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The Ultimate Guide to Death Valley National Park for 2024

The biggest U.S. national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley spans over 3.4 million acres and is home to mountains, sand dunes and oases.

This complete guide to Death Valley highlights the best viewpoints and activities at the park. Here is everything you need to know about Death Valley. 

Death Valley National Park

When To Visit 

To escape Death Valley’s insane heat, visit in the late fall or winter months.

The weather is great and the crowds are few during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Temperatures are pleasant during December and January, and February and March are also great months to explore the valley. 

If you want a classic photo by Death Valley’s thermometer during the hottest time of the year, however, head to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in July.

Many visitors hop out of their cars and briefly brave the intolerable heat to snap a picture by the thermometer, which displays temperatures as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.

How to Get There 

To enter Death Valley on its east side, take CA-190 from Death Valley Junction.

If you would rather enter the national park on its west side, take CA-190 from Olancha, CA or Panamint Valley Road from Trona, CA.

Keep in mind that GPS navigation is unreliable when traveling to a remote location like Death Valley. Plan out your route ahead of time and double check that your GPS directions are correct as you approach your destination. 

Best Views 

Start your trip at Artist’s Palette, where shades of teal, pink and yellow turn massive rocks into works of art.

To get to this natural wonder, take the Artists Drive Scenic Loop, which snakes through the hills and provides incredible views of the Black Mountains.

Another beautiful landmark is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, where you can walk through enormous white salt flats. 

Death Valley also boasts an abundance of sand dunes, including the sprawling Mesquite Flat Dunes.

If you want to try sand boarding, head to Mesquite Flat or the Saline Sand Dunes. Sledding, sand boarding and sand skiing are forbidden at several dunes to protect the plant life there.

Check the national park website for more details about where sand dune activities are permitted and prohibited. 

Supplies / Gear Needed in Death Valley 

Keep in mind that Death Valley is a huge, remote and largely uninhabited place, so it’s important to pack plenty of supplies, including an ice chest to store food.

A two-liter Camelbak hydration pack gives you plenty of water, which is essential at any time but especially if you’re visiting in the summer months.

Bring along a hat as well as sunscreen and sunglasses to keep you from burning in the heat. 

5 Must Do Activities in Death Valley

Option 1: Hike Ubehebe Crater

The vast Ubehebe Crater, a large depression formed by a volcanic steam explosion, is 600 feet deep and half a mile across.

Park on the rim of the crater for a sweeping view of its sloped, rocky walls which make it look like you’re peering into a deep bowl.

After snapping some pictures, take a 1.5-mile hike around the rim of Ubehebe Crater, which starts off with a strenuous climb over loose soil. 

Keep in mind that the wind can be tremendously powerful as you make your way around the crater, so budget a couple of hours for the rim hike.

If you choose to descend into the crater, the downhill walk is easy but the climb back up is very strenuous, so be prepared for an extremely steep uphill hike out of Ubehebe.

Option 2: Hike Sidewinder Canyon

When you hike Sidewinder Canyon, you are embarking on a moderately difficult 5-mile round trip trek through the wilderness that requires climbing over 6-ft vertical ledges and crawling into tight spaces only 1.5-ft wide.

The Sidewinder Canyon hike, which is in designated wilderness, begins with a rocky uphill climb.

Then, you’ll transition to crawling through cracks between boulders in a slot canyon which is so dark it requires a flashlight. 

Proceed to slot canyon 2, which requires strenuous rock climbing, then return to hiking to the main canyon for 0.25 miles before reaching slot canyon 3, where you’ll scramble over and under rocks and natural formations for 0.25 miles.

Once you’ve finished exploring slot 3, just turn around and retrace your steps back to the start of the trail. 

Option 3: Ride Horses

At Furnace Creek Stables, you can saddle up and explore Death Valley on a guided horseback ride through the park’s beautiful backcountry.

If you want to ride first thing in the morning, take the one hour early bird ride across Death Valley’s desert floor.

You can also take a one or two hour ride in late morning or early afternoon. The most popular one-hour ride of the day, with stunning views of the Panamint Mountains, happens at sunset.

Another option is a moonlight ride through the valley’s mesquite groves after dark. 

Reservations are required for all of these rides.

The early bird, one-hour and sunset rides cost $95 while the moonlight ride costs $120 and the two-hour option costs $145. See the Furnace Creek Stables website for more information about booking and cancellation policies. 

Option 4: Take a Jeep Tour

After traversing Death Valley on horseback, rent a Farabee Jeep and drive down Death Valley’s rough, remote dirt roads.

Farabee’s longest guided tour is the Racetrack Tour, an 8-hour excursion which includes driving to Death Valley’s Racetrack, a dry lakebed, and then touring the area while there.

Lunch is included in this tour, which costs $345 per person for two adults and $150 for children under 12. 

Another option is the Death Valley Experience Tour, where you’ll drive through Badwater Basin before making your way back up to sea level.

This tour lasts 6.5 hours, includes lunch and costs $265 per person for two adults and $155 for children under 12. Check Farabee's website for information about Jeep rentals and reservations.  

Option 5: Visit Zabriskie Point

For a remarkable view of Death Valley’s badlands and salt flats, drive to Zabriskie Point, which overlooks these scenic viewpoints as well as the Panamint Mountains and the massive Manly Beacon, a rock spire above the badlands.

Death Valley’s unique striped hills are also visible.

Zabriskie Point is majestic at any time of day, but particularly so at sunrise and sunset. 

The Bottom Line: Death Valley 

Death Valley is an otherworldly destination whose canyons, craters and salt flats make it one of the most unique landscapes in California.

Check out these viewpoints and activities to make the most of your visit to this enormous national park.

Enjoy your time exploring these natural wonders in Death Valley.


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