If you want to feel like you’re on another planet, take a trip to Death Valley National Park. For such a morbid name, there is a surprisingly large number of things to do in Death Valley National Park.
In fact, Death Valley is one of the largest national parks, and as such, there is plenty of things to see in Death Valley.
I got to admit, I was a little skeptical about visiting Death Valley National Park. However, when my feet were completely ruined from an aggressive climbing trip to Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas, I thought the easy access to most of Death Valley’s must-see attractions was a selling point.
It turns out, I was right. Not only is Death Valley super-accessible, but it’s also mind-blowing.
Death Valley is colorful, striking, and absolutely teeming with life if you know where to look.
As a professional writer for the outdoors, I’m an expert at giving you an all-in look at what to expect in the outdoors. As a pro, I’ve got the inside scoop on the best things to do in Death Valley.
About This Guide to Things to See in Death Valley
You’ll find plenty of activities in Death Valley. In this guide, we’ll dive into the best things to see in Death Valley as well as a few other handy resources. Here’s what to expect:
- The best time to visit Death Valley
- How long does it take to see Death Valley?
- Where is Death Valley?
- A comprehensive list of things to do in Death Valley
- Driving, gas, and other amenities
- Where to stay in Death Valley
- Quick tips for visiting Death Valley
- Additional planning resources.
How Much Does Death Valley Cost?
If you don’t have an America the Beautiful Pass, you’ll have to pay the $10 entry fee at one of the pay kiosks. The pass is good for 7 days.
Pro Tip: As an expert in visiting national parks across the US, I highly recommend the America the Beautiful Pass if you’re planning to visit multiple parks in a year.
For $85 you get 12 months of access to all national recreation areas, national conservation areas, and national parks.
When is the Best Time to Visit Death Valley?
The Timbisha Shoshone Native People call this area “The Place of Red Paint.” A far-cry from the “Death Valley” that the miner’s named it. Either way, one thing is for certain.
Death Valley gets HOT. Like the surface of the sun hot. The highest recorded temperature is 134.1 degrees. That’s a SCORCHER.
Therefore, the best time to visit Death Valley is November through January. Temperatures tend to be milder (think the upper 70s instead of upper 90s) and the contrast with the snow-covered peaks puts a drama on the landscape.
Spring is another magnificent time to visit since the wildflowers are blooming.
We visited in mid-October and it was well over 100 degrees during the day. Keep in mind, the rocks heat up, and combined with the relentless sun, it feels about 15-degrees warmer than it really is.
How Many Days Do I Need to Experience the Best Things to Do in Death Valley?
Death Valley National Park is HUGE! The area itself covers over 5,200 square miles of parkland. Although much of it is inaccessible, some of the attractions are quite spread out.
One day will allow you to see the highlights – in fact, Death Valley is one of the best day trips from Las Vegas. However, you’ll want an early start to maximize your time.
Two days will give you plenty of time to hit the highlights. Not to mention, spending the night near or in the park lets you gobble up all of that Dark Sky Territory beauty at night!
How to Reach Death Valley
One of the best things to do in Death Valley is to take a drive around the park, so you’ll for sure want a vehicle to see the park. There are really only a few access points on the east and west sides of the park.
There are no gates or formal entrances like at other parks, but you’ll need to pay your fee at pay stations located on major roads in and out of the park.
Access the park from the east via US Highway 95. Or on the west side via Highway 395. Panamint Springs, Furnace Creek (also Death Valley Junction), and Beatty are common access points.
The nearest town is Beatty, Nevada, with Pahrump as another option.
The Best Things to Do in Death Valley
When it comes to things to see in Death Valley, prepare yourself. The landscape here is shockingly diverse. You’ll experience the high alpine desert, salt flats, rock formations, canyons, sand dunes, and more with this list of the best things to do in Death Valley.
1. Catch a Sunrise at Dante’s View
Dante’s View is a must-see spot in the park. As one of the top places to visit in Death Valley, you may want to treat yourself to a magnificent sunrise view.
Wind your way to the top of a mountain (5,476 feet above sea level) for an unbelievable view of the valley below. It’s honestly staggering. We visited on a smokey day and were still blown away by what laid below us.
Pro Tip: Bring a jacket – it’s cold up here even in the middle of the day! Also, you’re ascending an epic amount of elevation. Drink plenty of fluids and watch out for altitude sickness.
