Best things to do in Death Valley, California USA

Best things to do in Death Valley, California USA
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Visiting Death Valley in California USA was one of our most expected adventures during our US trip.

Death Valley National Park, located between Nevada and California, is the second largest National Park in the United States. We spent there only half a day during our 10-day West Coast road trip. Our plan was going from Las Vegas to Yosemite passing through Death Valley.

guide to death Valley california nevada usa

As a summary, and before going deeply into some of them, here are the top 10 attractions of Death Valley:

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN DEATH VALLEY
  1. Mesquite Flat
  2. Badwater Basin
  3. Dante’s view
  4. Zabriskie Point
  5. Salt Creek
  6. Artist’s Palette
  7. Racetrack Playa
  8. Devils Golf Course
  9. Golden Canyon Trail
  10. Rhyolite Ghost Town

It is true that in Death Valley temperatures are extreme throughout the year, so you should follow a series of tips to visit Death Valley if you don’t want to go through a bad experience. In any case, do not worry, you’ll find everything you need to know to make your trip through Death Valley National Park safely and enjoyable in this blog.

WHAT IS DEATH VALLEY?

Death Valley National Park is one of the four national parks located in the Mojave Desert, which we already covered in this article.

Death Valley is located in southeastern California, about 186 miles north of Los Angeles and about 149 miles west of Las Vegas. It has an extended shape from north to south which narrows from east to west, stretching from 12 miles to more than  124 miles in the other direction.

death valley best things to do

In Death Valley National Park we can find the highest temperatures in America, especially in an area known as Badwater basin located at 279 feet below sea level, famous for being the lowest point in the United States.

The extremely high temperatures have claimed the lives of hundreds of people throughout history, mainly during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The majority of deaths in Death Valley were immigrants trying to reach the coast of California, where living conditions were more prosperous and unknowingly they were entering into Death Valley.

Thirsty and dying of heat, they couldn’t leave Death Valley alive, so the driest desert in the United States was popularly known as Death Valley.

death valley dunes mesquite flat

Besides, other visitors who risked their lives in Death Valley in the past were the miners who came to extract mainly Bórax and for a short period gold, although the gold rush in Death Valley was short.

Today it is easier to visit Death Valley National Park. You do not run any risks in Death Valley as long as you follow a good guide to Death Valley and do not get too far away from the main attractions. This way it would be easy to find help if you have a breakdown with the car, you run out of gas or any other problem happens. In short, although there are certain risks, these are minimal and visiting Death Valley is completely worth it.

HOW TO VISIT DEATH VALLEY

There are only a few tours to Death Valley from Las Vegas; however, these usually run quickly, and it is necessary to book them in advance. If you are not going to spend many days in Las Vegas and you do not have a car, taking a day trip to Death Valley with a guide might be a good option. You can book your 1-day tour to Death Valley here.

how to visit death valley in a day

In our case, we visited Death Valley as part of our road trip. Driving across the Highway 190 was very high on our bucket list and visiting Death Valley by car resulted in an unforgettable experience. Simply on your way to Death Valley National Park entrance, you will be surrounded by landscapes taken from another planet, just when the best is yet to come!

Other adventurers risk crossing the Death Valley by bicycle, although this option is only for you if you are trained for extreme cycling. There are also Death Valley Bike Tours if you are interested in visiting Death Valley in this alternative way.

In this article you will find the Guide to visiting Death Valley by car, where we will talk about the following topics:

  1. How to get to Death Valley
  2. Best things to see in Death Valley
  3. Tips for visiting Death Valley
  4. Curiosities about Death Valley
  5. Where to sleep in Death Valley
  6. Best Images of Death Valley
  7. Death Valley Map

HOW TO GET TO DEATH VALLEY

In this section, you will find the directions to get to Death Valley by car.

death valley by car best time to go

There are two entrances to Death Valley National Park if we take the Highway 190 (the road that crosses the National Park from east to west). To the west, we will enter through Panamint Springs and to the east through Death Valley Junction.

