a walk Golden Canyon Death Valley National Park

15 Exciting Things To Do in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has more miles of road than any other park in the national park system. Since it is so large, spread out and really hot most of the year, you need a good plan when you visit.

There are literally hundreds of things to do in Death Valley National Park, knowing the layout of the park and having a general idea of the things you’d like to see and do can help maximize your time and not spend it driving around needlessly.

In this article you’ll find some of the easiest things to do in Death Valley National Park for first-time visitors and even return visitors. Keep reading for suggestions, tips and a driving map from Las Vegas.

Please note: Death Valley National Park suffered unprecedented flooding in the summer of 2022. Many roads and areas were affected and there are still a lot of closures. Visit nps.gov before you go for the latest details and a map of roads that are closed.

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Things To Do in Death Valley National Park

What can you do in Death Valley National Park? Well, besides plenty of scenic routes on its 1000 miles of roads, Death Valley National Park offers picturesque hiking and walking trails, historic mining towns, a educational visitor center and more than a handful of places to watch the sun come up and go down.

Before we dive into the list, let’s answer the most asked question about the area since you’ll be wondering about it the entire time: why is it called Death Valley?

Death Valley’s name was coined when a group of pioneers, that almost died in the winter of 1849-1850, were finally rescued and one of them turned around, looked back and said “goodbye, death valley” and the name stuck.

Now for the list of things to do in Death Valley National Park.

Dante’s View

Entering the park on Highway 190 from Las Vegas, Dante’s View is one of the first stops and makes the list of things to do in Death Valley National Park because it’s the ideal introduction to the park and its terrain.

Not only is there a topographical map of valley that helps you get your bearings but from this viewpoint 5500 feet above sea level, you get a panoramic view of the entire valley and the surrounding mountain ranges.

Just below is Badwater Basin – the park’s lowest point. Across the flats to the west, is the Panamint Mountain Range with Telescope Peak – the highest point in Death Valley National Park. From this unique vantage, you’re able to see the lowest point in Death Valley and the highest point at the same time.

How to Get there:

Dante’s View is located on Hwy 190. Vehicles longer than 25 feet aren’t allowed on the Dante’s View Road but there’s a parking lot for trailers at the entrance to the road. Go early. The sun will be in the east and and you will be able see the area better.

20 Mule Team Canyon

Since the 1870’s, white gold – aka borax – has been mined in this mineral rich region. The only way to get the borax out of the valley was with horses and mules in teams of 8 and 10 pulling wagons.

Since Death Valley is so hot and the terrain is so rugged, even teams this size struggled to transport the borax. So, to make it easier, one creative miner came up with the idea to put two, 10 mule teams together, to haul the borax out. Voila: the 20 Mule Team name was born.

Over the years, 20 mule teams carried millions of pounds of borax out of Death Valley and the name ” 20 Mule Team” stuck. Even now, it still appears on boxes of Borax that you buy at the store.

The drive through 20 Mule Team Canyon isn’t the exact route the mules took on their treacherous ride out of the valley but it is similar. Driving through the canyon gives you an idea of just how difficult those journeys with 20 mules would have been back then.

Just imagine spending at minimum, a ten day trip with a bunch of mules – and not in your air conditioned car – in one of the hottest and most dangerous parts of the country.

How to Get There:

20 Mule Team Canyon Drive is right off Hwy 190. The road is an unpaved, 2.5 mile, one way road, that’s safe safe for cars if it hasn’t rained. The best time to visit is early in the morning or late in the afternoon

The mustard colored hills of 20 Mule Team Canyon on the the things to do in Death Valley National Park
The mustard-colored hills of 20 Mule Team Canyon

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is one of the most amazing things to do in Death Valley National Park. With it’s otherworldly vibes, it’s a must see at any time of the day but sunrise and sunset is when it’s most special.

This part of the park, called the Amargosa Range, is made up of erosional landscapes and is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up long before Death Valley came into existence.

With that erosion, the area is full of vibrant colors and the light from the setting sun brings out the different hues as the evening light bounces off the surrounding rocks, softening the peaks and valleys with an ethereal glow.

Zabriskie Point is the perfect place to relax after a long hot day. The overlook has a wall that you can sit on but for maximum comfort, I suggest bringing a chair or two – and a snack or beverage – so you can sit back and take it all in.

The overlook has plenty of trails for wandering around, including popular Badlands Loop.

