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Racetrack Road
Backroads Around Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park, Racetrack Road
racetrack road
Ubehebe Road at Racetrack Road (view southwest).

Overview

Racetrack Road is a fairly well maintained, graded dirt road. The washboards are pretty bad in places, but assuming good weather conditions, the road is suitable for all but low-rider vehicles. The road generally is fine for standard sedans if you drive slowly and carefully. Expect to spend 1 to 1-1/2 hours driving to Racetrack Playa and the moving rocks.

Surrounded by the Death Valley Wilderness Area, driving the Racetrack Road is adventure enough as it winds into the remote heart of Death Valley National Park, but is also provides access to grand scenery and wonderful hiking opportunities such as Racetrack Playa, The Grandstand, Little Ubehebe Peak, Teakettle Junction, Teakettle Camp, Homestake Dry Camp, Ubehebe Lead Mine, Corridor Canyon, and Lippincott Mine.

Link to map.

Racetrack Road
Turning onto Racetrack Road (view west)

The road is subject to summer washouts and winter snow, so inquire about current conditions at the Visitor Center or at the Grapevine Ranger Station (often closed; but information signs are posted). The park rangers seem to have been instructed to always say that the road requires a 4WD vehicle, but press them on the details, as this generally is not correct.

Before I drove the Racetrack Road for the first time, I asked the rangers at the Visitor Center and at Grapevine about the conditions. They all told me that the road required 4WD, but I wasn't convinced. So I drove out to the turnoff and asked some people coming back from the Racetracks about the road.

racetrack road
Racetrack Road near Teakettle Junction (view SW)

They told me that there were big rocks in the road and that they needed 4WD. When I pressed them for details, however, they said that there were a couple of fist-sized rocks in the road and that they needed 4WD so they could maintain control on the sharp curves while driving at the posted 35-mph speed limit! They must have been city folks. Needless to say, my little truck and I, and all of the people driving sedans that day, had no trouble on the road. I've seen RV out there too.

I've been back several times, and the road always has been fine. For current backcountry road conditions, see the daily report on the Death Valley website. Despite my experience, ask locally, drive carefully, and use your own good judgment. Towing from out there is expensive at best, towing insurance may not cover the cost because the road is not paved, and car rental agreements generally prohibit dirt-road driving. Be sure to check the spare tire on your rental vehicle; one year I had help some people in a rental 4WD SUV with a flat tire -- because their spare was flat too!

Teakettle Junction
Teakettle Junction (Feb 2011)

Getting to Racetrack Road

Racetrack Road is located towards the north end of Death Valley National Park. It starts about 4 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Death Valley. From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 0712), drive north on Highway 190 for 17.4 miles to Scotty's Castle Road (Site 0763). Turn right onto Scotty's Castle Road and drive north for about 33 miles to the Grapevine Entrance Station, which is a toll booth in the middle of the road (with water and restrooms at the nearby ranger station). Continue north for 0.2 miles to Ubehebe Crater Road (Site 0754). Turn left (west) onto Ubehebe Crater Road and drive northwest for 5.7 miles to Racetrack Road (Site 0756), which cuts off to the right (west) just before the Ubehebe Crater parking area. This is the start of the Racetrack Road.

Racetrack Road
Typical road quality (view southwest)

Racetrack Road

Turn right (west) onto Racetrack Road and drive 19.5 miles to Teakettle Junction (Site 0757), which has a well-adorned road sign. From Teakettle Junction, continue southwest on the main road for 5.7 miles to the north (near) end of Racetrack Playa, a dry lakebed. There is a wide parking area for the Racetrack Grandstand Trailhead (Site 0758) on the right (west) side of the road and a sign on the left side of the road.

Walking out to the Grandstand is a pleasant trip, but there are no moving rocks here. Continue south along the edge of the playa for another 2 miles to reach the south end of the playa, a wide parking area, and a sign on the left (east) side of the road (Site 0759). This is the trailhead for the Racetrack Playa Route, which leads to the moving rocks.

Racetrack Road
Approaching the playa
The worst thing about the road is the washboards, which can be quite bad in places. Even on these parts, however, you can drive a regular vehicle at 10-15 miles per hour. Driving at a reasonable rate of speed, expect to spend 1 to 1.5 hours driving out to Racetrack Playa. When I've been there, I've seen no sandy, washed out, or rocky spots on the road, although some parts were rougher than others. Drive slowly and carefully -- you'll get there soon enough.
Homestake Dry Camp
Campground sign at Homestake Dry Camp (view S)

Camping on Racetrack Road

The Racetrack Playa is a long ways out, so hikers might consider camping out there. Camping is allowed (no fee, no permits) along Racetrack Road starting 2 miles past the pavement and ending at Teakettle Junction. However, you must get off the road to camp, and the graded dirt road lies in a trench almost the entire way. When I was there last in February 2011, even the 2 or 3 places to get off the road near the 2-mile mark had been blocked off, leaving only wide spots in the road and the pseudo-campground at Teakettle Camp for camping.

