Dante’s View: A Great Las Vegas Getaway and a Hidden Gem
Living in Las Vegas never gets dull. There’s always something fun to do here.
However, there are times when I like to escape.
What many Las Vegas locals and visitors may not realize are the numerous nearby attractions which have nothing to do with casinos or gambling. In fact, the 100-mile radius surrounding the area offers some of the most remarkable natural scenery near any big city in America.
Most of these cool places are within just a 1-2 hour drive. You’ve probably heard of some of these attractions — such as Red Rock Canyon, Mount Charleston, and Valley of Fire. You’re also likely to be familiar with Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. All these places are certainly worth visiting. But what I find far more interesting are the lesser-known gems which don’t attract typical tourists.
Today, I’d like to tell you about one of these lesser-known attractions. I’ve never heard anyone talk about this very unique place. That’s because so few people seem to know about it. In fact, I never even heard of it myself until I picked up a guidebook about Nevada’s best hiking trails, and was surprised to learn that one of the most breathtaking vantage points in North America is located less than a two-hour drive away from my home.
This special place is called “Dante’s View.”
WHAT IS “DANTE’S VIEW?”
Dante’s View is a mountain peak overlooking much of Death Valley National Park. On a clear day (and most days are clear — it almost never rains), visitors can see 100 miles in all directions. The breathtaking summit view is somewhat comparable to the Grand Canyon.
Little-known and rarely-visited Dante’s View rises up off the desert floor to a height of nearly 6,000 feet. Incredibly, once you’ve ascended to its crest, the drop off is dramatic. You look down from a cliff into a barren valley which is at below sea level.
In fact, the vantage point at Dante’s View allows you to see the lowest and highest points in the contiguous 48 states at the same time. The Badwater Basin, which is North America’s lowest point (at 282 feet below sea level) is straight ahead. Mt. Whitney is also within viewing range (14,505 feet above sea level).
But the real joy of Dante’s View isn’t just what you see. It’s what you feel and experience.
WHAT MAKES DANTE’S VIEW SPECIAL?
Fortunately, visitors can drive right up to the vantage point. There are no physical demands to reaching the peak.
What makes this attraction unique is its pristine rustic nature. There are no hotels or restaurants up here. There’s not even a park ranger. In fact, there aren’t any bathrooms. There’s essentially nothing at all, except the lonely road leading up to this heavenly place. Once you’re here, you’re pretty much alone except for the relatively few other visitors who are likely to be spread out all over the mountaintop on any given day (including some hikers).
I think this sense of isolation is what makes it so special. Once you walk out on to the edge of what amounts to a steep cliff, you’re seeing things in their natural state. There are no guard rails or standard safety features here, so be careful. That said, this attraction is perfectly safe for anyone who comes to visit.
PERSONAL REFLECTIONS OF DANTE’S VIEW
I find the joy of embracing nature difficult to put into words. It’s just something you have to experience for yourself.
As much as I’d like to describe my impressions, the sense of satisfaction and solitude is very real and quite personal. I think everyone takes something different away from their visit.
I’ve been to Dante’s View twice. Oddly enough, I think I enjoyed it more the second time. Perhaps simply because I took additional time to absorb more of the scenery during the repeat visit. I’d enjoy going again if given the opportunity. The splendor of natural beauty never gets old.
From the parking area, there are several walking paths in different directions. Hiking trails head off to the north (I have no idea how far they go). The most common path is a short walk along a dirt trail heading out onto various ridges along the summit. This entire path takes about 20-30 minutes to walk, depending on how far you want to go.
Naturally, a camera and binoculars are highly recommended.
The lack of moisture here and high altitude means there’s very little plant life up here. It’s like being on the moon. In fact, the rock formations appear to be lava-like. I’m no geologist, but I believe much of this area is made up of old volcanoes. These odd formations is what gives it so much natural beauty.
The magnificence of staring off perhaps 100 miles in each direction and seeing such a splendor of different colors is indescribable. In a sense, there’s nothing out there or down there. But there is so much to see.
GETTING THERE (FROM LAS VEGAS)
Dante’s View is exactly a two-hour drive from Las Vegas. Better yet, it’s a fun two-hour drive with lots to see along the way.
This is a wonderful day trip for couples or families. It can also be a fun place for a group of friends. Best of all, you can travel at a leisurely place, see just about everything, and still be back by the time the sun goes down. I recommend leaving Las Vegas around 9 am. Even if you make all the stops and see every attraction along the way, you should be back home by 5 pm.
The journey begins by crossing the Spring Mountains to the west and heading through the highway pass to Pahrump. It takes about an hour to drive from Las Vegas to Pahrump, the first half of which is interesting. The later half of the drive along a flat desert highway closer to Pahrump, is less so.
Once in Pahrump, I advise having lunch and stocking up on supplies (especially drinking water). You are also advised to use the restroom, as this is the last bastion of civilization for awhile. The cutoff into Death Valley is just a few miles north of town. Be advised there are no tourist pit stops inside the park. If you run out of gas or water, you’re stuck. So, plan your trip well.
Once you’ve made the cutoff, the scenery changes dramatically. The roadway winds through rocky terrain that looks like the movie set of Star Wars. You drive up through hills, climb up mountainsides, and then plunge down into another valley. There’s a small road which is the path leading up to Dante’s Peak. Be sure and be on the lookout for the small sign or you might miss it. The drive from Pahrump to your ultimate destination at the top of the mountain is about an hour. This road gets very steep at times.
There’s an entry fee to visit Death Valley National Park. But it’s based on an honor system. You buy a ticket from a kiosk and pay per vehicle. I think the fee is $15 regardless of how many people are inside your car. I suppose you could skip this, since there are no police around and there’s just about no way you’re going to get caught. But I believe in doing the right thing. Trust me — it’s worth paying a nominal fee.
Death Valley can get dangerously hot during the summertime. It can also get bone-chillingly cold in winter (at night). Fortunately, Dante’s View is pretty comfortable temperature-wise, although it can get windy at the top of the mountain.
I strongly recommend visiting during the winter months (which is why I’m posting this in January). You’re likely to enjoy a blue sky for hundreds of miles around and a 65-degree temperature. Moreover, the natural beauty of the scenery is enhanced by many of the mountains being capped with snow.
But there’s really no such thing as a bad time to visit.
The journey back home can be just as interesting a drive. I recommend taking a slightly different route, which winds through the towns of Shoshone and Tecopa (California). There’s a really neat date farm along the way, which is an amazing oasis in the desert. The scenery changes every few miles. Part of the road back goes along the Old Spanish Trail.
There are other routes you can take — some of which pass through other attractions in Death Valley, including ghost towns.
Indeed, if you make a first visit to this very special place, given what you’ll experience, it likely won’t be your last.
Note: These photos were taken in October 2012 with my wife Marieta and brother-in-law Nelu, who lives in The Netherlands.
LINKS: MORE ON DANTE’S VIEW