HOW TO GET TO DEATH VALLEY FROM LAS VEGAS

It only takes two hours to get to Death Valley from Las Vegas as there are only 110 miles between Death Valley and Las Vegas. We will access the park through the east entrance.

HOW TO GET TO DEATH VALLEY FROM THE GRAND CANYON

To go to Death Valley from the Grand Canyon we will have to cross Las Vegas, so it increases 4 hours to travel from Las Vegas if you start your trip from Grand Canyon Village.

how to get to death valley from Grand Canyon

HOW TO GET TO DEATH VALLEY FROM SAN FRANCISCO

The best way to get to Death Valley from San Francisco is via Interstate 5 to Bakersfield and from there go north to find the western entrance to Death Valley National Park.

In total it takes 7 and a half hours to make the distance between Death Valley and San Francisco (460 miles). As this is quite a long trip I recommend you stop halfway and the next day get to Death Valley from Bakersfield.

HOW TO GET TO DEATH VALLEY FROM YOSEMITE

Another good option to consider for those who come from San Francisco is to go to Death Valley from Yosemite, so you can also visit this incredible National Park.

how to get to death valley from yosemite

There is a 4 and a half hours distance between Death Valley and Yosemite, and you will enter through the west entrance of Panamint Springs.

Don’t miss all you have to do in Yosemite National Park

HOW TO GET TO DEATH VALLEY FROM LOS ANGELES

It takes 4 hours to get to Death Valley from Los Angeles through the west entrance. There is a distance of 200 miles between Death Valley and Los Angeles.

HOW TO GET FROM DEATH VALLEY TO SEQUOIA PARK

Death Valley and Sequoia National Park are very close, only 3 hours away. We will also access through the west entrance.

BEST THINGS TO SEE IN DEATH VALLEY

In this section, you will find all the top things to see in Death Valley. Most of these attractions can be seen on the same day, and they are essential to know Death Valley. However, if we want to make hiking routes, explore further areas or learn more about the flora and wildlife of Death Valley, I would recommend spending at least two full days.

wildlife in death valley coyote

In any case, the first thing you have to do is visiting the Death Valley Visitor Center, so you can pay the entrance fee to the park, take a map and ask for the updated information and weather conditions.

MESQUITE FLAT

Unlike what many people think at first, less than 1% of Death Valley is covered with dunes since to be formed in addition to sand and wind, you also need geological forms that can accumulate the sand, and this feature does not happen here.

Mesquite Flat, the most popular dunes you have to see in Death Valley, is very accessible from the main road. This area of dunes rises to a maximum of 328 feet, and they cover a large area. Following this, be careful if you decide to enter the dunes. Always have a point of reference as it is easy to get lost and you could die of dehydration if you are not able to find your way back to the car.

mesquite flat dunes must see places in death valley

Undoubtedly Mesquite Flat is the main attraction that you have to see in Death Valley National Park, and they are also the only dunes in Death Valley where Sandboarding is allowed.

BADWATER BASIN

Another thing you have to do in Death Valley is to visit Badwater Basin. This sea salt of 985 square feet is one of the largest in the world. It is also popular for being, with 300 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the United States.

Getting to Badwater Basin takes about 20 minutes from the main road, so we could not visit it as we were just spending half a day in Death Valley.

ZABRISKIE POINT

Zabriskie Point is one of the essential viewpoints to see in Death Valley, and also, it is by the road, so it is perfect to consider this stopover in your travel itinerary to Death Valley in one day.

Here you will have a panoramic view of sedimentary brown and yellow mountains with beautiful tonalities.

death valley best things to do in zabriske point

Near Zabriskie Point, we can make the route “Twenty Mule Team Canyon” by car where we will go into incredible geological formations of this type. The one-way road to get there, even though it is a dirt road, is easy to drive, going from northwest to southeast.

best time to visit death valley california nevada

On the other hand, if you want to make a walking route, I recommend Golden Canyon, which starts on the road that leads to Badwater and takes you into the same rugged mountains we saw from Zabriskie Point.