How to Get There:

Zabriskie Point is located off Hwy 190. There’s a large parking lot and a gentle, uphill walk to the viewpoint. The colors are the best at sunset for that dreamy evening glow.

Zabriskie Point one of the best things to do in Death Valley National Park
Catch the evening glow at Zabriskie Point

Badwater Basin

Created by movements in the earth’s crust, Badwater Basin is one of the most recognizable sites in Death Valley National Park. Sitting at 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest area of the park and in the United States.

In a wet climate, a place this low would normally be covered by water but because it’s so dry in the park – when it does get rain – the water evaporates and leaves behind the Badwater Salt Flats. The effect is seen by the crusty circles and hexagons that form in the salt.

After entering the site, check out the viewing platform for a quick look but to truly appreciate it, you have to make a short walk out onto the flats. The further you go, the less of a crowd and the bigger the shapes in the salt are.

Badwater Salt Flats are another one of the top places to catch a sunrise, sunset or even a full moon since the moon lights up the white of the salt.

Tip: While you’re on the viewing deck, make sure to turn around and look back towards the parking lot and the mountain behind it. There’s a sign that shows where sea level is and you’ll get a feel for what it’s like being 282 feet below sea level.

How to Get There:

Badwater Salt Flats are located on Badwater Road paved off of Hwy 190. There’s a big parking lot and restrooms onsite. Most people prefer to visit for sunrise or sunset. The salt will have a more defined appearance May through October.

Golden Canyon

Hiking is not what you really want to do too much of in 116F degree heat but Golden Canyon lured us in late one afternoon. The trail is three miles out and back to one of the canyon’s most vibrant colored features – Red Cathedral.

The Golden Canyon trail passes through a variety of unique geology and rock formations. In the evening when the color of the rocks change with the setting sun it looks as if someone turned a bright light on.

If you visit when it’s hot, like us, you can do that section of the hike and then just turn around and go back the the same way you came. Or other trails can be added to make a loop.

How to Get There:

Golden Canyon is located on Badwater Road. There’s a parking lot with plenty of parking and a vault toilet. To hike, go very early for sunrise or late in the afternoon. Carry plenty of water.

Artist Drive

Artist Drive is one of the most popular scenic roads in Death Valley National Park. It’s an easy drive – perfect for those that aren’t able do a lot of walking or one of the things to do in Death Valley National Park when it’s too hot to do much else.

The one way paved road winds through the different colored hills close enough to touch from the car at times. There are no marked trails along the road but there are several pull outs for parking so you can wander around and explore the area on foot.

How to Get There:

Artist Drive is located off of Badwater Road. No RV’s, buses or trailers over 25 feet allowed. For best photography, visit early in the morning while the sun is in the east or sunset

Artist Palette

Artist Palette is a popular overlook on Artist Drive. Here, the colors in the hills are some of the most vibrant on the entire area. The hues you see are due to volcanic deposits that contain compounds such of iron oxides and chlorite.

This gives the hills the look of an artist’s pallet or a rainbow. Depending on the time of day and the amount of recent rain, you might see red, orange, yellow, blue, pink, and even green colors in the hills.

The overlook has interpretive signage and several trails for walking.

How to Get There:

The parking lot for Artist Palette is right off Artist Drive. Go early or really late in the day or after a rain for the best, most vibrant colors. Take plenty of water if you are hiking.

Artist Palette Death Valley National Park
Artist Palette

Devil’s Golf Course

No you can’t play golf there but Devil’s Golf Course is definitely worth a stop in Death Valley National Park. This large area of the park is filled with rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain forming rough mounds.

It’s so rugged that it’s been said that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links”. Since the salt crystals expand and burst in the heat, you can literally hear the popping noises they make.

How to Get There:

Located off Badwater Road. The road and parking lot are gravel but suitable for most vehicles, even cars.

a view of Devil's Golf Course in Death Valley National Park
Devil’s Golf Course with the Panamint range in the distance

Furnace Creek Visitor Center

Even if you don’t have much time, one of the best things to do in Death Valley National Park is Furnace Creek Visitor Center. A highlight is the giant thermometer that monitors the temperature in that area of the park.

Stopping at the visitor center is also a practical way to stay up to date on what’s happening. You can find out if there are are any current closures or park alerts, pick up a map, chat with a ranger or inquire about organized educational programs.

