Death Valley National Park is known for its many superlatives:
The hottest, the driest, the lowest, the largest.
Death Valley in California is the largest national park in the lower 48 states with over 3 million acres of protected wilderness (only behind Denali in Alaska). It also holds the record for the highest temperature in the world, 134 Fahrenheit which was set in 1913.
Recently, the hottest temperature recorded in Death Valley was 130 degrees in August 2020.
At first glance, you might think that Death Valley is not more than a huge swath of the desert with nothing to offer, but it’s just not true! Death Valley has many awesome hikes, scenic vistas and great biodiversity.
If you are planning your itinerary and are wondering about some of the best things things to in Death Valley, this guide got you covered. Whether you plan to spend one day in Death Valley or the entire week, you will not run out of things to do.
Where is Death Valley located?
Death Valley is located mostly in southeastern California, near the Nevada border. It’s located about 130 miles (2 hours) away from Las Vegas, making it one of the most popular day trips from Sin City, and 258 miles (4 hours and 15 minutes) away from Los Angeles.
How do I get to Death Valley?
To get to Death Valley, you will need to rent a vehicle. Most travelers drive to Death Valley either from Las Vegas or from Southern California, and having a car rental will allow you to explore the region after visiting Death Valley. I recommend renting your car with DiscoverCars that offers great inventory on many vehicles and very competitive prices!
What is the best time to visit Death Valley?
Death Valley weather in summer is no joke.
It’s hot and dry and temperatures can reach 130 degrees!
Even in April, Death Valley temperatures can soar to 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit. Ironically, this national park sees the most visitors during summer thanks to an influx of overseas tourists who want to experience the famous triple-digit heat.
If you are looking for more mild weather, best time to visit Death Valley is from December through February when temperatures stay around mid-60’s and low 70’s. It’s also the best time some of the best things to do in Death Valley, such as hiking and camping, as you will mild temps and plenty of sunshine.
What is Death Valley like in summer?
Along with the deserts of Sahara and the Middle East, Death Valley is one of the hottest places on the planet in summer. This means that you are limited in terms of what things you can do in Death Valley in summer because of the harsh weather.
But if you visit this national park in summer, you will see that it is popular with foreign travelers during this time as they stop here as part of their West Coast trip, spending at least one day in Death Valley before heading to Yosemite and San Francisco or Los Angeles.
So don’t be surprised to see full hotels in Death Valley during this time!
Winter is different. Death Valley in December sees a lot of North American travelers who come here to escape cold weather in their home states. Winter is also a perfect time for hiking in Death Valley as the weather is mild and sunny, but temperatures can still drop during the night, and you can see snow at higher elevations, so bring some layers.
Death Valley directions
Death Valley National Park straddles the Nevada-California border, but most of Death Valley is located in California’s Mojave desert.
If you drive to Death Valley from California, you will enter the park either from Lone Pine, Baker or Shoshone.
If you drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley, you will pass either through Pahrump, Beatty or Amargosa Valley.
Amargosa Opera House
When you get to the Death Valley Junction located near the eastern entrance of the park, you will see Amargosa Opera House.
Although you might think that it’s just a crumbling old building, Amargosa Opera houses a hotel and a cultural center where ballet performances are hosted during a specific season.
I recommend booking a stay at Amargosa Opera House and Hotel because it’s such a cool experience that you won’t get anywhere else! I think it’s by far one of the best places to stay near Death Valley.
PRO TIP: If you are driving to Death Valley from Nevada, fill up your car in Pahrump or Amargosa Valley because gas prices are high in Death Valley like in many other national parks in California.
How to spend one day in Death Valley?
Some visitors end up spending one day in Death Valley, as they traverse this national park on their way to other popular destinations in California. If you too, decide to spend one day in Death Valley, you can choose from some of the most popular things to do in Death Valley that I cover in this article.
Many of Death Valley popular spots are located far from one another. Just to give you an idea, it takes more than 40 minutes to get from Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes to Bad Water Basin, so make sure to manage your time properly.
Best things to do in Death Valley: a complete overview
1. Dante’s View
Driving to the highest point, Dante’s View is one of the most incredible things to do in Death Valley and an unmissable stop on your Death Valley itinerary.
To get there, make a left turn on Furnace Creek Wash Road after entering the park from the east and continue for the next 13 miles on the road that gradually goes up a steep hill.
