Death Valley National Park: Ultimate Travel Guide + bonus tips

Death Valley is known to be the driest, lowest and hottest national park in the USA. It’s famous for its unique desert landscape, geological uniqueness and diverse scenery: Even though the park’s name indicates a desolated wasteland the reality is: Death Valley National Park consists of majestic sand dunes, barren salt flats, slot canyons, multi-colored hills and high rising peaks. Death Valley is a place of extremes. And this makes the national park so famous, attractive and dangerous at the same time.

Zabriskie Point Death Valley National Park
sunset at Zabriskie Point
Artist's Palette Death Valley National Park
Artist’s Palette, Death Valley

With Badwater Basin Death Valley is home to the point with the lowest elevation on the continent: 282 feet (86 m) below sea level.

Badwater Basin Death Valley National Park
Badwater Basin, lowest point of the American continent

When temperatures climb above 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) during summer Death Valley happens to be one of the hottest places in the entire world. A record high of 134°F (56,6°C) has been reported on July 10th 1913. In summer 2020 Death Valley reached 128°F Fahrenheit (53,3°C), the hottest recorded temperature on earth since 2013.

sand dunes Death Valley National Park
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley

The national park only gets an average of 2 inches (5 cm) rainfall annually, which makes Death Valley also the driest place in the US.

Is Death Valley National Park worth visiting even if I only have a few days?

Death Valley’s location in Eastern California on the boarder to Nevada makes the national park a perfect stop on your Southwest roadtrip, especially if you are an outdoors enthusiast. With over 3 million acres of designated Wilderness Death Valley is America’s largest national park outside of Alaska. The national park’s areal is extreme extensive: Nearly 1.000 miles of paved and dirt roads create a playground for remote explorations, off-road adventures and dispersed camping opportunities. You could easily spend a week, or even longer, to dive into Death Valley’s fascinating geology.

Death Valley National Park, California
lonesome roads leading through Death Valley National Park

The good news is: Death Valley’s main attractions are located relatively close to each other and can be explored in 1 or 2 days. As always: it only gets better the more time you have. But these highlights will give you more than a glimpse of Death Valley’s diverse landscape.

Iconic places in Death Valley National Park not to miss

#1 Badwater Basin

At 282 feet (86 m) below sea level Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. Due to this fact and the surreal landscape of vast salt flats, Badwater Basin definitely is the No. 1 attraction in Death Valley and most famous spot within the national park. But it’s definitely not the only location you should put on your list. There is a parking lot from where you can see the salt flats. But I would recommend to take the short walk onto the salt flats. Where else could you get such a unique experience?

Badwater Basin Death Valley National Park
salt flats at Badwater Basin, Death Valley
Badwater Basin Death Valley
salt textures in Death Valley National Park

Photo tip: Try to get beyond the people to get a free and uninterrupted view.

hike: Easy, flat walk: 1 mile / 1,6 km
location: 17 miles (27 km) South of Furnace Creek on Badwater Road (30 minutes)

Badwater Basin Death Valley
Road between Badwater basin and Devil’s Golf Course

On the way to Badwater Basin you can stop at Devil’s Golf Course, an area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain.

#2 Zabriskie Point

These golden colored badlands make a spectacular spot for sunrise and sunset when the smooth light transforms the hills into a scenery from another planet. A short walk on a paved path leads up to the viewpoint from where Zabriskie Point unfolds its spectacular beauty.

Zabriskie Point Death Valley National Park
Zabriskie point glows in light of sunset

easy walk: 0.25 miles (400 m) / 60 feet (18 m) elevation gain
location: 4.8 miles (7,7 km) East of Furnace Creek on Highway 190 (15 minutes)

#3 Artist’s Palette on Artist’s Drive

This 9 miles (14,5 km) long scenic loop leads through multi-hued hills giving Artist’s Drive its name. I am sure you’ve seen pictures of this spot on Instagram already. Don’t be disappointed by the color depth of the hills! All the pictures I’ve seen are edited so that the colors stand out much more than they do in reality. Artist’s Palette still is a fun spot and worth a stop as you can take the narrow paths leading into the hills and even climb up to your favorite color.

