Death Valley, despite its ominous name ,it is a beautiful area of desert wonders and one of the top national parks in the United States. Sand dunes, salt flats, mountains, craters, and North America’s lowest lake combine to create some of the most spectacular and dramatic scenery in the Southwest.
Death Valley National Park is one of the largest national parks in the United States, encompassing 3.4 million acres, the vast majority of which is designated wilderness. That spaciousness means there’s plenty of room to move around, but it also means you’ll probably spend a lot of time blasting the car’s air conditioning. There are several places to visit in Death Valley. Plan your activities by location if you intend to stay for a few days.
One thing to keep in mind about Death Valley site is that it has a lot more life than the name suggests. Despite the fact that it is a desert, there are plants and animals that call it home, and our children like to refer to it as the Valley of Life in defiance of its given name. When you come here, keep an eye out for all the wildlife. Use this list of Death Valley top attractions and activities to decide where to go and what to see. Top Best things to do in Death Valley
Badwater Basin, located at the southern end of Death Valley National Park, is the lowest point of land in the western hemisphere, measuring 277 feet below sea level. Needless to say, even in the winter, this area is extremely hot.
Badwater Lake is a shallow lake surrounded by mountains and rimmed with salt that isn’t always full of water. Depending on the conditions or time of year, badwater can be quite full or very dry. In any case, the area is interesting, and there is plenty to do.
When there is almost no visible water from the shore, you can walk out across the white salt flat for what seems like an eternity. When there is water and the air is still, as it often is in the morning and early evening, the mountains across the valley reflect in the water, creating a stunning scene. This can be a fantastic location for photography. It’s even possible to paddle out on the lake if there’s enough water.Discover the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.There are several dune fields in Death Valley National Park. The Mesquite Dunes near Stovepipe Wells are the most popular. The Eureka Dunes, Panamint Dunes, Saline Valley Dunes, and Ibex Dunes are also popular. Locations can be found on the Park map. All of these dunes are the result of the accumulation of loose sediment, specifically sand-sized particles. This sediment is formed as a result of rock erosion caused by water, wind, and gravity.
You can walk through the dunes, climb to the highest points, or relax in a lawn chair and take in the scenery. On busy days in the spring, there is almost never a dune without someone climbing or running down it, but on quiet days, especially in January or February, you will almost certainly have the dunes to yourself. The dunes will be untracked if you arrive after a windy spell.
With a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can take a rugged road that leads to The Racetrack, one of Death Valley’s most mysterious sights. This area is a massive dried mud bed with stones of various sizes and long tracks trailing behind them, as if pushed through the mud.
For years, people speculated about how the stones were moved. Many people assumed the stones were pushed along by the wind after heavy rains. However, it is now believed, thanks to time-lapse photography, that the stones are actually moved by floating ice pushing the rocks. Regardless of the method, the end result is an eye-catching sight.
In Death Valley National Park, Zabriskie Point provides a breathtaking view of the badlands near Furnace Creek. The overlook is located at the upper east end of a badlands terrain with numerous canyons and gulches. A short walk up a paved hill is all that is required to enjoy this incredible vantage point.
The hard, sun-baked slopes around Zabriskie Point support almost no vegetation but have a striking beauty. The rare rain that falls in Death Valley forms downpours, which create the rills and gullies that reshape the landscape.
Dante’s View provides one of the best overall views of Death Valley. The view from the top extends as far as the eye can see across the valley floor and across to the mountains that line the valley’s far side.
This lookout is a little out of the way, but it’s well worth the trip. From Zabriskie Point, take Highway 190 east to the Dante’s View turnoff. It’s a 16-mile drive up a twisty, paved road from the highway to the top, which is 5,478 feet above sea level. Vehicles on this road must be no more than 25 feet long.
On hot days, the temperature up here is much cooler than the valley floor, which can be a welcome relief.
It is close to Badwater Basin. Devil’s Golf Course refers to lumpy salt flats. It’s worth the quick stop because you can see them right from the parking lot.
Be cautious if you choose to walk out onto these flats! Tesse formations are surprisingly sharp, and you could get hurt. You should think twice about allowing young children to explore this location.
Darwin Falls should be excluded from Death Valley National Park. In fact, the year-round waterfall is out of place in the California desert. The hike begins innocently enough, at the mouth of a gravel-bottom canyon, but after 0.7 miles, the canyon closes and the trail enters a lush oasis of cottonwoods and willows. The next 0.3 mile involves several creek crossings on the way to a 20-foot waterfall. Yes, creek crossings… in the desert! Then there’s the waterfall, which appears to have been transported from the tropics. This 2-mile round-trip hike belongs nowhere in Death Valley.
The spring wildflower bloom, which usually peaks in March, is one of the park’s most popular attractions. This event can draw thousands of people to the park depending on the time of year, the weather, and the extent of the bloom. To those who are unfamiliar with deserts, it may appear incredible that anything can grow in these hot, dry conditions.
On weekends during the bloom, it’s not uncommon to see people picnicking on the bare ground, meditating among the flowers, or walking through the fields all over the park. Regardless of how many people do it, you should not walk out in the fields and trample the flowers.
One of the best places to see this stunning display is in the park’s south, around Badwater and up towards Furnace Creek, where a carpet of yellow carpets the valley floor. Flowers bloom in areas further north as well, usually in a rainbow of colors ranging from white and yellow to orange and purple.
The park visitor center can direct you and provide information on what is blooming while you are in the park.
Natural Bridge is, as the name implies, a large natural bridge located in a canyon near Badwater. An easy two-mile round-trip hike leads to the canyon’s end, but if you only want to see the bridge, it’s about a half-mile walk from the parking area. This can still feel like a long journey in the midday heat, and it may be something you want to tackle earlier in the day. The parking area is 1.5 miles down a dirt road off Badwater Road.