Dante’s View is one of the best photo spots in Death Valley that opens a panoramic view of the salt flats framed by the dark Panamint Mountains. Don’t forget to bring a jacket because windchill can be really strong here.
2. Zabriskie Point
One of the most popular stops on many visitors’ Death Valley itinerary, Zabriskie Point is a platform where you can see the badlands formed by erosion of the lake that was here millions of years ago.
A hiking trail below Zabriskie Point goes to Gower Gulch and Golden Canyon and can be accessed from the side of the main trail.
The history of Zabriskie Point dates back to the time when prospectors were mining borax (or white gold of the desert) in the area following its discovery during the California Gold Rush era, and you can read about it when you get to the observation platform of Zabriskie Point.
3. Sunset watching
Sunset watching is one of the most popular things to do in Death Valley, and for a good reason! There’s nothing like the spectacular red, orange and pink colors lighting up the sky. My favorite place to watch the sunset in Death Valley is Zabriskie Point where you can enjoy a stunning panorama of the area in soft glow.
4. Twenty Mule Team Canyon
Located near Zabriskie Point, Twenty Mule Team Canyon is an often-missed spot and one of the most underrated things to do in Death Valley. It is essentially a 2.7-mile road that features some incredible scenery and is surrounded by rock walls, mesas and hills. This road was named after twenty mule teams that were used to transport borax out of Death Valley by wagons.
5. Golden Canyon
Continue driving on California State Route 190 and make a left turn on Badwater Road. Your first stop will be Golden Canyon that takes you to Zabriskie Point through the golden-colored hills.
If you don’t want to bake in the heat, take a moderate hike from Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral that is about 3 miles.The Golden Canyon will take you up the narrow trail surrounded by the towering walls. You will have to scramble up the rocks a few times and duck under the ledges.
Hiking through Golden Canyon is one of the best things to do in Death Valley if you want to escape the crowds, as only a few people venture out here.
6. Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette
This 9-mile scenic drive is one of my favorite parts of Death Valley.
The hues of purple, green, pink and red colors throughout Artist’s Drive are caused by oxidation of metals such as iron and copper. It’s an unmissable stop on your Death Valley itinerary and one of the most amazing things to do in Death Valley if you want to snap a cool shot!
Taking pictures at Artist’s Drive has become one of the most popular things to do in Death Valley thanks to social media, and it’s not uncommon to see a couple of photographers at this spot.
7. Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge Canyon is a short hike through the narrow canyon that features one of the park’s natural stone arches. Another prominent feature of the hike is a dry waterfall that was formed by rain waters flowing down the rock. Visiting Natural Bridge is one of the best things to do in Death Valley, if you want to get away from the crowds, as this spot is never busy.
8. Badwater Basin
The lowest point in the United States, Badwater Basin lies 282 feet below sea level and is located on the southern tip of the Death Valley National Park.
Take a look at the water pool and the sign at the entrance before you proceed toward the huge salt flat that stretches for 5 miles. When you walk a bit further, take a close look at the salt formations, and you will be able to see individual salt crystals in the crust on the ground.
What’s interesting is that Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states which peaks at 14,505 feet is less than 80 miles away.
9. Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Along with the visitor center, Furnace Creek also has campgrounds, a gas station, a restaurant and Furnace Creek Ranch, one of the few hotels in Death Valley.
PRO TIP: Cell phone service can be very spotty throughout this national park. Furnace Creek is one of the few places in Death Valley where you can get a signal.
10. Harmony Borax Works
After stopping at Furnace Creek, head north on Highway 190 to Harmony Borax Works. This spot is an outdoor exhibit that shows how borax was mined here in the late 19th century through the colorful display of equipment and The Harmony Borax plant.
Taking a guided tour of the Harmony Borax Works is one of the best things to do in Death Valley if you want to learn the fascinating history of this national park. Guided tours can be arranged at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
11. Ubehebe Crater
The drive to Ubehebe Crater is about 30 miles from the main state route that traverses through Death Valley. At 600 feet deep and half-mile wide, Ubehebe Crater is a pure wonder to gaze at! Thanks to its remote location, it’s one of the best places things to do in Death Valley.
You can hike around the rim of the crater or down to its bottom. But keep in mind that while the walk down might feel like a breeze, a hike back will require some effort.
