With trees as tall as skyscrapers and an understory of primeval ferns, a hike in…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Further reading on things to do in California
- A Day Trip to Catalina Island – A World Away From LA
- 10 Fun Things to do in Mendocino, California
- Hiking in Palm Springs: The Three Must Do Hikes
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