Things to See in Death Valley National Park
Are you thinking about visiting Death Valley National Park soon? Read this article to get more information on some great sites to see during your visit.
The moving Rocks in Racetrack
The mystery of The Racetrack – named for the “moving” rocks that appear to have been dragged through the dried lake bed – has piqued the interest of researchers since the 1940s. The stones that tumble from the surrounding mountains to The Racetrack’s floor can weigh as much as 700 pounds (317.5 kilograms), some having traveled as far as 1,500 feet (457 meters). There have been many theories suggested over the years about how the stones move, but a recent study found that floating ice beneath the lake bed’s surface pushes the stones.
Volcano Clusters at Ubehebe Crater
A half-mile (.8 kilometers) wide and 600 feet (182.8 meters) deep, the Ubehebe Crater is the largest of the maar volcano clusters, created by a volcanic explosion about 300 years ago. When hot magma traveled to the surface and reached the groundwater, the heat turned the water to steam; it expanded, with the pressure released as an explosion of gas and steam. Dark cinder now covers the entire area, reached from the parking lot or northern end of The Racetrack.
World’s Highest Temperature Valley
Death Valley National Park is all about extremes. Famous for the highest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the world (a sizzling 134 degrees in July 1936) and as the driest spot in North America, from autumn into spring Death Valley is worth exploring.
Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in America, with summer temperatures peaking above 120 F°/49°C, and average rainfall of 2 inches/5 cm per year. Also extreme are the park’s elevations: Badwater Basin, the park’s lowest spot, rests at 282 feet below sea level while Telescope Peak soars to 11,049 feet. So go high, or go very, very low; get hot, or chill out with amazing desert vistas. Death Valley delivers on every end of the scale.
Catch Sunrise at Zabriskie Point
Wake up early and watch the badlands glow gold as the first light of day reaches Zabriskie Point. The morning sun also paints the Panamint Range across the valley with gorgeous pinks and purples. Another option is to take the trail from Golden Canyon to Zabriskie Point. Hike through a multi-hued, high-walled canyon and choose from distance options ranging from a one mile out and back excursion to a four mile loop.
Death Valley Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Get some expert advice from rangers on how to explore this vast desert park—the largest national park in the Lower 48—at Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Check out exhibits on geology and Native American life in the area, and for a great introduction to Death Valley, catch the 20-minute orientation film. Furnace Creek is Death Valley’s main hub so expect trails and points of interest are most crowded in this part of the park. Here you will find several great places for families to explore as well as the bulk of the park’s lodging, camping, and restaurants.
Salt flat Basin at Badwater Road
This is what everyone comes to Death Valley to see; the lowest point in North America at -282 feet, impressively offset by Telescope Peak looming 11,331 feet above just 15 miles away. This is where the hottest day was truly at its hottest. Visitors can walk out onto the salt flats and marvel at the small spring which gives the locale its name. Of course, the obligatory family picture next to the “lowest point” sign is a requirement. While everyone wants to see the salt flats and pools at Badwater, North America’s lowest elevation, take some detours as you drive south from Furnace Creek. A three-mile round-trip hike leads through serpentine, flood-carved Golden Canyon and to dramatic Red Cathedral. Or take a one-mile round-trip hike to Natural Bridge, a dramatic rock formation that spans a wash. And an unpaved road leads to Devil’s Golf Course, a jagged expanse of eroded rock salt.
Colorful Rocks on Artist’s Drive
Late afternoon at Death Valley National Park is the time to experience Artist’s Drive, a nine-mile, one-way road that leads through some of Death Valley’s most vibrantly hued sedimentary and volcanic formations. The highlight is Artist’s Palette, where the rock is improbably colored with gorgeous yellows, pinks, and greens. Halfway along the drive there is a parking lot. Stop there and get out exploring the colorful canyon and washing highlighted by greens, reds, oranges, and browns sprinkled through the dirt walls.
Spring Bloom of Wildflowers at Death Valley National Park
In recent years, the rare phenomenon of a “super bloom” has swept across California’s deserts, and Death Valley was home to some of the most spectacular displays. Super bloom or not, the spring season is still the perfect time to spot rare wildflowers in the park.
Dante’s View and Coffin peak
Dante’s View is a high overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains, which form the eastern border of this part of Death Valley, and it gives the best overall views of southern half of the national park. From the roadside overlook, a short path climbs to the actual summit (Dante’s Peak), which has even better views, while nearby Coffin Peak is reachable by a rather longer but still relatively easy off trail hike.
Coffin Peak gives an alternative perspective, revealing more of the lands to the south and east. Despite its hellish name, the panorama from this overlook at 5,475 feet in the Black Mountains is positively heavenly. Hike along the trails for different perspectives on Death Valley more than a mile below you. No visit to Death Valley National Park is complete without visiting Dante’s View.
Wildlife in the Mesquite Flat Dunes
Dawn at Death Valley National Park is the time to explore this sea of shifting sands off State Highway 190. Accenting the contours and ripples in the dunes, the early morning light is especially beautiful. You also might spot such creatures as coyotes, desert kit foxes, and kangaroo rats. And keep your eyes open for tracks across the dunes—the soft sands provide a record of animal activity during the night.
The Driest Devil’s Golf Course
Evidence of Death Valley’s former existence as an inland sea is extremely evident here. A huge expanse of rock salt eroded into jagged spires results in a landscape like none which has ever seen before. It is fun to trek out a bit onto this unusual landscape but be extra careful not to fall because nobody wants a cut full of salt!
Sloppy Sidewinder Canyon
Exploring the windy, curvy, and narrow slot canyons are the reward of a 2-mile hike up Sidewinder Canyon. Families with teens and older kids should put this hike on their “must-do list” for Death Valley. The canyon slopes up from the parking lot with at least 3 narrow slots to explore off of the main wash. The walls may be touchable by a hand on each side and the light shining down through the slot will show in different tones and are absolutely a delight to explore. Get a map from the visitor center before taking the unmarked hike.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
You will find these sand dunes beside the road just before Stovepipe Wells. While they are not the largest dunes in Death Valley- that title goes to the Eureka Sand Dunes which requires a 2.5 hour drive down a dirt road from Scotty’s Castle- they are the most accessible and very still very impressive. There are no trails so just head on out and start climbing. Running down the sandy hills may be the biggest thrill.
Death Valley Hike at Mosaic Colorful Canyon
A short gravel road (fine for all cars) just outside of Stovepipe Wells leads to Mosaic Canyon, a favorite place to hike in Death Valley. The walls of this canyon look like polished marble in many places and the opportunities to climb scramble, and spot wildflowers are abundant. Bighorn sheep are sometimes spotted in the canyon. The canyon is about very deep but since this is an out-and-back trail, you can make your hike as long as you would like.
Alongside walk at Salt Creek
About halfway between Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells you will find the turnoff for Salt Creek, home to an extremely rare species of pupfish that survives in a salty and warm (up to 90 degrees in the summer) creek. The fish are most active in the spring when they are busy mating. A 1/2 mile boardwalk runs alongside the side of the creek, making it easy to spot the fish.
Death Valley Ranch- Scotty’s Castle
Located 54 miles north of Furnace Creek is Scotty’s Castle, an elaborate mansion built truly out in the middle of nowhere in the 1920s. Living history tours are offered by costumed park rangers. The park’s Junior Ranger handbook has a scavenger hunt for the kids to complete while at the “castle.”
These are just some of the famous sites to see at Death Valley National Park. If you ever get a chance to visit the park, do so as it will be a memorable experience.
Want to know about other California National Parks? Check out our articles on “Yosemite National Park” and “Sequoia National Park“.