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5 Awesome Places That Prove Death Valley National Park Is Worth Visiting

Death Valley is known for breaking a lot of records. It’s the hottest place on earth with a record high of 134 degrees Fahrenheit, and the largest national park in the contiguous United States at over 3 million acres. Over 93 percent of this is wilderness, and the park hosts more life than its dreary name might suggest. The park is the only place we can find the rare Devils Hole Pupfish, and is also home to smaller land critters like tarantulas, and megafauna such as desert bighorn sheep. And between all of this, Death Valley is genuinely one of the most underrated national parks in this part of the country.

Situated on the California-Nevada state line, this giant park is best visited in the winter, when visitors can escape those record breaking high temperatures. There is so much to see throughout the park that it’s hard to narrow down your to-do list into a single trip, but these are five of the sites you just can’t miss.

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin, Image by Bob Bowie

Speaking of records, you can’t visit Death Valley without seeing the iconic Badwater Basin. It stands at a record-breaking 282 feet below sea level. There is always a little bit of water here, at the official low point near the elevation sign. Due to the present moisture and temperature fluctuations with the changing seasons, you may see some interesting formations in the salt. Walk out on the salt and experience its odd hexagonal shapes. Take in the view of Telescope Peak across the basin, and on your walk out, keep an eye open for the comical “sea level” sign on the side of a nearby mountain.

In 2023, Badwater Basin filled with water after the floods caused by Hurricane Hilary, dubbed “Lake Manly,” the name for the original lake that once lived permanently between these two desert mountain ranges. 

Artists Palette

Located just minutes from Badwater Basin, the landscape changes drastically as you make your way up and around Artist’s Drive. Death Valley is home to a lot of differently colored rocks, which you’ll see as you make your way through the park. This is the result of the deposition of different minerals, such as iron and copper, which oxidize and change the color of the rocks over time. Artist’s Palette is the most iconic place to view this natural phenomenon, where the rocks are brightly colored with pinks, blues, oranges, and greens.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

One of the most interesting things about Death Valley is that it’s an international dark sky zone. And the best place to view the stars here is from the famous Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. This beautiful spot is located on the other end of the park. So you’ll pass lots of amazing views between here and Badwater Basin. The sand dunes are formed as the result of the nearby eroding mountains, mostly as the result of high winds. These same winds push the sand around, forming an ever-changing landscape here in the middle of Death Valley. Despite the park’s name, it is home to quite a bit of life, including rattlesnakes, kangaroo rats, and others, who like to live in the sand here at Mesquite Flats. You’ll also likely see some of the prominent mesquite trees, which show that life doesn’t stop at animals here in Death Valley.

While the dunes are easily accessed from the road, be sure that you keep track of how far you hike out, and in what direction. Because sand dunes are so fluid, it would be impossible for the park to create maintained trails here. That means it could be easier than you think to get lost. Bring plenty of water–this is the desert after all. 

Dante’s View

The most iconic viewpoint in the park is Dante’s View, which is located at over 5,000 feet above sea level. This amazing viewpoint will give you expansive views of Badwater Basin below you, and Telescope Peak across the basin. Temperatures throughout the park change quickly. That’s heightened in the winter, with an average drop of about 3.5°F for every 1000 feet you ascend. So even if it was warm at Badwater Basin, it might be downright chilly at the top of Dante’s View. Prepare for winds, cold temperatures, and stunning views. Dante’s View is one of the best places in the park to watch the sunset.

Devil’s Golf Course

Devil’s Golf Course, Image by Mark Boss

Back down in the basin, let’s visit one more weird spot. Devils Golf Course is located close to Badwater. And it is a stark contrast to the uniform hexagons that form on Badwater’s floor. Devils Golf Course consists of piles of salt that have built up over time as the result of erosion, mostly from high winds. These salt formations change drastically with temperature changes throughout the year. That creates holes in the salt, and a sharp, rocky surface. We don’t recommended that you walk on the salt here, as the salt formations can be a dangerous place to explore. It is, however, a great photo op from the parking lot.

Honorable Mentions

Like I said, it’s hard to narrow down your trip to Death Valley National Park. Besides these highlights, there are plenty of other amazing places to fill your adventure with. Drive out to Ubehebe Crater and witness this giant crater which is approximately half a mile across. Hike amongst bright yellow canyon walls at Golden Canyon. Take in one of the park’s most iconic viewpoints at Zabriske Point. Go outside the main park boundary and visit Devils Hole–home to the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish. Or, hike to the summit of Telescope Peak–if you’re up for a hike up an 11,000 foot mountain of course.

Death Valley National Park holds tons of opportunities for adventure. It’s recommended that you give yourself at least a few days to explore the entire park. Just make sure you bring plenty of water–even in the winter, this is still the driest place in the country.

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