Death Valley National Park, California

According to, Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the mainland United States and is located in the state of California, covering an area of ​​more than 13,000 square kilometers! Because a large part of the park consists of desert landscape, temperatures can rise considerably here. In the summer it can get over 50 °C here! It also rains in this part of Western America so a lot less than in an average desert. Death Valley is also home to the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, Badwater Basin, at a depth of 86 meters below sea level. Although ‘only’ 7% of the park’s surface is open to the public, there is plenty to see. Don’t be put off by the ominous name! Death Valley has a very varied landscape: from vegetated valleys to sandy plains and from mountain tops to salt flats. It is therefore a very popular park among nature lovers. You can combine Death Valley National Park with Western Experience car tour or Western Impressions car tour.

12 things to do in Death Valley National Park

Because Death Valley is so huge, there is also a lot to do. There is plenty to see from the car (sightseeing), but you can also go hiking, mountain biking and camping. You can complete all these activities according to your own wishes. The park is beautiful early in the morning, during sunrise, but you can also admire a breathtaking starry sky at night. Enough to see and do!

1. Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek is the center of Death Valley. Here you will find most amenities, including several hotels, the visitor center, and many camping facilities. Furnace Creek also has a number of shops. From here you can plan your trip well. There is even a golf course here, which proudly bears the title of ‘lowest course in the world’. You can also visit the Death Valley Museum here, where you can learn more about the history of the area and its native inhabitants. Here is also the Borax Museum; Borax is a substance that used to be used to make glass. From Furnace Creek you can explore the rest of the park, as most roads pass through here.

2. Golden Canyon

Golden Canyon is about three miles south of Furnace Creek. This ‘golden gorge’ is an absolute must. What makes this place so special is that the sun turns the walls of the gorge all kinds of gold. It’s a very popular place; Golden Canyon is sometimes referred to as one of the park’s most photographed spots. Especially at sunset it is very busy, but in the afternoon it is just as beautiful! You can walk the Golden Canyon Trail; this is a slightly steep walk of about four kilometers between the gorges. If you feel like stretching your legs longer, you can continue walking up to Red Cathedral, a natural red rock amphitheater.

3. Artist’s Drive

As an extension of Badwater Road, you can make a ‘detour’ along Artistic Drive. This one-way street south of Badwater Road is about 9 miles long and takes its name from the colored landscape. Be careful, it is a somewhat narrower road with large height differences and hairpin bends. However, this is completely worth it! When you drive over here in the afternoon, the volcanic landscape takes on colors that you could easily find on a painter’s palette due to the position of the sun. In Artist’s Palette the rocks color brown, green, black, red and even purple! With a bit of luck you can take beautiful pictures!

4. Devil’s Golf Course

Even if you are an experienced golfer, it is impossible to hit a ball on this salt flat! This salt flat, consisting of salt pillars and salt cavities, owes its name to a travel guide from 1934. This wild landscape was renamed “Devil’s Golf Course” because only the devil could play on such wild terrain. Some salt pillars are up to 30 centimeters high! Although it is hard to imagine, this plain was once a large landscape with a lake in it. This has now completely eroded and this capricious plain is the result. Because of the rugged landscape it is also not possible to walk here, but it is worthwhile to view the ‘golf course’ from the car!

5. Zabriskie Point

For those who prefer to look at the heart of Death Valley from above, Zabriskie Point is a nice alternative. Zabriskie Point is the valley’s most popular viewpoint. From here you have a view over the so-called ‘badlands’ in their brown and yellow colours. This landscape was created as a result of erosion: because the water from heavy rain showers could not be drained off quickly enough, fissures appeared in the rock. But if you look closely, you can also see the salt flats in the distance. Because reaching this viewpoint doesn’t really require a hike, it is usually very busy. Most visitors often only stay for a short time to just view the view, but it is also possible to climb up a bit to enjoy the views a little longer.

6. Dante’s View

Dante’s View is one of the park’s viewpoints. You look out over Badwater Basin, the lowest point of the park; but at the same time you also have a beautiful view of the highest point of the park, Telescope Peak (at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters). To get to Dante’s View you just have to take a short walk of about one kilometer uphill from the parking lot. It is best to park the car here, because the end of the road is very steep and has many hairpin bends. Remember to bring a jacket, because the altitude and the wind make it a lot colder up here than in the rest of the valley! In addition, it is also wise to bring a camera, because here you can take the best pictures of the beautiful view; preferably in the morning, but the view is also worth it for the rest of the day!

7. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a wonderful alternative if you don’t have a four-wheel drive to visit the Eureka Dunes. After all, these dunes are more accessible because they are somewhat flatter and less coarse. Yet they are definitely worth it: sometimes the dunes can reach a height of thirty meters! There is no path in the dunes because of the constant movement in the sandy soil. So you can wander as far as you want! The best times to visit the Mesquite Dunes are at sunrise or sunset. During these parts of the day you have a beautiful light, which creates separate shadows. When you come in the morning, you can still see animal tracks in the sand from the night before. The dunes are also beautiful at full moon, but you have to watch out for rattlesnakes, especially during the warmer months.

8. Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon can be admired by walking through a canyon. What makes this gorge so special are the smooth walls in all kinds of colors. It therefore resembles a marble mosaic tile that you could also use in your kitchen! Although the path of this hike is a bit on the narrow side, it is accessible to hikers of all levels due to its moderate difficulty. At the end of the path you come to a dry waterfall. You have to take into account that the path is unpaved in some places, so sturdy shoes are recommended. It can also be quite busy, especially during the first part of the walk.

9. Scotty’s Castle

When you arrive at Scotty’s Castle it feels like you’ve arrived on a movie set. This country house, built in the Spanish style in the 1920s, is a special appearance in the arid desert. The story that accompanies the house could, as it were, come from that same movie. Albert Johnson, a wealthy Chicago businessman, had this house built to serve as his vacation home. However, the house was often occupied by his good friend Walter Scott, a gold digger and cowboy from the same period. Scott told anyone who would listen that the house was built from the gold he found. Although the house was never finished, the furnishings are no less extravagant. Johnson, or rather Scott, had a huge organ in addition to a large number of rooms. Today you can get a tour of the house, which lasts about an hour. Unfortunately, the road leading to the house was damaged by a severe storm in 2015. The road is still being worked on; therefore Scotty’s Castle will still be closed in 2021.

10. Ubehebe Crater

A must-see attraction in Death Valley is the Ubehebe Crater. This crater, more than 235 meters deep and 800 meters wide, owes its somewhat unusual name to the indigenous people: ‘ubehebe’ means ‘big basket in rock’. It has been established that the crater was created about 300 years ago by an explosion caused by contact between groundwater and lava. After the ash settled, not only small craters remained, but also this large hole. Ubehebe Crater is about five miles from Grapevine. You can view the crater from your car, but you can also walk in it. There is a walk of about two and a half kilometers around the crater, but you can also walk down. The trip back up is very tough!

11. Eureka Dunes

The Eureka Dunes are not only the highest and narrowest dunes in Death Valley, but also in the state of California. It is definitely worth visiting these dunes, as they rise out of nowhere in the landscape. Some dunes are up to 20 meters high! There are no marked hiking trails, but you can climb up to one of the peaks. Keep in mind that this can be tough, as the dunes are quite steep and you can easily sink into the loose sand. This unique landscape is also home to many special animal species due to its secluded location. That is why the area is also well protected. Activities such as horseback riding and sandboarding are prohibited here. You are absolutely not allowed to drive off-road here!

12. Rhyolite Ghost Town

Rhyolite Ghost Town is a special sensation. This small town is located in the middle of the desert, but is not officially part of Death Valley. It was founded at the beginning of the twentieth century by Shorty Harris and EL Cross. It was a bustling place for a while, but partly because of financial misery, the city was abandoned less than ten years later. Several of the period buildings still stand; these ruins give the place a somewhat lurid appearance. Special is the so-called ‘bottle house’ with a wall that consists entirely of empty bottles. Rhyolite was also used for a time as a filming location by Paramount Pictures. Also nearby is the Goldwater Open Air Museum, which features several large statues.

Death Valley temperature

Because Death Valley consists largely of desert, it is not recommended to visit the park in the summer. Temperatures can then easily rise to 50 °C. That’s why spring is the most popular season to visit Death Valley; this has to do with the ‘wildflowers’ that are in bloom then. In spring it is usually between 25 °C and 35 °C. Summer starts early here: it is often already extremely hot in May. Autumn sets in at the end of October and temperatures get relatively colder. In winter it is a lot colder, especially at night. Nevertheless, it is still worthwhile to visit the valley, because the mountain peaks are snowy then. The sun is also not that high and it is less bright!

Frequently Asked Questions about Death Valley National Park

Is it safe to visit Death Valley?

The NPS makes every effort to ensure the safety of their visitors, but ultimately you are responsible for your own safety. It is therefore important that you are well prepared for the heat. Bring enough water (four liters per person per day)! Try to avoid strenuous hikes in the heat and watch for signs of dizziness and nausea. Also be careful when driving and stick to the indicated speed. Also keep in mind that your phone will not always be available. Don’t overestimate yourself!

When is the best time to visit Death Valley?

The most important thing is that you avoid the park in the summer, although there are also tourists who come to the park just before the heat. Spring and winter are therefore popular seasons because of their more pleasant temperatures.

Why is Death Valley so famous?

Besides the huge size of the park, Death Valley is best known for its extremes. Enormous heights alternate great depths in the landscape. In addition, the exceptionally high temperature is also an attraction for many tourists.

How long does it take you to see everything in Death Valley?

This depends on your time and budget, but if you want to see everything, it is wise to set aside at least a week for this. The park is huge, so keep in mind that you will have to drive great distances.

What should I bring with me when I visit Death Valley?

Most importantly: water! At least four liters per person per day. Also bring plenty of food, including ice cream. Be sure to wear layers of light clothing and protect yourself with sunscreen and possibly a hat for the sun. Also make sure you have good sturdy shoes and a good backpack. It is also useful to have a first aid kit in the car and charging cables for your mobile phone.

Death Valley National Park, California