What to see and do in the Death Valley
Death Valley is one of the most known and suggestive National Park in the whole of North America. With its arid and desert landscape, wavy mountains, colourful canyons, craters, salt pinnacles and above all, a depth up to 86 meters below sea level, the Death Valley is the hottest and most rugged location in the world. Once there, you’ll feel like being landed on another planet.
The National Park is in California, close to the border of Nevada, pretty much 200km from Las Vegas and 450 km from Los Angeles. Visiting the main spots takes around 4 hours (more if you like hiking), and driving through the Death Valley is very easy; all the roads are tarred, and the attractions are well marked.
The only thing you must take care of is the intense heat during the summer season that can easily reach 50° C because it could be dangerous for your health. For this reason, there are many signs at the beginning of the trails of the main spots indicating avoiding the hike in the heat.
The Park can be visited all year round, but the best period is from November to April, to avoid the high temperatures that hit the valley in the other months. We have explored the Death Valley twice: mid-October with 35° C (and it was pretty good) and August with 47° C. We have promised ourselves not to visit it anymore during the summer season!
Top spots not to be missed in the Death Valley
1) Badwater Basin
It’s the vast dried-up bed of the prehistoric Manly salt lake and the lowest point in North America at 86 meters below sea level. The landscape around you is “lunar” and appears to stretch on forever. A short hike starts from the parking lot (around 400 mt), bringing you to the pool and the salt flat with its hexagonal salt formations. The Badwater pool is a small collection of water (it depends on the storms that cover the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water) and is often non-existent during the hot summer months. From the parking lot, you can also see the sea level sign above you on the nearby mountain.
2) Devil’s Golf Course
It’s a vast area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires that jut out of the barren landscape as far as the eye can see. It’s said that the spires are so serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough surfaces”. From the main road, driving on a gravel road for 5 minutes, you’ll get to the point where you can stop the car and have a look at the area. If you decide to stroll, be careful because the salt slabs are difficult to walk on as they are jagged and stick straight up.
3) Artist’s Drive and Palette
It’s a 15 km scenic drive starting and ending on the main road (one way) that lines the mountains. This road is curvy mainly, and it also has a lot of fun dips. After 7 km, you’ll get to the top spot of the drive: the Artist’s Palette. They are unusual and colourful hills with their hues of greens, purple and yellow. The colours are produced by the oxidation of the metals and elements found here in the ground.
4) Golden Canyon and Red Cathedral hike
First of all, this is a beautiful hike that must be done out of the summer heat (best season, November to March). The hike to the Golden Canyon starts from a car park easily reachable from Badwater road. It is an easy trail of about 1.6 km (one way), which can be lengthened, making a circular stretch (to reach the car park again) of 5.3 km passing through Manly Beacon and Gower Gulch. Starting from the parking lot, the trail gradually climbs through the gentle hills of the canyon, yellow, beige, and cream coloured, indicating different minerals’ presence. At the end of the Golden Canyon trail, it’s worth a little effort (0.8 km / 0.5 ml) to reach the Red Cathedral, an imposing red wall, which owes its colour to the action of the atmospheric elements on the rocks rich in iron.
5) Zabriskie Point and Badlands Loop
It is one of the most popular viewpoints in the Park, probably the most famous and photographed above all during the sunset. Overlooking the golden coloured “badlands” of Furnace Creek, you can enjoy the view with a short walk from the car park. If you like hiking, the Gower Gulch trail starts from the car park and ends at the Golden canyon car park (about 5.5 km / 3.5 ml- if you want to go back at Zabriskie point through the Golden Canyon is about 5 km / 3 ml). The Badlands loop is another exciting trail from the parking lot (around 4 km / 2.7 ml).
6) Dante’s View
It’s the best overlook of the whole Death Valley. Once here, you’ll get how impressive and vast this area is. Situated atop the Black Mountains at more than 1600 meters above sea level, it boasts one of the most unique and expansive views of the Badwater dry salt lake below and the mountain range across from it. The mountains you spot across Badwater Basin from Dante’s View are the Panamint Mountains and its tallest peak named Telescope Peak. The road is well marked (the last part is a steep ascent); from the CA190, you have to make a detour and drive for 20 km until you get to the parking lot.
Need to Know about Death Valley
1) How to get there
Coming from the west or southwest side (Los Angeles, Ridgecrest, Olancha, Joshua Tree NP) and driving along the CA 190 E, the first spot you’ll meet is the Mesquites dunes (they are the most accessible dunes of the Park with a height of about 30 meters). Here, from the car park, you can have a short or medium hike on the dunes and enjoy your first taste of the Death Valley. After that, you can go straight to the Visitor Centre at Furnace Creek, get your map and start the visit. If you are coming from Vegas, the first spot is Dante’s view, then Zabriskie point before getting to the Visitor Centre. Check our itinerary through the West National Parks.
2) Ticket Fare
The best way to save money is to buy the “Annual pass”, a card valid for 1 year, which allows you to visit all the parks managed by the NPS. It costs 80 USD x vehicle. If you are visiting only Death Valley, the pass price is 25 USD x vehicle (valid for 7 days).
3) Where to sleep
Usually, most visitors spend 4/5 hours through the Park after an overnight in Las Vegas, Olancha or Ridgecrest, but if you like having an overnight here, there are some Campgrounds and Lodges. We slept at Travelodge by Windham (on the Strip) in Las Vegas and at Hotel Europa in Ridgecrest
We slept in Motel, Guesthouses and medium level Hotels; the best option to save money is to do a tour with 4 people and share the room. Usually, all the accommodations offer good deals if you book a room for 4 people (2 queen-size beds). The price varies depending on the season and the town where you sleep.
5) Travel insurance
We never leave without insurance since it’s the most important thing when travelling. We got our comprehensive protection with Worldnomads;
Are you looking for the best websites and companies to save money with?
Check our travel resources for the best companies to use for arranging your trip!