2. Hike Through Golden Canyon
As one of the most popular things to do in Death Valley, a hike through Golden Canyon must be on your list. The parking lot fills quickly, but it’s a short hike so cars come and go quickly. Be sure to check out the Red Cathedral (3 miles round trip).
Pro Tip: Bring PLENTY of water, even on a mild day. Never hike in the heat of the day, and knock this one off early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are more bearable.
3. See the Lowest Point in America at Badwater Basin
Many people make the trek to this remote national park just to stand on the lowest point in America. At a stunning 282 feet below the sea (just over a mile below Dante’s View), the Badwater Basin makes the bucket list for places to see in Death Valley.
There is a raised path where you can check out the Badwater Lake and see the unique salt crystals form. Nearby you can walk on the salt flats.
What’s so unique about these salt flats is they are actually wet. The salt seeps out from the ground and crystalizes. Also, sidebar, it tastes pretty good too! (yes, I totally ate the ground).
Pro Tip: The salt immediately sucks the moisture from your skin and reflects the sun’s rays. Wear proper sun protection (pants, sunscreen, and even a sun shirt are strongly recommended) and bring water. Even just a few minutes on the salt pan will leave you parched!
4. Scope Out the Spring Super Bloom
For a true display of nature, come to Death Valley in the springtime to witness the blooms. The peak differs every year, but March offers the perfect time to see the wildflowers bloom.
Admittedly, I did not visit in the Spring (I was around in fall), but having witnessed desert blooms before, it’s well worth it. Just don’t walk on unmarked paths or trails, as these fragile flowers are easily damaged by human impact.
5. Hike the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Get a real feel for the desert with this Death Valley must-see attraction. The Mesquite Flat Dunes rise just 100 feet in the air and offer a shifting, mesmerizing landscape.
For the best lighting, head out at dusk, dawn, or golden hour. There are five separate dunes in the park; Mesquite Flat Dunes, Eureka Dunes, Saline Valley Dunes, Panamint Dunes, and Ibex Dunes.
Each one is worth a visit if you have the time, but the Mesquite Flat Dunes are the easiest to access.
6. Have Lunch at the Devil’s Golf Course
More weird and whacky landscapes await you at the Devil’s Golf Course. This area features weird blobs of salty mud and rock that have been eroded throughout the centuries.
Sometimes, weird ball-like structures of salt form on the sharp landscape, making it a tee box only suitable for the Devil himself.
Although there are no picnic tables or anything too fancy, it’s a great spot for a picnic lunch out of the back of your vehicle.
7. Hike to Natural Bridge
If you’re looking to hike, one thing to do in Death Valley National Park is to hike to Natural Bridge. This 1-mile hike is an easy out-and-back that features a natural bridge made of rock.
If you’ve seen some of the best hikes in Arches or if you’ve hiked in Canyonlands National Park, this bridge pails in comparison. However, if you’ve never seen a natural bridge before, take a quick hike to see the bridge.
8. Scope Out Zabriskie Point
People flock to Zabriskie Point for sunrise. Yes, the sun paints the mountains on the opposite side of the valley in a beautiful light. However, I don’t like to contend with a lot of other tourists, so I recommend skipping Zabriskie for later in the day.
I’d recommend visiting Zabriskie Point for golden hour. The shadows dance along the beautiful yellow mountains and the colors of the rock truly come to life.
9. See the Stars at the Charcoal Kilns
If you’re really into mining history, then you should know that Death Valley was settled by mining prospectors in 1881. In short, miners kicked out the local Shoshone people and began developing the area for mining. The joke was on them, the mine closed just 7 years later.
One of the bigger things to do in Death Valley is to check out the many mining areas. However, the best one to visit is the Charcoal Kilns at night.
Death Valley is a designated Dark Sky Area. This means there is no outside light pollution. Come to the Charcoal Kilns after the sun goes down and watch the stars come out. It’s truly a magical site to see.
Other mining points of interest include:
- Harmon Borax Works
- Twenty Mule Team Canyon
- Keane Wonder Mine
- Rhyolite Ghost Town
10. Visit Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Pallete
Arguably the most beautiful things to see in Death Valley are Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Pallette. See geological time in action with a display of colors caused by oxidizing metals in the soil.
This 9-mile paved drive takes you through a fairytale landscape of color and explosion. A little over halfway through the one-way Artist’s Drive you’ll find Artist’s Pallete. Pull off here to access a wandering landscape.