Rhyolite is an abandoned mining town with crumbling and decaying old buildings that bear witness to its glory days. One of the highlights of this ghost town is a one-of-a-kind art installation of ghostly figures erected on the town’s outskirts. One large piece, which stands in front of a vast expanse of desert, depicts ghosts arranged in the shape of The Last Supper.
Other works can be found in what is now known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum, including a giant pink lady made of blocks called “Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada.”
Rhyolite is a worthwhile pit stop on your way out of the park. It is located just outside the park boundary, on the way to Beatty, off Daylight Pass Road (Highway 374).
The only crater in the area caused by a volcanic explosion is the Ubehebe Crater, which is about a half-mile wide and 400 feet deep. It’s at the northern end of Death Valley, near Scotty’s Castle, which is currently closed due to flooding.
The landscape here is distinct from that of the rest of the park. The ground is dark and covered in lava flows and cinders. Trails lead down into the crater if you feel like going for a walk.
The ruins of this historic gold mine are difficult to reach, but they are well worth the effort if you are interested in this type of attraction. The old aerial tramway, which is still in place, as well as other structures, can be seen. The mine is located on a hillside with panoramic views of the valley.
The site is reached via a rough dirt road that is usually passable in a regular vehicle, followed by a short but moderately strenuous hike from the parking area. The road is just under three miles long, with a quarter-mile hike to the tram’s lowest section.
Father Crowley Point is a high lookout on the park’s west side that offers a different perspective than the park’s busier east side viewing areas. If you’re coming in from the west, make Father Crowley Point your first stop before the long descent to Panamint Springs.
There are two parking lots: one near the overlook and one further back near the highway. Many visitors prefer to walk the short distance out to the lookout point from the first parking lot, which is easily accessible from the main highway. The road to the lookout is not paved and is quite bumpy, necessitating the use of a high clearance vehicle.
The most common things to do when you visit Death Valley National Park.
In general, trekking to Death Valley is best avoided during the hot season. Telescope Peak, the tallest point in the park at 11,049 feet, if you insist, is a great choice for warmer weather. For an early start to your 14-mile round trip, sleep at the Tennisite Mahogany Flat Campground near the start of the trail. On the way, discover the rugged thickets of ancient pine trees. Vegetation within a mile offers panoramic views of the valley. If you want to split the hike into two days, camp in the meadow between Rogers and Bennett Peaks.
If you hit the ground in late fall, winter, or early spring, you’ll have plenty of options. The one-mile hike to Natural Bridge is suitable for families, with a reward less than half a mile into the high-walled canyon at a picturesque arch formed by erosion. The trailhead is 13 miles south of Furnace Creek. Ubehebe Crater, near Scotty’s Castle, offers a choose-your-own-adventure option with three distinct trails: skirt the two-mile rim of the colorful depression gouged out of the earth centuries ago by a volcanic explosion; take a one-mile out-and-back that traces the western rim to its smaller adjacent crater, Little Hebe; or descend to its sandy bottom. Keep in mind that whatever goes down must climb 600 feet back up.
The ride offers a variety of routes of varying difficulty and can be completed in as little as 4.2 miles, but it’s worth adding a few more miles to see Zabriskie Point, the towering red cathedral floors, and the steep bends of the dramatic Death Valley wasteland. … start on the Golden Canyon Trail on Badwater Road, two miles south of CA190.
Backpackers have plenty of overnight options. One of the most iconic excursions is to Panamint City, an impressively preserved ghost town that once swarmed with prospectors looking for silver ore. The 14-mile round-trip hike begins along a crumbling roadbed in water-filled Surprise Canyon, about an hour south of Panamint Springs. Bring a map and be prepared for scrambling, overgrown vegetation, and wet feet.
The Furnace Creek Visitor Center has a short bike path that leads to Harmony Borax Works, but if you want a grand adventure riding on pavement, consider bisecting the park east to west or north to south. Aside from that, bring a mountain bike (along with repair supplies, plenty of water, and current paper maps) to explore the park’s extensive network of dirt roads. Time, physical ability, weather (winter and early spring are ideal), and water availability are the only constraints (scarce). If you don’t want to go it alone, there are plenty of operators, from REI to local outfits, that offer paid tours.
Nearly 1,000 miles of roadbed can be found in Death Valley. While many are reachable by passenger car, the possibilities expand if you’re in a vehicle with high clearance and four-wheel drive. Most people who venture beyond the pavement and maintained dirt roads do so in a jeep.
The Racetrack, a dry lake bed dotted with large boulders that move during infrequent freeze-thaw conditions, leaving slug-like trails in the playa crust, is one of Death Valley’s most famous—and notoriously difficult to access—spots. It’s a long, winding road to get here, and tradition calls for a stop at mile 20 to hang a kettle at Teakettle Junction. When you arrive six miles later, tread carefully—human and vehicle prints are not only unsightly, but they can also scar the Racetrack playa, which is especially delicate when wet.
A long drive north takes you to the Eureka Sand Dunes, considered the highest in North America. Located between Scotty Castle Road and Beatty Outskirts in the center of the park, Titus Canyon Road traverses the high Grapevine Mountains 27 miles east. Keep an eye out for hikers and cyclists and plan to see the ghost town of Lead field and the petroglyphs of Clare Spring as you make your way along the way.
One of the park’s most notable features is Badwater Basin, a salt flat 282 feet below sea level and the lowest point in North America. Cruise up to Dante’s View, an overlook perched high above the valley floor, for an exceptional vista that, on a clear day, includes Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental United States.