Artist's Palette Death Valley National Park
multi-hued hills of Artist’s Palette
Artist's Palette Death Valley National Park
hiking through Artist’s Palette, Death Valley

The narrow road is a one way drive, only open to vehicles less than 25 feet (7,6m)
Small paths lead into the colorful rainbow hills at Artist’s Pallette

signs to Artist's Drive Death Valley National Park
entry to Artist’s Drive, Death Valley
Artist's Drive Death Valley National Park
Artist’s Drive Death Valley

Location: 8.5 miles (13,7 km) South of Furnace Creek on Badwater Road

#4 Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Giant sand dunes like you’d imagine from the Sahara Desert can be found in Death Valley as well. Several sand dunes are spread out in Death Valley National Park. But the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for sure are the largest in the park. With the tallest summit it’s also the the most iconic dune field, and it’ easy to access. Therefore a must see when visiting Death Valley.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Death Valley
infinite dunes – Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

The tawny dunes rise up to 100 feet (30 m) and can be climbed. Even if you can see the dunes from your vehicle don’t underestimate the distance! Walking on sand, in the heat and without any shade can get really exhausting, especially when you try to climb the tall dunes.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Death Valley
hiking through sand dunes in Death Valley National Park

Photography tip: I would recommend to walk a bit further to the left or right where you find spots without footprint. This will definitely make a difference on your pictures. To get great pictures of the sand formations you don’t have to climb the highest dune. Walking sideways already will reward you.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Death Valley
feeling small at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Location: 22.4 miles (36 km) west of Furnace Creek on Highway 190 (30 minutes)
There is no dedicated trail leading into the dunes. To the summit it’s about 2 miles (3,3 km) / 185 feet (56 m) elevation gain.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Death Valley
Sahara desert or California?

Further sand dunes of Death Valley:

Ibex Dunes – very Southern tip of Death Valley National Park, high clearance / 4×4 vehicle recommended
Eureka Dunes – Northeastern part of Death Valley
Big Dune – Amaragosa Valley off highway 95 towards Las Vegas, outside of Death Valley National Park

#5 Dante’s View

Dante’s View is another must see location in Death Valley National Park as it’s one more example of the diverse landscape Death Valley has to offer. The 5.000 feet (1.500 m) high peak opens up breathtaking view over Death Valley. Standing at the top, gazing down to Badwater Basin will make you feel small and put the dimensions of Death Valley into perspective.

Dante's View Death Valley National Park
lookout from Dante’s View into Death Valley

I would recommend to drive up to Dante’s View for sunset. Not only will you get the chance to surround yourself with professional stargazers. Wrapping up an adventurous day in Death Valley National Park and looking down into the valley, spotting the trails I’ve been walking in the morning made it feel like a grand final of our Death Valley visit.

stargazing at Dante's View Death Valley
I’ve never seen professional telescopes this size outside an observatory

Location: 12 miles (19 km) East from Furnace Creek on Highway 190 + 13.2 miles (21 km) on Dantes View Road (1 hour)

sunset at Dante's View Death Valley National Park
sunset at dante’s View

#6 Natural Bridge Canyon

This easy and short hike up a dramatic canyon leads to a natural bridge formation. If you don’t have much time this is a great and picturesque trail.

Hike: 1 mile (1,6 km) out and back / 180 feet (54 m) elevation gain
Location: On Badwater Road between Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater Basin

Do you have more time? Great! This is your opportunity to explore Death Valley off the beaten path:

#7 Golden Canyon

Trails at Golden Ganyon and Zabriskie Point provide access to colorful canyons carved through golden badlands. You can start walking at Golden Canyon and walk a loop back through Gower Gulch.

Zabriskie Point Death Valley National Park
golden hills at Zabriskie Point

Hike: 4.3 miles (6,9 km) loop trail / 850 ft (259 m) elevation gain
Location: On Badwater Road between Furnace Greek and Artist’s Drive

#8 Mosaic Canyon

This 4 miles (6,4 km) long hike leads through marble narrows and unique color patterns.
Location: On Highway 190, next to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

#8 Wildrose Charcoal Kilns

Built in 1876 these 10 beehive-shaped structures are among the best preserved charcoal kilns in the West. If you are interested in the architecture and history of silver and lead ore processing the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns are worth checking out.

