10 Things to See and Do in Death Valley

Visit Artists Palette in Death Valley National Park to see art that only nature could create
Visit Artists Palette in Death Valley National Park to see art that only nature could create | © Robert Fried / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alexia Wulff
21 April 2021

As the hottest, driest and lowest – 282ft (86m) below sea level – national park, Death Valley is a land of extremes, with snow-capped peaks, blooming wildflowers, sweeping dunes and vast salt flats. Discover what makes this sea of desert straddling the CaliforniaNevada border so special.

Artists Drive and Palette

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The Artists Palette on Artists Drive at Death Valley National Park in California
© Brent Coulter / Alamy Stock Photo
Death Valley comprises 5,270sqmi (13,649sqkm) of astounding wilderness. Along the backcountry road known as Artists Drive, discover rolling volcanic and sedimentary hills painted in a multitude of colors by Earth’s natural calcium carbonate, manganese and copper. It’s possible to view this scene via the scenic loop or the parking lot (no hiking required).

Badwater Basin

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General view looking out towards Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park, California, United States.
© Maurice Savage / Alamy Stock Photo
Sitting 282ft (86m) below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the United States. The landscape features vast salt flats that make up a serene white blanket spanning for miles. The area usually remains quite hot, and sometimes, a temporary lake is visible after heavy rainstorms.

Natural Bridge

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Death Valley Natural Bridge, Death Valley National Park, California, USA, America.
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
A short hike through Natural Bridge Canyon – 2mi (3km) round trip – will bring you to a remarkable rock formation carved by water millennia ago. The trailhead is reachable by taking the unpaved Natural Bridge Road, a route fairly easy to follow. However, keep in mind that rocky terrain fills the trails.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

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USA, California, Death Valley, National Park, Mesquite Flat, sand dunes,
© Tibor Bognar / Alamy Stock Photo
Just east of Stovepipe Wells lies the largest dune field in the park. Rolling hills of sand – crescent-, linear- and star-shaped – stretch to the horizon, with mountains as a backdrop. Mesquite trees provide pockets for wildlife, while cracked clay that was once an ancient lakebed lies on the floor. Don’t forget water, as this part of the valley is extremely hot most of the year.

The Racetrack

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The sliding rock at Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, California, United States.
© jonathan nguyen / Alamy Stock Photo
The mystery of the Racetrack – named for the “moving” rocks that appear to slide across the dried lakebed – has piqued the interest of researchers since the 1940s. The stones that tumble from the surrounding mountains to the Racetrack’s floor can weigh as much as 700lb (318kg), and some have traveled as far as 1,500ft (457m). Many theories have been suggested over the years about how the stones move, but a recent study found that when there’s some moisture and it’s cold enough to freeze, floating ice forms, pushing the rocks. To reach this destination, a 4×4 vehicle is required.

Ubehebe Crater

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Maar and sedimentary rock of Ubehebe Crater, volcanic crater, Death Valley National Park, Mojave Desert, California
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
A half-mile (0.8km) wide and 600ft (183m) deep, the Ubehebe Crater is the largest of the maar volcano clusters, created by a volcanic explosion about 300 years ago. When hot magma traveled to the surface and reached the groundwater, the heat turned the water to steam; it expanded, with the pressure released as an explosion of gas and steam. Dark cinder now covers the entire area, reached from the parking lot or northern end of the Racetrack (via the old miner’s trail at the Grandstand).

Zabriskie Point

Cathedral, Park
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zabriskie point Death Valley National Park. named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie of the Pacific Coast Borax Company
© Cal Cam / Alamy Stock Photo
This location is the most famous viewpoint in Death Valley, overlooking the surreal landscape of Furnace Creek. The badlands are most spectacular at sunrise and sunset when they take on orange, gold and brown hues. Get an up-close view along the Badlands Loop (be sure to return on the same track). For something more strenuous, hike the nearly 8mi (13km) Complete Circuit, or connect to other trails that lead to Red Cathedral, Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch.

Wildflower blooms

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The wildflower covered roads and valley floor in Death Valley National Park during the 2016 super bloom event.
© scott sady / tahoelight.com / Alamy Stock Photo

During spring, blooming wildflowers blanket most of the park. It’s one of the biggest attractions in the valley, with thousands of people heading here during March when blooming is at its peak. For the most remarkable displays, visit the southern reaches of the park (Badwater, Furnace Creek), where yellow buds cover the desert floor.

Devils Golf Course

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tourists, visitors, visiting, Devils Golf Course, Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, California
© Robert Fried / Alamy Stock Photo
The Devils Golf Course – “only the devil could play golf on such rough links” – is a vast stretch of salt rock that has been heavily eroded by the wind, forming jagged spires across the floor. First-timers should listen carefully for sounds of pops and pings coming from the ground; it’s the sound of billions of tiny salt crystals exploding as they expand and contract in the desert’s heat.

If these incredible attractions have convinced you to visit this extraordinary part of the world, why not book a stay at one of these excellent Death Valley hotels?

These recommendations were updated on April 21, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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