12. Mosaic Canyon
Visiting Mosaic Canyon is one of the best things to do in Death Valley, if you want to do some hiking. This is a spectacular 4-mile round trip hike with several sets of cool narrows and cool views all around.
There are also fewer people and less sun thanks to the canyon walls, so it’s a perfect place to escape the Death Valley heat.
13. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is one of the most scenic spots in Death Valley, and it offers plenty of incredible patterns, curves and lines for photography. Make sure to wear your shoes, especially during summer because the sand can get really hot.
PRO TIP: If you want to visit cleaner, less-crowded sand dunes, head to the remote Eureka Dunes in the upper corner of Death Valley not far from Ubehebe Crater. To get there, you will need a 4X4 vehicle because the road that leads to this spot is very rugged.
14. Charcoal Kilns
Charcoal Kilns are a group of 10 beehive-like structures that are known as some of the well-preserved kilns in the Western United States. Although the drive to Charcoal Kilns is relatively easy and most of the drive is on the paved road, many travelers end up missing this spot on their Death Valley itinerary. The kilns can be accessed from the parking lot and are so much fun to explore!
The paved road turns into gravel during the last two miles, so it’s a good idea to have a high clearance vehicle, if you decide to come here.
15. Darwin Falls
Remember I told you at the beginning of the article that Death Valley is an incredible national parks with a wide array of landscapes and biodiversity?
A few people know that there’s actually a cool waterfall in Death Valley that can be reached by a 2-mile roundtrip hike. To get there, you need to arrive in Panamint Springs on the west side of the park.
Death Valley entrance fee
The Death Valley entrance fee is $35 per vehicle.
While you might be tempted to drive past the meter, you shouldn’t do it because the fees collected at the station help the park to pay for its infrastructure. You can also pay your fees at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and get a paper map of Death Valley.
Stovepipe Wells is a small unincorporated community west of Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It’s also the second place besides Furnace Creek where you can buy food at Death Valley. It has a gas station, a Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel and a campground.
If you are headed to Lone Pine, a town near the western entrance to Death Valley, Stovepipe Wells is your last place to get gas before you begin a lengthy drive along the Death Valley Scenic Byway.
Where to stay in Death Valley
If you are wondering whether to stay around Death Valley, there are a few things you should know.
While winter in Death Valley is a slow time with fewer visitors, Death Valley hotels can be a bit expensive during summer. If you don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for a basic room, make your reservation ahead of your visit.
Death Valley Inn and RV Park – located in Beatty, Nevada, the gateway to Death Valley, this hotel offers hotel rooms and RV spots.
The Inn at Death Valley – one of the lodging options, the Inn at Death Valley has good facilities and spacious accommodations.
The Ranch at Death Valley – another popular hotel in Death Valley that quickly gets booked up in spring and summer.
Where to stay near Death Valley
If you are looking for a budget places to stay near Death Valley, look for hotels in Pahrump or Beatty, the two towns located within one hour of driving from the park’s entrance. They typically offer more budget-friendly prices than hotels in Death Valley and lower occupancy rates.
Stargazing in Death Valley
Designated as a dark-sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association, Death Valley is one of the best places for stargazing in the United States.
Most of the park is in the wilderness, and has no artificial sources of light polluting the dark sky. It is also far enough from the nearest major cities, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Stargazing is one of the best things to do in Death Valley. While the entire national park boasts spectacular dark skies, there are several places in Death Valley that are considered the best for stargazing:
- Badwater Basin
- Mesquite Flat San Dunes
- Harmony Borax Works
Death Valley campgrounds
- Furnace Creek – The most popular campground at Death Valley National Park, Furnace Creek is located near the visitor center. While it takes reservations, spots tend to fill up quickly due to its popularity.
- Texas Springs/Sunset – Also located at Furnace Creek, Texas Springs and Sunset campgrounds are first-come, first-serve and don’t take reservations.
- Stovepipe Wells – A first-come, first-serve campground, Stovepipe Wells doesn’t require a reservation. It’s open from late fall through spring and is about 30 minutes from Furnace Creek.
If you are looking for more remote campgrounds with cooler temperatures, check out Mesquite Spring, Wildrose and Mahogany Flat that are open from late spring through fall.
Many Death Valley campgrounds are closed in summer because of the hot weather, and some remote campgrounds are also closed in winter because even a hot place like Death Valley can get ice and snow at high altitudes.