The visitor center also has interpretive displays with educational data about the park, a book store for souvenirs, Junior Ranger activities and shaded parking.

How to Get There:

The visitor center is located in the Furnace Creek area on Hwy 190 and is open every day 8am-5pm. There are restrooms and water available.

Furnace Creek visitor center at Death Valley National Park
116F degrees on an October day in Furnace Creek

Harmony Borax Works

Harmony Borax Works was built in 1881 and was key to the development of the Furnace Creek Area after borax was discovered. In its heyday, over forty men worked processing the ore to remove borax. The Harmony company was also responsible for coming up with the 20 Mule Team wagons.

Unfortunately, the plant was short lived and closed 1888. A few remnants still remain and the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Visitors can walk around some of the buildings and mining equipment used.

How to Get There:

Located on Mustard Canyon Drive off Hwy 190. The gravel road and parking lot are suitable for most vehicles

buildings left at the Harmony Borax Works Death Valley National Park
One of the historic buildings at Harmony Borax Works

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

One of the most fun things to do in Death Valley National Park is visiting some of he many sand dunes in the area. There are several spots in the park that have dunes but the easiest to reach via car is Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes were formed by years of constant wind eroding the rocks in Death Valley. Made up of crescent, linear, and star shaped dunes (thank you NPS). The highest dune is a two mile out and back hike. Although you could, it’s definitely not necessary to hike that much to enjoy the dunes and the mesmerizing views.

Star Wars fans may recognize the Mesquite Dunes as the dunes of Tatooine. And while you probably won’t see any droids in the area, if you visit in the early morning, you might spot a sidewinder rattlesnake that overnighted in the cool sand. Thankfully, we didn’t see any.

How to Get There:

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes is off of Hwy 190. There’s plenty of parking and there are vault toilets onsite. To avoid the heat, go early in the morning, when it’s cooler.

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes
Be on the lookout for sidewinder rattlesnakes on the dunes

Ubehebe Crater

If I had to pick one of my favorite things to do in Death Valley National Park, Ubehebe Crater would be in the top three. In fact, Ubehebe Crater is one of the best examples of a volcanic crater I’ve ever seen.

This crater was formed when hot magma rose to the surface of the earth and once it reached water, the steam produced caused a massive explosion that formed the hole. Ubehebe Crater is six hundred feet deep and half a mile wide. It’s so large, it’s hard to capture the accurate size in a photo.

Once you make the short drive to Ubehebe Crater and park, it’s just a short uphill walk to crater. At the rim, there’s a 2.2 mile trail all the way around the perimeter of the crater. Plus there are a few other smaller craters, and even a Little Hebe Crater, in the area.

The park service also allows you to walk down into the crater. However, getting down there is the easier part. It’s getting back up that’s hard. The crater is full of small loose volcanic rocks so appropriate footwear is really important.

How to Get There:

Ubehebe Crater is off of Scotty’s Castle Road (paved). This road is subject to flooding and might close during or after rain, so keep an eye on the weather. Park in the parking lot and walk up to the crater.

Wildrose Canyon

If you’d like to think you did a bit of off-roading while in Death Valley National Park but not enough to damage your vehicle – hopefully – then Wildrose Canyon Road is it.

To do what turned into a fun loop, we drove from Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs to check it out. Then, when we headed back towards the park on Highway 190, we turned right on Panamint Valley/Trona Wildrose Road and then left on Wildrose Road.

The road is paved and mostly decent but there are sections that are bumpy and down to nothing but gravel. (note this was before the 2022 flooding) There’s one section in particular that’s susceptible to flooding so it’s hard to keep maintained. That’s where the pavement is the roughest.

Wildrose Canyon Road twists and winds up the mountain to a refreshing 5300 feet elevation and eventually runs into Emigrant Canyon Road, which joins back up with Highway 190 at Emigrant Campground. To drive it in a loop like this, it’s approximately thirty one miles.

Use my Google Map, linked below, for exact driving directions and other features on this things to do in Death Valley National Park.

How to Get There:

Turn off of Hwy 190 near Panamint Springs. RV’s, buses or trailers over 25 feet are not allowed on this route. The road floods easily so don’t risk it during or right after a rain.

