DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK GUIDE

death valley

 

AT A GLANCE:

Death Valley is one of my favorite National Parks in the US. If there’s one place in this world that looks like an entirely different planet, it’s Death Valley. The landscape here is entirely unique and it is truly phenomenal to experience. I honestly have a hard time explaining it because it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Death Valley is the hottest, driest and lowest National Park. It also happens to be huge. Outside of Alaska, it is the largest National Park in the US with 3.4 millionacres. At its lowest point, it is 282 feet below sea level.

In the summer, temperatures can reach up to 120. This extreme heat caused the death of pioneers in the 1800s and the area was aptly named Death Valley. Many other parts of the park have names of despair, such as Furnace Creek, Dante’s View, The Devil’s Golf Course, Hell’s Gate and Coffin Peak. This should tell you—prepare for the weather.

 

LOCATION:

Death Valley is located in California right on the edge of the Nevada border. It’s about 2 hours 20 minutes from Vegas and 4.5 hours from Los Angeles.

 

HOW LONG DO I NEED:

1-3 days. You can definitely see some things if you only have a day. If you want to go on a few hikes and take your time here (which you should!), you can definitely spend several days.

 

WHAT TO SEE:

BADWATER BASIN

badwater basin

This was by far my favorite spot. It’s the lowest point in North America sitting at 282 feet below sea level. Hexagonal shapes have formed from the salt crystals expanding and pushing through the Earth’s crust. The result is a fascinating design through the salt flat. Make sure to walk the path quite a ways out into the basin to see the best part of the salt flats.

badwater basin

bad water basin death valley

 

ZABRISKIE POINT

zabriskie point death valley

These golden colored badlands are surrounded by blue mountains and is a hot spot for sunsets and sunrises. If you take the little stairs to the right of the viewing platform, you can follow a path right up to the edge of the badlands.

 

MESQUITE FLAT SAND DUNES

mesquite flat sand dunes death valley

Though there are several sand dunes in Death Valley, these are the most accessible for people.  It’s easy to pull right up to these and they are the only ones that people can go sandboarding on. There’s also a campground just down the road which makes this another good spot to catch the sunset or sunrise.

 

MOSAIC CANYON

mosaic canyon

mosaic canyon

This canyon is an easy to moderate hike through golden canyons with colorful walls. There are also several sections of narrows to hike and you can reach the first section after only a fourth mile hike.

 

ARTIST’S DRIVE

artists drive

Photo by William Ballantyne

This scenic loop is a 9-mile drive through multi-colored volcanic and sedimentary hills. The road is one-way and not open to vehicles over 25 feet in length. Half way through the drive is the Artists Palette. Stop here and you can walk amongst the colored hills.

 

DEVIL’S GOLF COURSE

devils golf course

The Devil’s Golf Course is another phenomenon involving rock salt eroding into crazy-looking formations. The formations go on and on in every direction, making this a really neat place to stop at.

 

UBEHEBE CRATER

Towards the north of Death Valley is the Ubehebe Crater. If you haven’t seen a crater before, they are pretty neat to see. This one has a 1.5 mile rim trail where you can walk the rim and see the Small Ubehebe Crater too.

 

DANTE’S VIEW

dante's view

Photo by William Ballantyne

To get a bird’s eye view of the valley floor, head to Dante’s View. This overlook is over 5,000 feet above the valley floor. The access road is paved but not accessible for vehicles over 25 feet.

 

THE RACETRACK

This is a place I really wanted to go to but was unable to, due to the fact that we were in an RV. This is an off-the-beaten track kind of place and a 4×4 or high-clearance vehicle is required. From the Ubehebe Crater, it is a 2.5 hour drive on very rough dirt roads. If you can make it out here, the racetrack is a dry playa where rocks mysteriously slide across it, leaving long tracks behind them. These sailing stones are a really cool photograph, but I’ve read where some photographers will move the rocks after photographing them so that no one else can come and get the same picture. DON’T do this. Don’t be a jerk.

 

WHERE TO STAY:

There are several campgrounds and lodges within Death Valley. The lodges will of course have amenities such as showers, pools, laundry and general stores.  If you’d prefer to camp, there are several main campgrounds with quite a few campsites. All campgrounds are first come, first served, except for Furnace Creek where you will need a reservation several days in advance.

 

THINGS TO KNOW:

Entrance Fee: $25 per car (Or use the America the Beautiful Pass)

*Death Valley is open year round but some campgrounds are NOT. Make sure to check which ones are open when you go.

Bring: sunscreen, sunglasses, good hiking shoes if you plan on hiking, and lots and lots of water!!

Weather: It is hot. Be prepared and bring sun protection, water and snacks.

Vehicles: Some places have restrictions on vehicle lengths and will not let anything through over 25 feet. Other places require an off-roading vehicle. Make sure you have the proper transportation when you go. If you plan on renting an RV, take note that many RV rental companies will NOT let you enter Death Valley in the summer months (mainly July and August), so be sure to check with the rental companies.

Places you need a 4×4 and/or high clearance vehicle: The Racetrack, Titus Canyon, Eureka Dunes, Aguereberry Point

Places that restrict vehicles over 25 feet: Dante’s View, Artist’s Drive, Twenty Mule Team Canyon,

 

For park updates, check out NPS.

 

 

 

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