DANTE’S VIEW

To get to Dante’s View, we have to cross a 13-mile road with no exit. It will take more than half an hour, but trust me; it is completely worth it. From this high viewpoint, we can have a bird’s eye view of Death Valley and see the pure white color of Badwater Basin, which we could not see up close.

dantes view best viewpoint death valley badwater basin

For me, enjoying the views from Dante’s View is one of the essential things to do in Death Valley

ARTIST’S PALETTE

If you visit Badwater Basin, you should know that there are other exciting things to see on this road.

One of the most important landmarks is Artist’s Palette, an area where the minerals of the mountain have oxidized producing reddish, pink, yellow, green and gray tones. To get here, we will have to make a 20-minute semicircular route. Artist road is a one-way road from southeast to northwest, and the views during the whole journey are fascinating.

DEVIL’S GOLF COURSE

The entrance to the sandy road that leads to Devils Golf Course is on the Badwater Road, between the entry and exit of the Artist’s circular route Road, so if you come from the south and visit the Artist’s Palette, you could unwittingly overlook this location.

The sea salt of Devils Golf Course stands out for the shape of its salt crystals that form large holes in the ground, the main reason to be known as “Devil’s golf course,” an incredible phenomenon that you have to see in Death Valley.

SALT CREEK

This short interpretive walk on the edge of Salt Creek is another exciting option to do in Death Valley in a day since it is a short distance from Mesquite Flat.

In spite of a large amount of salt in the stream, visible by the crystals produced around the shore, here lives one of the most curious species of Death Valley, the Salt Creek Pupfish.

FURNACE CREEK

Furnace Creek was an Indian village and today is one of the few places within Death Valley National Park where you can find lodging, restaurants and the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

There is also a gas station, although it is very expensive so it is better to enter the park with a full tank.

Nearby is “The Old Harmony Borax Works,” the remains of Death Valley’s main Bórax mine that was in operation from 1882 to 1889.

RACETRACK PLAYA

One of the most famous mysteries in Death Valley is the sailing stones. These sliding rocks in Death Valley are located in the so-called Racetrack Playa, two and a half hours from Highway 190, so in a 1-day route through Death Valley, we would not have enough time to discover the mystery of these rocks. In any case, you can find here a video where the secret is unveiled. It is a curious fact that the mystery of the moving rocks in Death Valley wasn’t solved until 2013.

OTHER DUNES IN DEATH VALLEY

The Mesquite Flat dunes are impressive dunes, but they are so accessible that it is difficult to find a spot where there aren’t foot tracks in the sand. If you want to take good pictures of the dunes, I suggest you visit any of the following, although in all cases you will need more time and it is not something you should consider doing in Death Valley in 1 day.

essential things to do in death valley
EUREKA DUNES

The Eureka Dunes, are the highest dunes in California with 656 feet tall. It is difficult to reach the top, as the sand sinks under your feet and hills are very steep, but if you manage to do it, besides being rewarded with incredible views, you can enjoy the so-called “singing sand”, a sound produced when the sand falls from a steep slope.

Also, these dunes are wholly isolated from the rest, so there are endemic species of wildlife and plants not found in any other dune in the world.

PANAMINT DUNES

The Panamint Dunes are visible in the distance from Highway 190. If you want to get close, you will have to drive 5 miles and then walk another 3 miles. They are not very accessible, and I would not recommend visiting them unless you are going to take a 3-day itinerary in Death Valley.

IBEX DUNES

You have to walk half a mile from the road that leads to Saratoga to access the Ibex Dunes. In the east of the dunes, we can see an old talc mine at the base of Saddle Peak Hills. The Mojave tipped lizard lives in these dunes.

DUMONT LITTLE DUNES

Although not within the area designated as Death Valley National Park, the Dumont Little Dunes had to be mentioned in this Guide to Death Valley. They are right at the south entrance and are very accessible but not very popular, so if you have time and want beautiful pictures of dunes without foot tracks and people in the frame, this is your best option.

dumount little dunes death valley

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN DEATH VALLEY

These are other activities to do in Death Valley if you have more time:

TITUS CANYON

Titus Canyon is a one-way car route through a narrow canyon. The route starts near Rhyolite Ghost Town, one of the most famous ghost towns with banks, school, jail, and even a train depot, just outside the National Park.