During summer, temperatures stay over 100 degrees Fahrenheit even at night, which makes sleeping in a tent very uncomfortable.
PRO TIP: Most national parks in the United States tend to have a higher visitation around major holidays such as the Fourth of July, Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, and Death Valley is no exception. If you can, plan your trip for other days to avoid the crowds.
Frequently asked questions about Death Valley
Are there restaurants in Death Valley?
Yes! If you are looking for places to eat in Death Valley, there are a couple of options. Keep in mind that prices here are high and food is average at best, so prepare to pay substantially more even for a mediocre meal. Bring food, water and snacks, if you want to camp or spend a few days in Death Valley.
Here are a couple of options for Death Valley restaurants:
- The Inn at Death Valley – one of the most popular restaurants in Death Valley thanks to its central location, the Inn serves breakfast and dinner
- Toll Road Restaurant – located in Stovepipe Wells Village, this restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner
- The Ranch at Death Valley – another centrally located restaurant, the Ranch serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Panamint Springs Resort – also has a restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner served year-round
Are there gas stations in Death Valley?
Yes, there are gas stations in Death Valley, but I recommend filling up before you come to Death Valley, because gas here is about $1,5-2 more than regular prices.
- Furnace Creek – the most central gas station in Death Valley near visitor center and several campgrounds
- Stovepipe Wells – another gas station in Stovepipe Wells Village near hotels and a restaurant
- Panamint Springs – a more remote gas station
SAFETY TIP: Always have a spare tire when visiting Death Valley. Since many points of interest in Death Valley are hours apart and cell phone service is spotty, you do not want to be stuck here. The cost of towing out of Death Valley is ridiculously high and can be in the thousands of dollars.
Why is it called Death Valley?
Death Valley has a fascinating history!
For thousands of years, Native American tribes roamed the harsh desert that is today known as the Death Valley National Park.
In mid-1800, when the California Gold Rush fueled mass migration of prospectors to the state, the first group of American-Europeans arrived in the area, as it was trying to make its way to the gold fields.
Lost in the uncharted territory, they were stuck in the valley for weeks, and eventually forced to abandon their wagons and eat some of their oxen to survive.
After the group eventually was able to find its way out, one of the women turned said, “Goodbye Death Valley!”
The moniker has stuck around ever since.
Is Death Valley worth visiting?
Although some travelers dismiss Death Valley is boring and not worth visiting, I couldn’t disagree more with their opinion. Death Valley is one of the most beautiful national parks in the West with unique landscapes that make you feel like you are far away from the civilization. Exploring Death Valley is a lot of fun, and you should spend a couple of days enjoying this place.
What is the best month to visit Death Valley?
Late February through March is the best month to visit Death Valley when temperatures are mild to explore and hike, and there’s also a possibility of seeing the gorgeous desert wildflowers. If the previous winter had a lot of rain, Death Valley sees thousands of blooming wildflowers carpeting many areas of the park.
It’s a really cool thing to see, if you happen to be in Death Valley during this time!
What do I need to wear when visiting Death Valley?
When visiting Death Valley, always wear a hot, light breathable clothes, good hiking shoes and plenty of sunscreen. Carrying plenty of water and at least a couple of snacks in your backpack is a must at all times, because even in winter Death Valley can be super dry and you can get dehydrated very quickly.
How much time do I need for Death Valley?
I suggest no less than 3 days for your trip to Death Valley. This is a huge national park, and driving distances here can be long, especially if you want to check out less-visited areas of the park. While it’s possible to get a brief overview of some of the best things to do in Death Valley in just a day, you will miss out on cool activities like stargazing, sunrise watching and seeing more remote corners of the park that require more time.
Death Valley safety precautions
Death Valley is a beautiful and enigmatic place, but it also can be harsh and unforgiving. High temperatures and burning sun combined with long distances and lack of cell phone coverage in many places require extra caution.
Before you plan your itinerary for some of the best things to do in Death Valley, spend some time studying the area and getting your supplies ready. My survival guide to Death Valley National Park will help you to stay safe on your adventure of a lifetime!
Best things to do in Death Valley: Final Word
Death Valley is one of the most beautiful national parks in California with enigmatic landscapes, clear dark skies and plenty of space for camping, hiking and canyoneering. Make sure to spend a couple of days in Death Valley to enjoy everything that that this national park has to offer.
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