Getaway Compass

10 Best Things to Do in Death Valley National Park

Best Things to Do in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is a unique national park in the United States where you can visit the lowest point in North America and the hottest place on earth. The national park expands over 3.4 million acres, making it the largest national park in the lower 48. Given the large size of the park it is helpful to plan your visit in advance and saving the places you want to see in the park. To help you plan your trip to Death Valley, we put together a list of the 10 best things to do in Death Valley National Park.

1. Walk on a Salt Flat at the Lowest Point in North America

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 ft below level. The salt flats extend about 200 square miles. To get to the edge of the salt flat you only need to walk about 10 minutes on a boardwalk from the parking lot, but to see the salt polygons you will want to walk about a mile each way. As you are walking out to the salt flats look for the sign on the black mountains that indicates sea level. The views of the surrounding mountains are incredible, with the Panamint Range on the west, where you can see Telescope Peak rising to 11,049 ft.

How to Visit Badwater Basin Death Valley
Lowest Place in North America Death Valley

March 2024 Conditions: Lake Manly

In August 2023 Hurricane Hillary brought rain to Death Valley that led to the accumulation of water in Badwater Basin. This formed a temporary lake where Lake Manly used to be 10,000 years ago. The lake continues to evaporate, but as of March 2024 there is still a shallow lake a number of inches deep. With the lake you get to experience Badwater Basin in a unique way, and although you won’t see the salt polygons you will enjoy the reflection of the surrounding mountains. 

Tip: The best way to explore Badwater Basin when there is water covering the salt flats is with rain boots. I ordered these rain boots before our latest visit to Death Valley and they allowed me to explore further without worrying about ruining any shoes. You won’t want to walk barefoot because the salt can be sharp and the water can be cold.

2. Explore Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes California
Best Things to Do Death Valley

The most popular sand dunes in Death Valley National Park are Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. These sand dunes are located in the Stovepipe Wells area of the park. One of the best things to do in Death Valley National Park is to spend time exploring the sand dunes and hike up to the highest sand dune. You can see the highest sand dune about 1 mile out from the parking lot. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to walk through thick sand and make sure to add extra time for this hike.

Try to get to the sand dunes at a time when you can get good shadows, like early morning or late afternoon. Sunset is a great time to explore the sand dunes but it’s also the best time to see most of the destinations in the park. We hiked Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes a couple hours before sunset and the views were unbelievable. 

3. Watch the Sunset at Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point Death Valley

We decided to prioritize watching the sunset at Zabriskie Point, and it did not disappoint. Watching the sunset at Zabriskie Point is one of the best things to do in Death Valley National Park for a reason. There is a large parking lot with a short trail up to Zabriskie Point, a viewpoint above the colorful badlands. This spot is beautiful at all hours, so even if you can’t get here for sunset make sure to stop here whenever you have a chance. If you want to explore the badlands more you can hike Badlands Loop from Zabriskie Point.

4. Hike to Red Cathedral from Zabriskie Point

Red Cathedral Death Valley
Zabriskie Point Hike Death Valley National Park
Death Valley Badlands Loop

One of the best hikes in Death Valley National Park starts at Zabriskie Point. Hike on Badlands Loop and do a detour to reach Red Cathedral. On your way back take the part of the Badlands Loop that you haven’t seen yet. This will add up to about 5 miles and should take a few hours. If you are not up for hiking this full loop you could just hike the badlands loop or a section of the loop to experience the badlands and the windy, narrow paths. Make sure to be prepared with plenty of water and sun protection as there is no shade on this trail.

5. See Death Valley National Park from Dante's View

Dantes View Death Valley National Park
Dantes View

One of the best viewpoints in Death Valley National Park is called Dante’s View. This viewpoint is located at the summit of the Black Mountains. Dante’s View is more than 5000 ft above Badwater Basin, and it can get 25 degrees Fahrenheit colder than at the salt flats. You will want to bring extra layers so you can enjoy the view comfortably. There are a couple of trails that you can take to see more, or you can enjoy the view from beside the parking lot.

Explore Death Valley from Las Vegas: Book a Day Trip!

Zabriskie Point Hike Death Valley

Take a getaway from the busy Las Vegas strip and spend a day exploring Death Valley National Park. The easiest way to visit the park is by booking this Death Valley Small-Group Day Adventure from Las Vegas. This will allow you to explore the park without having to rent a car. This day trip takes you to most of the top destinations in Death Valley National Park including Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Artist’s Pallete, and Dante’s View.

If you want to make sure you see sunset in the park and have time to stargaze, I recommend booking this Death Valley Sunset & Starry Night Tour from Las Vegas. Watching the sunset at Zabriskie Point is an extraordinary experience making this tour worth the higher cost.

6. Drive Twenty Mule Canyon Rd

Twenty Mule Canyon Drive Death Valley
Twenty Mule Canyon Drive Death Valley National Park

A hidden gem in Death Valley National Park that is often overlooked is Twenty Mule Canyon Rd. This road is a 2.5-mile one-way road which takes you through colorful badlands. It is passable with most sedans and 4-wheel drive is not needed. You can find the entrance to this drive just east of Zabriskie Point off CA-190. We enjoyed exploring this part so much we ended up driving through the road twice, stopping at scenic parts on our second go. This road is known as the location where filming of a star wars scene was filmed.

7. Explore Artist's Drive Scenic Loop

Artists Palette

One of the best things to do in Death Valley national park is to drive this one-way loop off Badwater Rd that takes you through the colorful badlands. Make sure to save time to explore Artist’s Pallete, colorful hills along the drive. The 9-mile paved road winds through the hills and is a great way to see more of Death Valley without having to hike.

8. Take a Walk at Artist's Pallete

Artist's Pallete Death Valley

Artist’s Pallete is the most colorful part of Artist’s Drive Scenic Loop. These colorful hills were created by volcanic deposits containing iron oxides and chlorite. There is a path that you can take out into Artist’s Pallete where you can enjoy the view from the colorful hills.

9. See Devil's Golfcourse

Devil's Golfcourse Death Valley

Devil’s Golfcourse is the most underrated destination in Death Valley National Park. This unique landscape was formed after salt lakes deposited salts which were then eroded by wind and water, forming jagged spires. Be careful as you explore this area since the salt rocks are very tough and can be sharp. This spot is only a short detour off Badwater Rd, just before Badwater Basin as you are driving south.

10. Hike Mosaic Canyon Trail

Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park
Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley

Hiking through Mosaic Canyon is one of the best things to do in Death Valley National Park. A 4-mile round trip trail takes you through the narrow canyon with marble walls. There is a 2-mile unpaved road to the trailhead parking lot that we had no issue driving in a sedan. This was one of our favorite hikes in the park.

Tips for Visiting Death Valley National Park

  • The best time to visit Death Valley National Park is between November and April when temperatures are comfortable.
  • There are limited food options in the park so bring food with you for your time in Death Valley National Park. We filled up this cooler with lunch and snacks when we visited Death Valley National Park.
  • Make sure to fill up gas before entering the park as there are limited gas options in the park and they are expensive. Also note that it is significantly cheaper to get gas in Nevada than in California.
  • All destinations in this guide can be reached with a sedan. A high-clearance, 4×4 vehicle is not needed. 

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

GETAWAY COMPASS
Reut and Zack Elopement-5

Travel guides created to inspire and enable people to use their time away from the office to explore the world.

Get Your Free eBook: 23 Travel Hacks to Save Time and Money
Featured