The Racetrack Playa, The Racetrack - Grandstand Parking Area, Death Valley National Park, California

The Racetrack Playa - 1.0 miles

The Racetrack - Grandstand Parking Area

Mysterious moving rocks of the Racetrack

Mysterious moving rocks of the Racetrack

Round-Trip Length: 1.0 miles (No Trail - Cross Country Travel Required)
Start-End Elevation: 3,715' - 3,715'
Elevation Change: No Elevation Change
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

The Racetrack Playa - 1.0 Miles Round-Trip

Stunning scenery meets geologic intrigue at the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park. The Racetrack is a Playa - or dry lake bed - located in a remote valley between the Cottonwood and Last Chance mountain ranges. Fine mud and silt occasionally wash down from surrounding hills and become suspended in a shallow, temporary lake with no natural outlet.

These particles settle evenly over the lake bottom, maintaining a level surface as the water evaporates; such makes playas the flattest natural surface on earth.

Unique to this playa - and origin of its moniker - are the improbable moving rocks across its surface. Some are quite large and have traveled 1500'; though no one has actually seen the rocks move, pronounced tracks in the playa surface attest to this activity.

Many theories have been offered to explain this rare phenomenon: the most plausible suggests that a specific combination of rain - perhaps ½ inch (enough to slicken but not soften the surface) - and wind - approximately 50 mph - enable rock movement.

Freeze-thaw cycles may also facilitate movement. No matter the true cause, the Racetrack's profound beauty, size and isolation make it one of Death Valley's most compelling attractions.

There is no trail over the Racetrack - simply enter from one of two designated parking areas and wander across as you see fit. The north parking area lies .25 miles from the Grandstand, an elevated beacon of misplaced quartz monzonite in a sea of open space.

The south parking area sits approximately .5 miles from the highest concentration of moving rocks on the Racetrack's southeast perimeter.

You needn't venture far from either entrance to experience the Racetrack's grandeur, though deeper travel provides greater perspective on the surrounding landscape.

Passage is quick and easy over the playa's flat surface, however extreme desert conditions warrant standard preparation such as extra water and full sun protection - no matter the duration of your visit. Keep your bearings on the parking area and eye on the time as you explore.

Rain softens the playa surface, making it susceptible to footprints and other unnatural impressions that can last for years. To preserve the Racetrack in its natural state never enter when wet or damp, remove rocks or carry in new ones. Driving on the Racetrack is strictly prohibited.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N36 41.660 W117 34.300 — Racetrack - Grandstand Parking Area
  • N36 41.598 W117 34.062 — .25 miles : The Grandstand
  • N36 39.845 W117 33.381 — Main Rock Display
  • N36 45.601 W117 32.537 — Teakettle Junction

Worth Noting

  • The Racetrack is approximately 1 mile wide by 3 miles long. Because most visitors congregate near the Grandstand (northwest) and moving rocks (southeast corner), consider reaching the far west and central portions for a measure of solitude.

  • Geologic information provided in part by the National Park Service.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Camping is not allowed on the Racetrack or along Racetrack Road within 2 miles of the Playa.

  • Driving on the Racetrack is prohibited.

  • Do not remove or replace rocks on the Racetrack.

Rules and Regulations

  • Driving on the Racetrack is prohibited.

  • Do not remove or replace rocks on the Racetrack.

Directions to Trailhead

The Racetrack Playa is located off of Racetrack Road, 25.5 miles from Ubehebe Crater Road. The turnoff for Racetrack Road is approximately 5.7 miles from the Grapevine Entrance Station.

Racetrack Road is a graded dirt road suitable for high clearance vehicles and some regular clearance vehicles in good condition. The dirt road may take 45-60 minutes to complete, depending on conditions and traffic. Call ahead for road conditions. You may only park at the Grandstand Parking Area or two miles further south at a second designated area.

Contact Information

Death Valley National Park
P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, CA 92328

Visitor Information:

Commercial Permits:

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


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