Death Valley National Park occupies over 3 million acres on the border of California and Nevada. This desolate area isn’t what comes to mind when you think of the most beautiful places in the world, but those that make the 2.5-hour trek from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas are in for an unexpected treat. While Death Valley is known for being one of the hottest places on Earth (with a record setting temperature of 134 degrees!), it is so much more than a barren desert landscape. From the time we arrived in the park, we were struck by the rugged beauty of the desert and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of our time there.
Based on our time in the park, here are a few reasons why you should add Death Valley to your list of travel destinations!
1) DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARKS AMAZING VIEWS
Shortly after entering the park from the east (via Death Valley Junction) or the west (through Panamint Springs), visitors are presented with incredible views. Zabriskie Point, located on CA-190 just over 3 miles east of Furnace Creek, offers phenomenal panoramic views. After a quick 100 yard slightly uphill walk, the view opens to sediment mounds left over from the bottom of Furnace Creek Lake (from over 5 million years ago)! It’s no wonder why this site is so popular among photographers, particularly during sunrise.
Zabriskie Point, while one of the most popular viewpoints, isn’t the only place to see the vast landscape of Death Valley. Nearby Dante’s View (20 miles south of Zabriskie Point), has a bird’s eye view of Badwater Basin that is unlike any other.
2) BADWATER ROAD IN DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Starting in Furnace Creek and heading south, this 45-mile road travels along the east side of the Badwater Basin and continues south to Ashford Mill before exiting the park at the town of Shoshone, CA. Along Badwater Road you’ll see greatly changing landscape, from Badwater Basin to the colors of the surrounding landscape as you head toward Ashford Mill. This road also provides access to many of the park’s must-see places, including Devil’s Golf Course and Artists Palette.
3) DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK HIKING
Hiking in Death Valley you ask? Of course! While Death Valley is not the most forgiving place for the unprepared explorer, the variety of landscapes--from sand dunes and canyons to volcanic craters and mountains--creates great scenery for hiking. Off-trail hiking is allowed in Death Valley, though many trails are easy to follow given the natural trails created by the landscape. Golden Canyon is a perfect example, where the unmarked trail follows a canyon among rocky hills on the way to Red Cathedral or Zabriskie Point.
Check out our blog post on Hiking the Golden Canyon Trail in Death Valley for details on what to expect as well as other hiking trails in the same area.
Make sure that you are prepared as you venture out on your hikes. We recommend carrying much more water than you think you’ll need. Death Valley is very dry and can get dangerously hot, even in the winter.
4) BADWATER BASIN
Badwater Basin is located just 16.6 miles south of the CA-190 junction at Furnace Creek. At 282 feet below sea level, it is the second lowest spot in the western hemisphere. A short walk on the salt flats is all you need to see just how vast this desert really is. Be ready for plenty of wind and exposure out here, though. We recommend visiting the basin early in the day to avoid prolonged exposure to the heat, especially in the summer months.
5) DIVERSE SCENERY
Death Valley’s mix of scenery is sure to surprise you. Even as you walk into the salt flats at Badwater Basin, the imposing peaks of the Panamint Range are not far away, with elevations reaching over 11,000 feet!
Devil’s Golf Course, with its crystals formed from both wind and rain, is a quick stop just north of Badwater Basin.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is known for its amazing colors around sunrise, and is home to a variety of wildlife, including desert fox.
Ubehebe Crater, located near Scotty’s Castle, is the site of a volcanic eruption from approximately 2,000 years ago. You can even hike down for a closer look!
6) INCREDIBLE COLOR
We were amazed at the amount and diversity of color in Death Valley. Artists Palette, located 8.6 miles south of Furnace Creek on Badwater Road, has an incredible mix of colors on a rock face which are spectacular, particularly when viewed in the early evening.
Zabriskie Point’s colors change throughout the day, and if you’re visiting while a storm is brewing, you are in for a real treat!
If you are lucky enough to visit after a rainfall, you could end up seeing a rare “superbloom” of flowers. This occurs once every 15 or so years. We happened to visit during an “El Niño” year, which resulted in an abnormally high amount of rainfall. The colors (and all the hype) did not disappoint!
Our visit to Death Valley surprised and amazed our whole family! If you happen to be in Las Vegas or traveling through eastern California, take a few hours (or a few days!) to experience the park and take in all that it has to offer!
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OTHER USEFUL LINKS
- NPS Hiking Guide for Death Valley National Park
- Backcountry road information
- Camping information
- For some extremely dramatic photography and different views on the park, check out Ryan's Gargiulo's blog here.
- Ask Andrew: Death Valley National Park