The sandy road that leads to Titus Canyon has a total length of 24 miles and will take approximately 3 hours to cover it. On your way you will see steep mountains, colorful rock formations, another ghost town called Leadfield, petroglyphs, wildlife, rare plants and a spectacular canyon that narrows especially in the last section, once inside Death Valley National Park.

The last area, which is also the most striking, can also be visited on foot and in the opposite direction, for those who do not want to make the complete tour.

UBEHEBE CRATER

If you visit the Eureka Dunes, it can also be interesting to go to the Ubehebe crater, 656 feet deep and 2624 feet in diameter.

The parking is on the edge of the crater and from there you can see the most interesting area of the crater. However, if we want to explore further and discover other craters of smaller size, such as the Little Hebe, we will have to walk bordering the crater.

We can also descend to the interior of the crater. This route may seem simple, but it is complicated when returning uphill to the parking.

Also, nearby is Scotty’s Castle, a mansion of a wealthy family during the gold rush that was later used as a visitor center. Nowadays, it remains closed due to a flood that took place in 2015, and its reopening is not expected until 2020.

AGUEREBERRY POINT

Aguereberry Point is another lookout that offers a different view from Dante’s View. However, those who know both of them prefer Dante’s since the views are more panoramic and spectacular.

Besides, going to Aguereberry Point requires a 4×4 car and special driving skills. It is not an easy road.

In this area we can also visit the Charcoal Kilns, 10 charcoal kilns located in Wildrose Canyon with a beehive formation, being one of the most picturesque buildings in Death Valley.

TIPS FOR VISITING DEATH VALLEY

In this section, you will find all the information you need and best tips to visit Death Valley.

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK ENTRANCE FEE

The entrance fee to Death Valley is $ 25 for a vehicle for seven days. However, if you are visiting different national parks, I recommend buying an America the Beautiful annual pass since depending on how many parks you visit you can save much money.

mesquite flat dunes death valley travel tip

Keep in mind that there are no ranger stalls at the entrance of the park to pay the entrance fee. They rely on the goodwill of visitors who must go to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to pay the fee. If you do not do it, you could be fined.

DEATH VALLEY OPENING TIMES

Death Valley is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Death Valley Visitor Center opens from 8 am to 5 pm every day. Here a 20-minute video is projected, and during the winter, from November to April, we can find other activities, such as talks and guided walks. For more information about the planned activities, it is necessary to visit the Death Valley Visitor Center.

BEST TIME TO VISIT DEATH VALLEY: Weather in Death Valley

The weather in Death Valley California is extremely dry and hot throughout the year, but especially in summer where temperatures easily pass 122 ºF. Humidity levels range from 55% at night and 32% at day during the winter to 25% and 10% during the summer.

Therefore, the best time to visit Death Valley is during the coldest months. If you can, try to stay away from visiting Death Valley in summer: end of May, June, July, August and early September.

death valley road selfdriving tour

However, if you only have these months do not worry. We visited Death Valley in August, and it was still worth it.

If you cannot stand such extreme climates, it is best to visit Death Valley in winter. For example, temperatures in Death Valley in December usually range between 64 and 70ºF. If you are interested in hiking, winter is the best time for hiking in Death Valley.

If you want to see this desert reaching its maximum splendor, then you cannot miss the Death Valley bloom during the spring. This phenomenon takes place depending on the rainfall during the fall and winter season. If it has been a very humid winter compared to previous years, a superbloom may occur between March and April, since the seeds remain intact for years until the ideal conditions are met.

It is also the best time for photography in Death Valley since you can have the opportunity of capturing a desert full of colors.

HOW MANY DAYS YOU NEED TO VISIT DEATH VALLEY

Most people make a 1-day route in Death Valley, stopping only at the popular points by the Highway 190 (Zabriskie Point, Mesquite flat, Dante’s View, …) and missing everything that goes a bit far from the road.

