nearby sites such as Teakettle Junction, Ubehebe Crater, or the Eureka Dunes, you will want to start early. Also, beginning your Death Valley adventures early is a great way to beat the heat!
If you are visiting with your own four wheel drive, you can begin as early as you like! However, if you are renting a Jeep, you are beholden to the pickup time of your rental, which is between 8am-10am. If renting a Jeep, arrive for pick up as early as you can! Pick up times can be busy. To avoid lines, get there early.
When we visited Death Valley, we stayed in Stovepipe Wells, a 30-minute drive northwest of Furnace Creek. Although we planned to pick up the Jeep as soon as Farabee’s opened, we opted to spend some time that morning watching the sunrise and the full moon set. By the time we arrived at to pick up our Jeep from Farabee’s at 8:30am, there was a line!
Beat the line, start your day early! Also, if you stay in Stovepipe Wells like we did, and need to rent a Jeep to get to Racetrack Playa, you will be driving an extra hour that day to pick up and drop off your rental.
3. Stop at Teakettle Junction
Teakettle Junction is a fun and quirky pit stop on the way to Racetrack Playa. After driving 20 miles down the Racetrack Road from Ubehebe Crater, you will come across Teakettle Junction, large brown mileage signpost covered in Teakettles.
Teakettle Junction is a fun place to stop, stretch your legs, take some photos, and hang a teakettle! Also, depending on your provider, your phone might work at Teakettle Junction. This is notable since there is little to no cell phone service in Death Valley.
Buddy and I shared Everything You Need to Know for a Fun Time at Death Valley’s Teakettle Junction including some things we wish we knew before we visited!
4. Go to the second stop first
At Racetrack Playa, there are two places to stop and park, the Grandstand and the Wood Fence. When you arrive, go to the second stop first. Here’s why!
Located 2 miles from the Grandstand, the second stop is where you will find the sailing stones! From the Wood Fence parking area, it is about a 0.5 mile walk to the southeast to see the stones.
Another reason to visit this area first is that it is far less crowded. This means that there is more parking available and more space to get out and explore. Also, there is less human destruction (more on that later) at the second stop. This makes for an overall better experience of this unique and beautiful area.
If you visit the second stop first, you can visit the first stop, the Grandstand, on your way out. The Grandstand is an island outcrop of rocks in the middle of Racetrack Playa. It is a short 0.25 mile walk from the parking area to the Grandstand.
During our time at Racetrack Playa, we saw many visitors only stop at the first stop, the Grandstand, before turning around and driving away. We opted to go to the second stop first, thinking that we could stop at the Grandstand on the drive back. Best decision!
We spent most of our time on the Racetrack in the Southeastern part of the Playa. Buddy walked far out on the dry lake following the paths of the sailing stones. Inspired by the beauty and solitude of the landscape, we created multiple Movement Postcards and spent hours on the Racetrack. We then visited the Grandstand, walking around the island, before eating lunch and driving to Ubehebe Crater.
5. Be kind and gentle to the area
Racetrack Playa is very fragile. Unfortunately, there is a lot of human destruction and damage in the area, especially near the Grandstand. There are tire marks, a lot of footprints, and rocks that were clearly moved by humans.
When visiting, be kind and gentle to the area so that future generations may enjoy this beautiful site. Some tips include do not drive off road, do not move rocks, and do not walk on the surface of the playa when it is wet.
Footprints and tire marks left on the wet Racetrack stay for years! After visiting the south side of Racetrack Playa first, we were saddened to see the multiple footprints and tire marks at the Grandstand. It definitely took away from the experience.
6. Pack your lunch
Since visiting Racetrack Playa is an all-day affair, you will want to pack your lunch and some snacks to eat at the Racetrack. If you rent a Jeep from Farabee’s they provide a cooler with ice and water. Bringing additional water, food, and snacks is recommended. So is a large refillable water bottle so you can stay hydrated on your journey.
During our trip to Death Valley National Park, we kept four 2.5-gallon containers of water in the back of the car, or in this case, rented Jeep. We refilled our water bottles every time we returned to the car.
For our day trip to Racetrack Playa, I brought supplies to make some quick and easy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that we ate with some apples and granola bars at the Grandstand’s dirt parking lot. I also brought these eco collapsible meal kits which worked as our plates and these reusable sandwich bags for snacks. Racetrack Playa’s Grandstand parking lot was not the only dirt parking lot where we had lunch during our Death Valley trip and the collapsible meal kits came in handy!
