West Side Road - Death Valley National Park

3.9/5 (10 reviews)
Furnace Creek, California (Inyo County)
Last Updated: 02/23/2019

Trail Information


Don't be fooled by the easy 4x4 trail rating, this Death Valley National Park backcountry route has a history of being deadly for the unprepared. Almost every year some unfortunate gets stuck, breaks down, and in some cases just wander off and perish along this road. This 37-mile backcountry route runs below sea level for its entire length. It was the original route of the 20 Mule Team Borax wagons out of Death Valley and offers the only access to the east side of the Panamint Mountains south of Furnace Creek. Along the route, mining was active at the Queen of Sheba mine as recently as 1970, Hungry Bill had a small farm and mining operation in Johnson Canyon that he supplied miners with fresh vegetables. The infamous Charles Manson and his followers were captured at Barker Ranch which is on the west side of the Panamint Mountains and accessible from the Butte Valley Road that intersects West Side Road. Death Valley Shorty, a former Buffalo Bill Wild West Show performer and famous flim-flam man for which Scotty's Castle is named, is buried along the road. There are the remains of old borax works and the nearly impassable Devil's Golf Course geologic formation is comprised of evaporated salt.

Trail Difficulty and Assessment

Trail Navigation

There is deep sand to negotiate in a few spots, and the road surface has been graded below ground level is some places creating a very soft berm that will pull your vehicle deeply into the sand edge if you don't pay attention. There are areas of washboard surface and hidden side roads where it's possible to meet someone pulling onto West Side Road right in front of you. Wet road conditions can become nearly impassable quickly as road sections can turn into gooey mud. BE CAUTIOUS! The entire length of West Side Road runs below sea level, with the lowest elevation being -100 feet. There is no water, and some of the canyon and mine access side roads are seldom explored.
Flash Flood Area - Flash flooding can occur along the West Side Road making it impassable. Road damage from sudden storms may take an extended time to repair so be sure to check local conditions before departure.

Trail Reviews

3.9/5 (10)
Rated 5/5
Visited: 04/09/2023

Pretty easy trail to run. Spent the weekend out in Death Valley and this was the last trail we ran before heading home. Stopped at the Eagle Borax works for lunch. Not much to report, mainly a dirt road with some interesting formations along the way.
Rated 4/5
Visited: 04/05/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

This is an easy road that accesses mines and canyons to explore. When we drove it, it was fairly washboard that got a little old after 30 miles.
Temporary Closure
Rated 1/5
Visited: 11/18/2022

Also closed. Even the main paved road through the park is closed for another month at Badwater Basin
Visited: 02/04/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Easier

Easy trail, multiple trails to camp
Rated 4/5
Visited: 05/18/2021

A long, flat barren stretch of road that has some pretty intense washboard areas. We traveled it in a new Defender which has an absurdly cushy ride, and still, the washboards were pretty miserable even when aired down. Still totally worth it, just some real bone-shaking sections on an overall easy, non-technical drive. Lots of great landmarks and photo ops to explore, makes you feel pretty horrified to think about the original settlers and prospectors you learn about while reading historical markers detailing the harsh conditions they faced. Makes you pretty thankful to climb back into AC and have a drink cold water.

From the Community

Start a free trial and get this level of detail on every trail guide
Start Free Trial