A section of Emigrant Canyon Road tha passes through Death Valley National Park
The pass through Wildrose Canyon

Wildrose Station

High on the pass through Wildrose Canyon, we stopped for a picnic lunch at what used to be Wildrose Station. There’s not much info about this part of the park online but from what I did read, because of a nearby spring, this area was once a privately owned stagecoach stop.

Then, when the park was named a monument in 1933, the land was leased to the owner and the station continued to operate as normal. However, at some point the National Park Service decided not to renew the lease and eventually it ceased operations and the buildings were torn down.

To find this spot – keep an eye out for a few remaining palm trees. The National Park Service has also added a few picnic tables on either side of the road to mark the spot.

As we were eating our lunch at one of the tables, we could hear burros – which are quite common in the park – leftover from the teams in the past but we couldn’t see them.

Once we continued our drive, we literally ran right up on a group of them standing in the middle of the road. No doubt it’s a favorite spot for them because of the cooler temperatures and the nearby spring.

How to Get There:

The road gets wider at the site of the former station and you can park on the side of the road. If you do see burros remember they are wild animals so don’t feed them. Follow Leave no trace principles and take all your trash with you.

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns

Another piece of the interesting historical mining operation to visit when in the Wildrose area of the park are the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. These kilns were built in the late 1800’s by one of the mining companies as a source of fuel for their smelters – a way of removing metal from its ore.

There are ten kilns still standing and are believed to be the best known remaining examples of kilns in the western states.

How to Get There:

Add a visit to the the kilns to the Emigrant Canyon Road/Wildrose Canyon drive. The kilns are located 28 miles from Highway 190 on Emigrant Canyon Road and the last 2.1 miles are unpaved but suitable for most vehicles.

Father Crowley Vista Point

Death Valley National Park is full of stunning views but one of the best in the entire park is Father Crowley Vista Point. This overlook is named after the Catholic priest, Father John J. Crowley – or the desert padre – who ministered to the people of Inyo County.

Father Crawley loved this area of California. His parish included the lowest point in the country – Death Valley and the highest – Mt. Whitney. Before it was even a park, Father Crowley frequently stopped at this viewpoint on his way to Death Valley from his home in Lone Pine, California.

The main feature here is the stunning Rainbow Canyon – a colorful striped canyon created by volcanic activity. In recent years, the canyon has commonly been referred to as Star Wars Canyon because of the military jets that practiced in the canyon. But after a crash in 2019, the canyon is no longer used for that purpose.

How to Get There:

Father Crowley Vista is easy to find coming from Panamint Springs on Hwy 190, in the west The overlook has plenty of parking. There are restrooms onsite and the area is also wheelchair accessible.

Death Valley National Park Tips

Prepare for your Death Valley National Park with these tips:

  • Purchase an America the Beautiful Park Pass. This pass saves money at over 2000k public lands in the U.S. For more info and how to purchase, click the link above.
  • To easily navigate the park, pick up a map at one of the entrance kiosks, visitor center or download one here.
  • Did you know the National Park Service has an app now? Download it here.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in tip top shape before you visit the park. Read my Driving in Death Valley National Park for more tips.
  • Fuel is available in the park at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs but it is more expensive so definitely fuel up before you enter the park.
  • Have plenty of water on hand. At least a gallon per person for every day in the park.

How to use this Google Map: this map has layers. Access the layers by clicking the tab in the left top. You can remove a layer you don’t want to see by simply unchecking that layer. You can also add the map to your own Google account by clicking the star at the end of the title.

Death Valley National Park FAQ

Where is Death Valley National Park?

Death Valley is located on the California Nevada border, 214 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 126 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

What’s the closest city to Death Valley National Park?

Beatty, Nevada – the Gateway to Death Valley is less than 10 miles to the park.

When is the Best Time to Visit Death Valley?

In the winter months or generally, November to March is best. You can visit at other times but you have to be prepared. We tent camped in mid-October the first time we visited and it was still. 116F.

What is the busiest month at Death Valley?

Generally Spring, during the wildflower bloom – with March and April being the busiest.

How Long Should I Spend in Death Valley National Park?

You could see everything on this list in 2 days but if you want to see the backcountry and hike more, I’d recommend at least 3 to 4 days. If it’s hot, you will get tired of it very quickly.

Final Thoughts on Things to do in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is a truly unique experience and since it’s so close to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, it’s easy to visit or include in a longer Mojave Desert road trip. It does take a little bit of effort to prepare but I promise it’s definitely worth it.

See you on the road!

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