Death Valley is one of the most otherworldly regions you’ll find in the United States, if not the world. My biggest regret on my latest road trip was not allowing more time spent in Death Valley National Park. It is without a doubt one of the most fascinating national parks in the United States. Not only does it boast breathtaking scenery, but it often feels like another planet altogether. Actually, it feels like quite a few different planets. The diversity of the scenery is where Death Valley excels. From beautiful sand dunes to salt flats and colorful mountains, variety is not something that Death Valley lacks.
A trip here is not for the faint of heart. As beautiful as Death Valley is, it is just as desolate and inhospitable. Boasting 3.4 million acres, Death Valley National Park is one of the largest national parks in the United States. Within those millions of acres, you’ll find hardly anyone or anything else alive. It is easy to lose yourself in Death Valley, but those who come prepared to survive can have an unforgettable time in one of the world’s most unique regions.
Must-Visit Spots of Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is massive. If you head to this national park without a plan, you will simply be overwhelmed. Narrow it down to some of the highlights, which makes the vast expanses of this national park much easier to tackle. Here are some of the highlights of Death Valley National Park to visit in a day.
Badwater Basin (The Lowest Point in the Western Hemisphere)
Look, you can’t visit Death Valley without visiting Badwater Basin. It’s like going to Ecuador and not going to the equator, no matter how corny or underwhelming the experience is. Thankfully, Badwater Basin is neither corny nor underwhelming. Sitting at nearly 300 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the entire Western Hemisphere. It’s crazy to think about, because not even a three-hour drive away, one can begin the summit attempt of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.
Badwater Basin is a beautiful location with some pretty crazy scenery. If the weather is nice, one could roam the salt flats to their heart’s content. Badwater Basin is definitely a can’t-miss spot in Death Valley.
Devil’s Golf Course
On the way to Badwater Basin, you’ll pass by Devil’s Golf Course. It’s called that because apparently only the devil would play golf here. I don’t really get it, because it doesn’t look anything like a golf course, but hey, I’m not the guy who gets to name things around here. It’s just some sharp, bumpy, dried up salt flats. The landscapes are unique and surreal for sure, but here I was expecting sand traps and fairways. Like I said, you’ll see it on your way to Badwater Basin, so it’s basically a must-see because you literally must see it on your way elsewhere.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
I raced to these sand dunes as the sun was setting and was able to make it for the waning pink skies. Though I didn’t get to explore much, it was an otherworldly feeling roaming through these sand dunes alone as the day dimmed. The sand dunes at Mesquite Flat aren’t actually that tall. The tallest sand dunes in the United States goes to the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado, while those at Mesquite Flat cap out at about 100 feet tall. However, they are fun to roam around and a beautiful spot to take in some stunning scenery.
Golden Canyon is another short trail that is a must-do in Death Valley. Come during the spring at the peak of wildflower season. They add another layer to the beauty of this hike, and makes you forget even for a split second that this place is called Death Valley.
This has gotta be one of the bumpiest places on the planet. When I say that Death Valley feels like several different planets, Zabriskie Point is one of those planets. For some reason, everything here is just mad bumpy. The landscapes are amazing to just stare at, especially during golden hours when the shadows start playing games and transform the landscapes. The hike up to this viewpoint literally takes minutes from the parking lot, and it’s one of the best views in the park.
This is one of the most famous views in Death Valley National Park. The hike is only about one mile roundtrip, making it a stunning reward for relatively little work. That is, if you’re doing it early in the morning or around sunrise. You’d be a mad man if you did this hike in the middle of the day. Plus, the golden hour lighting in the mornings and evenings only add to how spectacular the views are.
Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette
I drove this route at the peak of golden hour and felt like I was transported into another world. The way the waning light draped the already-colorful landscapes of Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette was just… *chef’s kiss*. It was the golden icing on top of a colorful rock cake.
Explore the Star Wars filming locations
I don’t know about y’all, but I geek out like a mad man when it comes to Star Wars. Know how I mentioned Death Valley feeling like another planet? Well, it kinda was. It was used as the filming location for Tattooine for Episodes IV and VI. That’s A New Hope and Return of the Jedi for those of you that can’t read Roman numerals. Here ars a few of the spots you can find in Death Valley.
Not sure how to spend your time at Death Valley? Take it from the National Park Service themselves. Here are their suggested itineraries for visits to Death Valley National Park.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Death Valley National Park?
Death Valley is known for being one of the hottest places on the planet. Only an absolute lunatic, like myself, would visit during the summer. During the day, Death Valley is a death trap in the summer. Even when I visited, the temperatures hovered above 100 degrees after the sun set. The coolest it was supposed to get was a chilly 82 degrees at 5 AM. Knowing there was no way I’d fall asleep in my car with those temperatures, I drove in desolate darkness all the way to Lone Pine as the spookiness of Death Valley started to set in.
The nice thing about Death Valley is that its peak season is when other national parks would be experiencing an offseason of sorts. The sweltering summer heat makes it so that people tend to put off a visit to Death Valley until the fall and winter seasons. From October to May is when Death Valley is at its most tolerable, although the temperatures can also get brutally cold in some parts of the park.
Death Valley changes with the seasons. So while it’s inadvisable to visit during the middle of summer, it does provide a different experience for those bold enough to take it on. However, if you want the full experience without hating every second of life, late fall to early spring is the best time to visit Death Valley. Most campgrounds and facilities will be open by then. Make sure to note the current closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where To Stay in and Around Death Valley National Park
There are a few different campsites to choose from in Death Valley. Since no sane human being would want to be there in the dead of summer, most of them are closed during the peak summer season. It would simply be masochistic behavior to even consider camping when the temperatures hover around 100 degrees even around midnight. Death Valley’s campsites will typically open up around October and stay open until summer starts up again.
If you want to stay in something other than a campground, there are a few hotels within Death Valley National Park. You’ll find them at Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs, and Furnace Creek.
If you are looking something cheap, there are quite a few places to just pull off and sleep in your car. If the visitor center is open, make sure to ask a ranger and they’d be more than happy to tell you where you can and can’t just pull over and doze off. Check out freecampsites.net and Campendium for some more suggestions on where you can camp or boondock in and around Death Valley National Park.
Other Things To Know Before Visiting Death Valley
Is there cell signal at Death Valley?
For the most part, no. And by that, I mean in 99% of the park, be prepared to go without signal. Furnace Creek is known for being the only spot in the park where you might get reception. Don’t count on it, though. Be prepared to go the entirety of your time in Death Valley without checking Instagram.
What should I bring to Death Valley?
Come prepared to survive. The park is painfully blunt about visiting Death Valley. It’s not your average national park. You’re not being pampered in Yellowstone or Yosemite anymore.
Bring a ton of water. They recommend at least a gallon per person per day, but you’ll want much more if you plan on hiking or doing any other physical activity. Anything that can help against the heat? Just bring it. Sunscreen, hats, screw it, umbrellas, too. Why not? Here’s a nice and comprehensive packing list of what to bring to Death Valley National Park.
Fill up on gas before getting to Death Valley.
Like I mentioned before, Death Valley National Park is a monstrous 3.4 million acres. And you won’t find much sign of human life or civilization within those acres. Yes, there are gas stations scattered throughout the park, but they’ll be expensive, and likely miles and miles away if you find yourself in a sudden predicament. Know how to fix your car should problems arise, because it might be hours before another human stumbles upon you.
P.S., Gas is way cheaper on the Nevada side. I filled up at Pahrump, Nevada for about $1.50 cheaper per gallon than at Lone Pine, California.
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