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What to Do in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park in California is a land of extremes. It’s the hottest, driest and lowest US National Park. But it’s for exactly these reasons that its worth a visit.

Death Valley holds the record in the Western hemisphere for the hottest reliably reported temperature at 134°F (56.7°C) at Furnace Creek in July of 1913. One cause is low elevation but the valley is enclosed by mountains which prevent the hot air from escaping. Obviously the height of the summer is not the best time to visit the lower elevations.

There’s lots of life in the park

Death Valley National Park is also a place that’s packed with life. On a visit you’ll hear the sand dunes singing, see colourful badlands and ancient lake beds, see tiny pupfish not just living but thriving in a saline creek.

At certain times of the year the wildflowers will wow you and the salt flats no matter when you visit will stun you. It’s a place you should visit if you’re a biker, hiker, photographer, birder, stargazer, artist, American-history lovers or just a curious person.

Death Valley receives less than two inches of rain per year.

Dried and cracked floor of Death Valley
Dried and cracked floor of Death Valley – Photo credit: Gustave Pellerin

What you can do in Death Valley National Park?

The lowest point in the National Park and in fact in North America is Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level. You can hike the five miles across the basin (though not recommended in the summer) and check out the salt crystals.

What to do in Death Valley - visit Badwater Basin
John at the lowest point in the US – Badwater Basin

Walk the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells at sunset – improvising your hike as you go. Elevations of the sand dunes vary from 30 feet to 140 feet.

Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells at sunset
Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells at sunset (Photo credit: Gustave Pellerin)

Hike Mosaic Canyon, a four mile round trip hike up a marble-walled canyon. You’ll see a range of textures from knobby conglomerates to marbleized rock. After about half a mile you reach a large gravel wash. It marks the top of the lower canyon. Most of the impressive features are in that first half mile, so many people turn around here.

Enjoy excellent hiking in Death Valley National Park
Enjoy excellent hiking in Death Valley National Park

Walk the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail along a boardwalk that winds beside the creek. There are several informative signs explaining the wildlife – like the pupfish you might see in late winter and early spring and the area itself. It’s much lusher when compared to the rest of the basin.

What to do in Death Valley - walk the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
Walking the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail in Death Valley National Park

Drive to Dante’s View past Zabriske Point and admire the views across Death Valley. It’s at an altitude of 1669 m (5476 feet) on the north side of Coffin Peak. Below the overlook is Badwater Basin. For those who want to stretch their legs, you can do the easy walk to Dante’s Peak or the longer off-trail hike to Coffin Peak. It’s accessed via a 13 mile spur road that climbs 2,450 feet – with the final approach at a 15% grade. 

Take the Artist’s Loop drive and marvel at the colourful mountains. It’s a 9 mile one way paved road that winds through multi-coloured desert hills. Along the drive there are plenty of turnouts for photos. Don’t take any vehicle longer than 25 feet as there are some sharp turns and tight places along this narrow road.

Mountains seen on the Artists Drive in Death Valley National Park
Mountains seen on the Artists Drive in Death Valley National Park

Explore the Gower Gulch Loop on foot

Be adventurous and head off through colourful badlands, past old borax mines and through canyon narrows on the Gower Gulch Loop out of Golden Canyon. Some route finding required but a VERY cool hike.

Death Valley sunset
Catching the sunset at the end of our hike on the Gower Gulch Loop

More things to do in Death Valley National Park

Climb the highest peak in the park, Telescope Peak (11,049 feet) on a strenuous 14 mile hike.

Try some off-road driving on the more than 1,000 miles of road through the park.

Hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails and roads are begging to be explored.

Visit in March and April to catch the spring migration of birds when hundreds of species are observed.

Backpack through canyon bottoms, desert washes and alluvial fans to experience solitude and incredible night skies.

Stunning scenery in Death Valley National Park
Stunning scenery in Death Valley National Park – Photo credit: Peter Perhac from Pixabay

Getting to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is located in the Mojave Desert, east of the Sierra Mountains in eastern California, close to the Nevada border.

In fact in roughly 2.5 hours you can reach Death Valley from the Las Vegas airport or alternatively it’s about a five hour drive from Bakersfield.

Sand dunes of Death Valley
Sand dunes of Death Valley (photo credit: Gustave Pellerin)

Where to stay in the national park

There are nine campgrounds through the park which are available on a first come first served basis except for the Furnace Creek Campground which can be reserved from October through April. Some campgrounds are closed in the summer.
 
Stovepipe Wells offers a motel that’s comfortable but it’s on the basic side. On site is a restaurant.
 
Furnace Creek Resort offers more upscale accommodations along with an 18 hole golf course, four restaurants and a saloon.

Outside of the park but still nearby are motels in Lone Pine, Independence, Beatty and Death Valley Junction.

Visit the national park website for more information.

What a range of colours in Death Valley National Park
What a range of colours in Death Valley National Park

Further reading on things to do in California

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

What you can do on a Trip to Death Valley National Park

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Death Valley is my favorite national park thus far. There is so much geological variation…it’s not possible to get bored. Nice job with the post.

    I’ve just wrapped up my 2nd podcast on Death Valley. I want to go back. Love the tip about the pupfish.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Mary.
      I don’t know why more people don’t visit – especially since it is only a few hours from Las Vegas. At least you get lots of space to yourself.
      I’ll check out your website too.

  2. Death Valley has been on our to travel list for a couple of years, especially since it’s not that far away for us. Your photos and post have just moved it higher up on the list. Thanks.

  3. We missed Death valley as we were travelling in the summer time. These photos are awesome. definitely want to make the trip back

  4. Awesome photo of Death Valley and Sand Dunes. missed going there on my last visit to Las Vegas, but it will be a definite must next time. Fascinating photos.

  5. Thank you so much for linking up at National Parks post! We used to live in Pahrump, Nevada and would go to Death Valley 2-3 times a year (mainly int he Winter & Spring) – I have fondest memories of it! I think it is beautiful!

    Have a super weekend!

  6. Death Valley is an amazing place, but I’ve only driven through there, believe it or not. I’d love to stay a couple of days and do some hiking. Love your photo of the dunes.

    1. @Cathy We went for a long weekend one November when the weather was crappy in Vancouver but glorious – and just the right temperature in Death Valley. Hiking was glorious – though you can get off the beaten track pretty quickly.

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