Beyond Teakettle, camping is permitted at Homestake Dry Camp, about 2.5 miles south of Racetrack Playa. Drive straight south past the playa; don't turn right at an unmarked intersection. The main road ends in a big loop at Homestake with four campsites. The only amenity is an outhouse. A 4WD road continues south past the end of the loop.

For current backcountry car-camping regulations, see the park website.

Racetrack Road
2.0 miles out and nowhere to pull off and camp
Racetrack Road
9.5 miles out
Racetrack Road
10.4 miles out
Racetrack Road
13.1 miles out
Racetrack Road
17.3 miles out
teakettle junction
Teakettle Junction; 19.5 miles out
Racetrack Road
21.6 miles out
Racetrack Road
22.1 miles out

A reader comments:

I think you're just a tad too easy on Racetrack Road. I've driven it twice in rental sedans [ed.- this might violate rental contract agreements]. First time was pretty easy, though a long washboard as you note. The second time I found myself driving in deep gravel, trying to keep one wheel on the high center so I would not scrape, having a hard time, and not a whole lot of traction. I was afraid if I stopped I would get stuck, and there was no room to turn around anyway. I figured, and rightly so, that it would be pretty trivial coming down, with gravity on my side. The gravel stretch lasted 2-3 miles.

I've also heard lots of stories of people getting flats on that road. I'm not sure if that's because many people drive it so you hear more stories or if, as you say, they drive too fast.

I'd suggest adding something about conditions being variable depending when the road was last graded and any flooding that may have moved gravel onto the road, and perhaps a tendency for flats so at least make sure you have a good spare.

I went up there on my very first trip to DV with 3-1/2 year old Kaya [ed.- this was near to 1990]. It was a totally amazing day and I realized I was really out in the middle of nowhere. Didn't see anyone else all day. Went out to the Grandstand and then climbed the trail that goes up the ridge toward Ubehebe Peak; got high enough to look down into the multi-colored Saline salt lake. Wow -- I was in awe.

Hiked up Lippincott Road from Saline Valley once and then walked the length of the playa, which was pretty strange.

Table 1. Road Coordinates (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
0561 Scotty's Castle 37.03160 117.34019 469743 4098229 3,100 Yes
0562 Mesquite Spring Camp 36.96251 117.36757 467278 4090573 5,905 Yes
0612 Racetrack at Ube Mine Rd North 36.74551 117.57431 448729 4066593 3,992 Yes
0613 Racetrack at Ube Mine Rd South 36.74408 117.57416 448741 4066435 3,973 Yes
0712 Furnace Creek Visitor Center 36.46159 116.86574 512030 4034954 -186 Yes
0754 Scotty's Castle Rd at Ubehebe Rd 36.99863 117.36605 467429 4094580 2,292 Yes
0756 Ubehebe Crater Rd at Racetrack Rd 37.01291 117.45699 459345 4096199 2,515 Yes
0757 Racetrack Rd at Teakettle Junction 36.76008 117.54142 451674 4068192 4,143 Yes
0758 Racetrack Rd at Grandstand Trailhead 36.69430 117.57073 449015 4060911 3,719 Yes-2
0759 Racetrack Rd at Racetrack Parking 36.66562 117.56740 449293 4057727 3,716 Yes
0763 Hwy 190 at Scotty's Castle Rd 36.63910 117.03531 496843 4054636 104 Yes-2
0821 Homestake Dry Camp 36.63752 117.57326 448751 4054614 3,760 GPS
0903 Scotty's Castle Rd at Mesquite camp Rd 36.99000 117.36234 467755 4093621 2,182 Yes
1047 Grapevine Entrance Station 36.99632 117.36475 467544 4094324 2,258 GPS
1048 Grapevine Ranger Station 36.99619 117.36516 467507 4094309 2,249 GPS
1049 Ubehebe Rd at Big Pine Rd 37.01792 117.41055 463479 4096736 2,091 GPS
1051 Racetrack Rd at Saline Valley Rd 36.64157 117.57365 448719 4055062 3,803 GPS
1052 Teakettle Campground 36.76039 117.54061 451747 4068226 4,153 GPS
1058 Ubehebe Lead Mine Parking 36.74868 117.58370 447893 4066950 3,925 GPS

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
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© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 110506

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