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns Death Valley
Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
Wildrose Charcoal Kilns Death Valley
Charcoal Kilns Death Valley

Be aware: They are located at Panamint Springs, a different part of Death Valley National Park. You are more likely to pass by this area when entering Death Valley National Park from Los Angeles. If you decide to visit the charcoal kilns don’t go too late. The drive from Furnace Greek is 1.5 hrs and from Wildrose campground the remaining 6 miles (9,7 km) are on dirt road. During winter the charcoal kilns will be in shade of the surrounding mountains by 3pm.

road to Wildrose Charcoal Kilns Death Valley
getting to Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, Panamint Springs

Sights worth visiting in this part of Death Valley National Park:

Father Crowley Vista – landscape of lava flows and volcanic cinders
Darwin Falls – desert waterfall (high clearance / 4×4 vehicle recommended)
Telescope Peak – highest peak in Death Valley at 11,049 ft (3.368 m) (high clearance / 4×4 vehicle recommended)

#9 Ubehebe Crater

This 60 ft (183 m) deep crater is the result of a steam and gas explosion 2,000 years ago. A 1,5 miles ( 2.4 km) loop hike leads around the rim.

Location: 1,5 hrs from Furnace Greek (North)

#10 Racetrack Playa

This famous spot of moving rocks definitely is a natural phenomenon. There are many theories how these heavy rocks move. One explanation is that a slippery ground caused by rainfall compared with high winds makes the rocks move and leave tracks on the playa.

Location: Another 27 miles (43 km) on gravel road from Ubehebe Crater – high clearance / 4×4 vehicle recommended

Bonus sight: Goldwell Open Air Museum

This outdoor sculpture park located near the ghost town Rhyolite is a fun place to explore. Goldwell Open Air Museum is located outside Death Valley National Park (5 miles/ 8km towards Beatty, Nevada)

The Last Supper ghost sculptures, Nevada
“The Last Supper” artwork by Albert Szukalski
Lady of the Desert, Goldwell Open Air Museum Nevada
Venus of the Desert – Goldwell Open Air Museum, Nevada
Goldwell Open Air Museum Nevada
life-size ghost sculptures guard Nevada’s entry to Death Valley

Extra tip: The Daylight Pass Road (Highway 374) is the location where you can get this iconic view of the long, never ending road leading into Death Valley National Park. Just after leaving Beatty, even before you reach the national park entry sign.

road to Death Valley National Park
Highway 374 leads into Death Valley National Park, California
welcome sign Beatty, Nevada
Beatty, Nevada gateway to Death Valley

Best months to visit Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is open year round. The best time to visit is between mid October and mid May. As described above the extreme weather conditions can become dangerous if you travel frivolously. That’s why I would not recommend to visit Death Valley in summer.

entry sign Death Valley National Park, Homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone
Death Valley – 1 of 9 national parks in California

The combination of pleasant temperatures and spring break in the US encourages many travelers to put Death Valley high up on their bucket list for March and April. Plus the beauty of wildflowers makes spring the most popular season in Death Valley National Park.

running on endless roads into Death Valley National Park
endless roads leading into Death Valley, California

Therefore my recommendation to visit Death Valley are the winter months: November, December, January and February. The best part: This is off season in most other US national parks, which makes Death Valley a perfect national park to visit in winter. Just avoid the holiday season end of December and you’ll be fine. We visited mid December and were surprised by the few other people.

How many days should I spend in Death Valley National Park?

To get a glimpse of the diversity of Death Valley and a feeling of the extremes I would recommend you to spend at least 1 – 2 days in Death Valley National Park. With this short amount of time you will be able to check out the highlights around Furnace Creek (Badwater Basin, Artist’s Drive, Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View), do 1 or 2 short hikes (i.e. Golden Canyon / Natural Bridge) and check out the Mesquita Sand Dunes.

signposts of Furnace Greek Death Valley National Park
signposts in Death Valley National Park

With 3 or more days in Death Valley you will be able to explore some attractions off the beaten path, take advantage of dispersed camping and head into the wild.

Where to stay in or around Death Valley?