7. Plan for limited facilities
Regarding restrooms at Racetrack Playa, the nearest facility is a porta potty located at the Homestake Dry Camp. The restrooms are easy to find. Drive south on Racetrack Road until it ends at the campsite. When we visited the porta potty was on the west side of the road.
Aside from this outhouse, the next facilities with flush toilets are at Grapevine Station, which is approximately 32 miles away. That. Is It. If you think you may need to use the facilities during your trip to Racetrack Playa, we recommend planning accordingly.
As a dry camp, Homestake does not have running water. Be prepared with hand sanitizer or travel pocket soap. I traveled with these body wash leaves in my day pack. Buddy used them to wash his hands after visiting the outhouse. I would also bring extra tissue or toilet paper just in case.
8. Bring an offline map
Apart from a lucky few who might get some service at Teakettle Junction, it is highly unlikely that your cell phone will work in Death Valley, including at Racetrack Playa. This means that Google Maps are not an option for navigation to the site. For that reason, we recommend bringing a paper map, or downloading offline maps before you arrive in Death Valley.
The Death Valley Visitor Guide published by the National Park Service has a map in the guide that will easily take you to Racetrack Playa. This map is a great option as they are free at the Visitor’s Center and other Information Station throughout the park.
When rented the Jeep from Farabee’s they provided us with the Visitor Guide map with our route highlighted for us in yellow. We navigated our way to and from Racetrack Playa with a paper map seamlessly and without a hitch.
9. What to bring
Like so many other places in Death Valley, there is no shade at Racetrack Playa. Because of the lack of shade, you will want to protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen, a hat, or a light long sleeve coverup. Light colors are recommended. Even during the cooler winter months, the sun is intense in Death Valley and sun protection is a must. Also, it is the desert so sturdy shoes is a must. I wore my Merrell Women’s Siren Edge Hiker Shoes and they held up nicely. I also have a pair of Merrell Women’s Siren Spork Hiking Shoe, which I equally love.
And it is worth saying again, bring lots of water and refillable water bottles. Also, a packed lunch and snacks!
10. When to visit
The best time to visit Death Valley is during the fall, winter, or spring months, before the heat kicks in. Visiting Death Valley during cooler months means that it is less likely that you will experience the high and sometimes deadly heat.
If you must visit during the summer months, please follow the precautions that you will find posted throughout the national park. Visit sites like Racetrack Playa in the very early morning and carry plenty of water.
We visited Death Valley and Dante’s View during Buddy’s Spring Break in mid-March. The temperatures were in the mid-80s and perfect for our visit.
- Don’t touch the sailing stones. If you do, you could put them off course and damage them. This ruin the sailing stone experience for everyone else.
- It’s better if you walk farther out onto Racetrack Playa. You will be more isolated from other tourists. And you will have more area to yourself to explore.
- Stay off Racetrack playa when it is wet and do not drive your car on it. Driving your car on it will severely damage it. And walking while it is wet can also seriously damage it as well.
Overall, Racetrack Playa was the highlight of our trip to Death Valley. And that is saying a lot because there are so many incredible and awesome things to see in this National Park.
A note for any Star Wars fans out there
I am a huge Star Wars fan and I particularly loved visiting Racetrack Playa because it felt like I was on Tatooine. The landscape is otherworldly, and I felt as if Luke Skywalker was going to appear on his land cruiser with C3PO, R2D2, and Obi-Wan Kenobi at any time.
If you are a Star Wars fan, chances are you will love visiting Racetrack Playa too!
Racetrack Playa is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth the visit!
Have you visited Racetrack Playa in Death Valley? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.
Planning a trip to Death Valley? Check out our series about the national park!
- Five Things To See in Death Valley in One Day
- Traveling to Dante’s View in Death Valley? Here’s Everything You Need To Know!
- Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Racetrack Playa in Death Valley
- An Easy Guide to Hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley
- 5 Easy Tips for Badlands Loop Hike in Death Valley
- 6 Tips for Hiking the Unique Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley
- Everything You Need To Know for a Fun Time at Death Valley’s Teakettle Junction
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