8 best things to do in Death Valley National Park, CA/NV

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It’s huge, hot and dry — but don’t let the potentially dangerous conditions or intimidating name deter you. These are the eye-popping best things to do in Death Valley National Park.

Beware, though: Midday hiking during summer should be avoided at all costs.

1. Delight at the striped badlands of Zabriskie Point

Take a 5-minute uphill walk from the parking lot to reach the elevated Zabriskie Point. The jaw-dropping reward: Yellow and brown badlands unfurling in front of you.

As you snap iconic photos, reflect on the power of water. While Death Valley is exceptionally dry, these formations have been carved by powerful periodic rainstorms.

Want more? For the best close-ups, retrace to the parking lot and hike into that labyrinth of mysterious-looking hills — the Badlands Loop is a rewarding 2.5-mile (4 km) adventure.

Bright badlands shaped wavy by powerful rainstorms at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
Zabriskie Point, shaped by gullywashers.

2. Ascend to the satellite-like Dante’s View

Detour 30 minutes (one way) off Highway 90 for epic satellite-like vistas of Death Valley. Gaze out across the landscape to see Badwater Basin’s salt flats, 5,575 ft (1,699 m) below, contrasted by the rising Panamint Range.

Although the parking area’s vantage point is breathtaking, a 0.5-mile one-way hike north along the rim lets you escape the crowds and offers an even better panorama.

At night, Dante’s View shows why Death Valley is an official International Dark Sky Park. Set up your telescope, or simply look up, to absorb an unusually pristine night sky filled with blinking stars.

The salt plains of Badwater Basin expanding thousands of feet below Dante's View
Climb to Dante’s View for this panorama.

3. Hit North America’s bottom at Badwater Basin

If you were to visit only one location in Death Valley, it would have to be Badwater Basin. This spot is not only park defining but also North America’s lowest — 282 feet (86 m) below sea level.

Follow the Badwater Basin Salt Flat Trail, appearing snow-covered, into the unique landscape. As far as your eye can reach, plains mostly comprising the type of salt you use at home expand.

Vertical shifts contribute to the awe-inspiring setting. To the west, Telescope Peak, at 11,049 ft (3,368 m), protrudes magnificently from the Panamint Range.

Tip: Scan the cliffs across Badwater Road for the glittering sign showing sea level — it’s mind-boggling how far below you are.

Lonely couple walking Badwater Basin Salt Flat Trail under the imposing heights of the Panamint Range
Walk at North America’s bottom.

4. Don’t lose your belongings at Devils Golf Course

Marvel at a bizarre environment of jagged salt formations sculpted by wind and rain. As the temperature changes, metallic popping sounds, the result of salt crystals expanding and contracting, add to the eeriness.

You’re not supposed to play golf at Devils Golf Course (luckily); the name was coined when someone said that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links”.

But if you really crave golfing, nearby Furnace Creek Golf Course is the world’s lowest course.

Vast expanses of jagged salt formations at Devils Golf Course during sunset
Listen for the salt crystals at Devils Golf Course.

5. Enjoy western-themed dinner in Furnace Creek

Forget the scorching outdoor adventure for a while. Aptly named, the Oasis comprises two lodging facilities (with a spring-fed swimming pool each) and several eateries smack dab at the planet’s hottest place, Furnace Creek.

Enter The Last Kind Words Saloon to travel back to the Old Wild West. Sit down to enjoy a casual meal in an elegant two-level saloon complete with Buffalo Bill posters, “wanted” fliers and game animals.

Reservations are highly recommended.

6. Roll down the Mesquite Flats Dunes

Get ready for a laughter-filled outing at the Mesquite Flats Dunes. These 100-foot high sand masses, fed by the towering mountains to the north, form a natural playground.

There’s no real trail to speak of, but the tallest dune allures a mile (1.6 km) from the car parking. Feel free to enliven the occasion with sandboarding or rolling (no judgment here).

Expansive golden Mesquite Flats Dunes backdropped by towering mountains
Revel in rising Mesquite Flats Dunes.

7. Step into smooth Mosaic Canyon

Up for a challenge? Enter Mosaic Canyon to find a maze of smooth marble throwing numerous curveballs.

The canyon suddenly tightens down to mere feet after just 0.25 miles (0.4 km). As you hike on and the path opens up, keep your eyes peeled for the mosaic-like rock formations that decorate the cliffs.

After 1.3 miles (2.1 km), first-seemingly impenetrable boulders block the path. Some hikers squeeze and scramble to the left to continue, while others make this their turnaround point.

Those who get to the 2-mile (3.2 km) mark are rewarded with — drumroll please — a dead end. Now it’s definitely time to head back to the trailhead!

8. Be inspired along Artists Drive

Embark on Death Valley’s finest cruise. The one-way (south-north) Artist’s Drive dramatically twists and turns like a thrilling Disneyland ride past vivid hills for 9 miles (14.5 km).

Although there are many opportunities to stop, the scenery peaks at Artist’s Palette: Get out of your car to gawk at nature’s own paintwork — ancient volcanic minerals have painted the slope with as unlikely as mesmerizing pastel colors ranging from red to green.

Trail leading to hills splashed with pastel color at Artist’s Palette
Be wowed by Artist’s Palette.

Best things to do in Death Valley FAQ

What not to miss at Death Valley?

It’s hard to pick a favorite in the eye-popping Death Valley. But if there’s one place you need to tick off, it’s Badwater Basin, North America’s lowest point.

What is the most beautiful part of Death Valley?

Most scenic spots in Death Valley sit in a concentrated area revolving around Badwater Basin, easily accessed from Furnace Creek, which provides lodging and dining options.

What to see in Death Valley in one day?

If you only have a day, consider skipping Dante’s View (saving an hour’s drive). Ways to save time without missing out on any sites of interest include taking shorter hikes at Mesquite Flats Dunes and Mosaic Canyon.

Keep planning you Death Valley trip

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