A lot of people think this area is under-whelming. This couldn’t be further from the truth! For the best display of colors, go during the middle of a sunny day.
11. Hike the Edge of Ubehebe Crater
You may have noticed some large lumps of black rocks scattered throughout the park. These volcanic outcrops are likely the remnants of the Ubehebe Volcano that erupted eons ago.
There are actually two volcanic craters at Ubehebe. Ubehebe is 600 (steep) feet deep and over a half-mile across. The Little Hebe is much smaller but gives you a bird’s eye view of Ubehebe.
You can hike both of them, or opt to admire them from the parking area.
If you’re opting to hike to the bottom of the Ubehebe Crater, remember it’s steep and that daytime sun will get you so be prepared with ample water and wear plenty of sun protection.
Alternatively, you can hike 1.5 miles round trip to the Little Hebe Crater and get a killer view of the Ubehebe Crater. This hike is much easier.
12. Enjoy the Eerie Landscape of Racetrack Playa
Do you believe in ghosts? You might after visiting the Racetrack Playa. This strange stretch of playa (dry lake bed).
The rocks have drag marks trailing them, suggesting that they are in some sort of race. People still can’t explain why they move, but one research project suggests it might be because of how slippery the ground gets on the rare occasions it’s wet.
It’s an adventure just to get to the Racetrack Playa. It’s 3.5 hours one-way from Furnace Creek and the road in is rough. Like 4WD, high-clearance, knobby tires kind of rough.
If you do make the trek out to the Racetrack Playa, remember, leave the rocks for others to see. You can tell where folks have taken rocks in the past. As always with Leave No Trace, leave it better than you found it.
Driving, Gas and Services at Death Valley
Death Valley is situated in a remote location along the border of California and Nevada. As such, there aren’t a lot of services in and around the park. In fact, most places will charge substantially more for basic amenities.
When visiting Death Valley, you’ll likely want to stock up on food, water, and gas before entering the park.
Nevada has better deals on gasoline, with Pahrump and Beatty both having Nevada-priced gas available. If you’re caught in a bind you can grab gas at the following areas within the park:
- Furnace Creek (only place with diesel in the park) east side
- Panamint Springs (west side of the park)
- Stovepipe Wells Village (central location)
Most amenities aside from a few lodges and a campground will be in the nearby towns of Beatty, Shoshone, Pahrump, or Lone Pine.
Where to Stay in Death Valley National Park
When it comes to where to stay in Death Valley, you have a few options. There are 4 lodges within the park where you can rest your head (and get some AC). You’ll find them at:
- Stovepipe West Village
- The Oasis at Death Valley
- The Ranch at Death Valley
- Panamint Springs Resort
Keep in mind prices for virtually anything will be quite high since there’s not much around.
If you’re looking to camp there are several things to know before you commit to camping. Camping in the desert takes special skill and preparation so be sure you’re ready before heading out.
First, you’ll want to check that the campground is open – most close during the summer. Fees vary from $25 per night to free. There are several RV-friendly campgrounds and a few higher-elevation campgrounds that might be cooler than the basin bottom.
Some campgrounds are first-come-first-served and others are by reservations only. All have toilets, most have water, and some have firepits and dump stations.
Quick Tips for Visiting Death Valley National Park
Be in the know before you go. Keep these tips in mind before visiting Death Valley National Park.
- Clean up all trash and pack it out. Don’t leave fruit peals, wrappers, apple cores, or toilet paper laying around. It doesn’t decompose in the desert and food items aren’t a regular part of these animal’s diets.
- Bring PLENTY of water. Budget at least 1 gallon per day per person, even in winter. Death Valley is a dry place. You’ll be thirsty. Consider bringing along an electrolyte supplement too.
- Wear sun protection. This isn’t the time to wear a tank top and shorts. The desert sunburns in an unforgiving kind of way. Wear a hat, sunscreen, UPF shirt that’s breathable, and bring sunglasses.
- Don’t forget to put sunscreen under your nose and chin. The white salt flights reflect the sun right back on you.
- Stay on designated trails and follow signs. The desert is an uber-delicate place. Life really hangs in the balance here, so be sure to take care and stay on trails.
Explore the beauty of the driest, hottest place in the US with a trip to Death Valley National Park. This list of amazing places to visit in Death Valley brings you the best in beautiful landscapes.