Teddy and I visited Death Valley National Park on our 2022 Desert Southwest road trip. This park is the largest national park in the contiguous US at over 3 million acres. It is located in south eastern California near the edge of Nevada. It is most well known for its record temperatures during the summer. In 1913 there was a recorded temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit in the park. It’s also known for Badwater Basin which is a salt flat that sits just under 300 feet below sea level.
When to Visit
Because of the climate of the park, we visited during winter which is one of the best times to go. During mid February, it was 70-80 degrees during the day which was a nice change from the Pennsylvania weather we were coming from which has been about 20-30 degrees.
We flew into Las Vegas and rented a car at the airport to get to the park. It’s just over a two hour drive and has beautiful mountain scenery along the way. You could also fly into Las Angeles and come in from the west side which takes about 4 hours.
Top 3 Things to Do
If you only have a day, there’s only so much you’re able to do in a 3 million acre park. Below are the favorite spots we visited as well as some others if you can fit them in.
Zabriskie Point – This point is on the very east side of the park shortly after entering. There’s a pretty sizable parking lot with bathrooms where you can park either cars or RVs and then head up the short but steep paved path about .25 miles. Along the path are a few lookouts and opportunities for photos. From the top you’ll see the badlands of the park as well as the salt flats. There’s a trail through the badlands which starts at the parking lot.
Artists Palette Drive – This is a one way drive off of Badwater Road will take you back into the hills where you can see pinks, blues, purples and other colorful hues on the hills. They are from volcanic deposit compounds and the colors are most vivid around sunrise and sunset. We visited during mid day and you could still distinguish colors on the rocks then as well. This scenic road took about 30 minutes to drive and explore including a stop at the last overlook where we could walk through the colorful hills. Vehicles over 25 feet are not able to travel the road due to sharp corners and dips.
Badwater Basin – This basin sits about 300 feet below sea level. It’s located along Badwater Road and has a good sized parking lot as well as bathrooms. You can walk out along a boardwalk into the dry basin which is the remains of Lake Manley after it evaporated. If you walk out far enough the boardwalk will end and you can see the salt up close. On your way back to your car, look up on the rock wall and you’ll see a sign indicating where sea level is located.
Others Popular Spots
- Devils Golf Course – Located off Badwater Road, this takes you to the middle of the salt flat where you can see unique salt crystal formations which are sharp and jagged. Be careful here as you can easily get cut on the crystal formations.
- Golden Canyon Hike – This hike is also off of Badwater road. It is about a 3 mile round trip hike to Red Cathedral through sandy hills and canyons. It’s quite popular as the parking overflowed into the road when we visited.
- Dante’s View – The road to this view is right off the eastern entrance. Drive back 13 miles and you’ll find a parking lot with a short hike to the top of this 5700 ft mountain. There’s short hikes from the top for more views. This location is most popular with photographers during sunrise and sunset.
- Stovepipe Wells – This way point is in the northern part of the park and has a hotel with a pool as well as a general store and gas station. There’s also a gift shop and restaurant as well.
- Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes – These dunes are more north in the park near Stovepipe Wells. The tallest dune is about a hundred feet but the dunes cover a huge area. Sunrise and sunset is popular here.
Tips for Visiting
- Dogs are not able to visit the park as is common for most National Parks.
- There’s quite a few places for camping in the area so check out options before arriving.
- There’s hotel options in Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek buy book ahead of time as options are limited.
- Since this park is very large, to explore a good part of it, expect to do a decent amount of driving.
- There’s not a specific entrance station to show your park pass so purchase a pass in one of the booths on the side of the ride or at the Visitor Center, or bring your America the Beautiful pass to hang while exploring and hiking.
- Bring lots of water and food if you want to picnic while in the park. Again, options are limited so bring what you want ahead of time.