Hotels and lodging is very limited in Death Valley itself and around the national park. But campgrounds within park and the option of dispersed camping makes Death Valley a great location for outdoor adventures.

Lodging inside Death Valley National Park:

  • Stovepipe Wells Hotel
  • Inn at Death Valley (Furnace Creek)
  • The Ranch at Death Valley (Furnace Creek)
  • Panamint Springs Resort
Inn at Death Valley
Inn at Death Valley

Lodging outside Death Valley National Park:

Motels, simple accommodation as well as restaurants and gas are available at the communities outside the park:

  • Beatty, Nevada – 45 minutes
  • Death Valley Junction, Nevada – 30 minutes
  • Amargosa Valley, Nevada – 1 hour
  • Pahrump, Nevada – 1 hour
restro-style motels Beatty, Nevada
retro signs mark Beatty’s motels
Sourdough Saloon in Beatty, Nevada
there is not much to see in Beatty, besides some fun western saloons

Las Vegas is 2,5 hours away from Death Valley and is the closest city in Nevada.
Los Angeles and Palm Springs in California are a 5 hours drive away.

Highway 95 connects Las Vegas with Death Valley National Park
Highway 95 connects Death Valley with Las Vegas

Camping in Death Valley National Park (run by National Park Service):

  • Stovepipe Wells
  • Furnace Creek
  • Sunset (Furnace Creek)
  • Texas Springs (Furnace Creek)
  • Mesquite Springs (Scotty’s Castle)
  • Emigrant Campground
  • Wildrose Campground

Furnace Creek Campground is the only campground that accepts reservations between mid October to mid April (reservations through recreation.gov at least 4 days and up to 6 months in advance). All other campgrounds are first-come, first-serve.

Campervandriving into sunset at Death Valley National Park
campervan cruising into Death Valley sunset

Additional campsites are available at the private campgrounds:

  • Stovepipe Wells RV Park
  • Fiddler’s Camp
  • Panamint Springs

Tips to stay safe while exploring Death Valley

  • carry and drink water! At least 1 gallon per person per day
  • protect your body and skin with sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, long-sleeves and bring good shoes
  • plan ahead and be aware of weather conditions, especially when heading to remote areas
  • flash floods can damage roads and flood through canyons
desert hiking tips and precautions at Death Valley National Park
desert hiking tips and precautions
  • prepare for breakdowns
  • don’t rely on your sell phone and GPS – bring a map and compass
  • stay out of mine shafts or tunnels – they might be unstable or can be home to wildlife
  • follow speed limits and enjoy the scenery while parked or hiking – vehicle accidents are the single largest cause of serious injury or death in Death Valley
paved roads at Death Valley National Park
paved roads connect Death Valley’s major attractions

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QUESTIONS & COMMENTS?

Have you ever traveled through the USA and explored Death Valley on your California roadtrip? Do you like the article, have suggestions, feedback or recommendations? Leave me a comment and feel free to share this article with your friends!

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Guide to Death Valley National Park

Guide to Death Valley National Park

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8 comments
  1. The Death Valley National Park is such a unique place to visit, we loved it but definitely could have done with this guide before our trip! We visited at the start of June and it was way too hot. I would head here in the winter next time for sure. Thanks for the guide, bookmarking for when we head back to Nevada!

    1. Glad to hear my guide is helpful, Katie!
      Agreed, June is probably a bit toooo hot and doesn’t make the visit all joyful.
      Winter and early spring time for sure is the best. Hope you get the chance to visit again soon!

    1. Thanks Anukrati!
      I’m glad to hear you find this information helpful. Death Valley definitely is a wide-open and extensive national park, so I though minutes would help people plan better upfront. 🙂

  2. Oh my! Seems like I missed a lot of good spots when I went to Death Valley – saving this for my next trip 🙂

  3. Death Valley really does look like out of this world! I’ve always wanted to go there and I hope I’ll be able the next time I’m in Cali. Great post and I love your beautiful photos! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Lina!
      Yeah Death Valley National Park is indeed one of those places on earth you want to visit if you get the chance to. Hope you can use some details of this guide to plan your itinerary!
      Cheers, Stefanie

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