The best time of year for touring Panamint Valley Road definitely is the winter season when the air temperatures are cool. Better still, visiting the day after a winter storm will result in crystal clear dust free air that reveals the vivid details of the surrounding mountains. Panamint Valley Road runs south from Highway 190 along the southwest border of Death Valley National Park, but the tour does not have to stop there. This road changes name to Wildrose-Trona Road near the southern National Park welcome sign and the views just keep getting better the further one goes. There is a small mountain pass at the south end of Panamint Valley that goes to the neighboring Searles Valley, which is the home of one of the most amazing natural landmarks on earth. The Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark is at the end of the line and this other worldly landscape is simply must be experience at least once in a lifetime!
On a clear winter day, the distant mountains look close enough to touch in the Panamint Valley and the snow capped peaks on the Panamint Mountain Range add to the charm. The actual distances are deceptive in these conditions, which is important to remember when going for a hike. This desert environment is just as arid during winter as the boiling hot summer season, so be sure to carry some water even when going for a short stroll.
The west side of Panamint Valley Road is BLM territory and the east side is the National Park. There is some private land in the mix too and one such place is the old historic Ballarat Ghost Town, which is located just outside the park boundary down a dirt road on the other side of a dry lake. After passing through Ballarat, the side road continues on to the Panamint Ghost Town trailhead parking area. The uphill hike through the canyons to the old Panamint mining camp is one of the most popular in Death Valley National Park and the views of Telescope Peak are nothing less than amazing!
There are usually some wild burros hanging around the Ballarat area, so it pays to take it slow when passing through. The burros also haunt the local campgrounds while seeking handouts and it is important to not feed them because the fines are stiff. There are developed campgrounds near Panamint Springs and there are several primitive dispersed camping options to choose from in this valley too. Planning an extended stay while the weather is cool is the best way to go, because the extremely hot summer temperatures have a way of curbing outdoor ventures altogether. For this reason, be sure to bundle up, because the crystal clear air of winter in the desert is something to cherish!
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