If you do not have much time, planning a good 1-day Death Valley itinerary is the best option, including if possible, in addition to the main points that we find on the road, the iconic Badwater Basin.

If you like night photography, then you can not miss spending a night in Death Valley and enjoying one of the darkest skies in the world.

death valley window into the universe

This will also let you plan a 2-day Death Valley itinerary, where in addition to the above we can discover some more remote dunes or enjoy a hiking trail in one of the driest places on earth.

CURIOSITIES ABOUT DEATH VALLEY

In this section, we will speak about some curiosities of Death Valley.

MAXIMUM TEMPERATURE IN DEATH VALLEY

The highest temperature recorded in Death Valley was 134.1 ° F, in Furnace Creek in 1913. It was the highest temperature recorded with accuracy on earth.

maximum temperature in death valley

The lowest point of Death Valley is located 282 feet below sea level and it is here where the maximum temperatures are recorded.

Keep in mind that Death Valley is not drier than the Sahara desert. In fact, the Atacama Desert, in northern Chile, is the driest desert in the world, even more than Death Valley and the Sahara.

DEATHS IN DEATH VALLEY

Currently, deaths in Death Valley are not common, and if you pay attention to the primary safety precautions, you will not have any problem. All roads are marked and used every day by hundreds of people, so dying in Death Valley today is very rare.

heat kills in death valley signal

Throughout history, many people had died in Death Valley, especially when this desert was not explored yet and the mining industry forced men to work in deplorable conditions.

In addition to these cases, there are other deaths in Death Valley in strange circumstances, which helped to increase the mystery that hides this desert. Missing people, bodies found miles from their homes or organ removals. If you are curious, I recommend you read this article if you want to go deeper into this.

WHERE TO SLEEP IN DEATH VALLEY

Inside Death Valley National Park there are some lodgings; both hotels and resorts and campsites. Another option is to find a hotel near Death Valley.

tips to visit death valley in a day

ACCOMMODATION IN DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Within the area designated as Death Valley National Park, we find four hotels and nine campsites.

HOTELS IN DEATH VALLEY

These are the only accommodation options we can find in Death Valley:

  • The Oasis at Death Valley: Within this tourist village we find two facilities: The Inn at Death Valley, a historic inn offering first class accommodation and The Ranch at Death Valley, a motel that is currently under renovation.
CAMPING IN DEATH VALLEY

There are 9 campsites in Death Valley, marked in red on the map at the end of this article. The main campground in Death Valley is Furnace Creek Campground, which opens throughout the year and is the only one that can be booked in advance.

The rest of the campsites have different dates of operation, and the majority close during the summer. The price also varies from one campsite to another, even finding some free campgrounds in Death Valley. For more information on camping in the Death Valley, you can visit this website.

ACCOMMODATION NEAR DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

If you are struggling to find accommodation inside Death Valley National Park, try to search around the areas close to one of the entrances. These are  BeattyPahrumpLone Pine, Death Valley Junction and Shoshone.

BEST IMAGES OF DEATH VALLEY

Here are our best pictures of Death Valley. This spectacular place is a paradise for landscape photography enthusiasts, so there is no doubt that we will be back soon.

In our case, we could not spend a night in Death Valley because we didn’t have enough time. If you can stay in Death Valley longer or at least one night, try to make the most of the light during sunrise and sunset to get the best images of Death Valley.

DEATH VALLEY MAP

To finish this post, below we prepared a Death Valley Map, where we marked the main points of interest to see in Death Valley National Park.

If you want to use this map of Death Valley National Park on your mobile and without internet:

  • Download the Mapswithme app on your cell phone.
  • Download and save the following KML file in your Dropbox.
  • map of death valley
  • Open the file through Dropbox from your cell phone. You will get a dialog box where you have to select open with the Mapswithme application (Maps.me)

Ready, you have everything you need to start your trip.

SEE YOU IN THE NEXT ARTICLE AND DO NOT HESITATE TO LEAVE US A COMMENT IF YOU NEED MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

written by Ascenphotography by danzafra

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