Death Valley National Park

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Park Overview

Death Valley National Park is located in eastern California just across the Nevada border. It is only a couple hours away from Las Vegas and Los Angeles but it really feels like you are in the middle of nowhere. Death Valley is the National Park of Superlatives. It's famous for Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet BELOW sea level. From Dante's view on a clear day you can actually see Badwater Basin and Mount Whitney at the same time, which means you can see the highest and lowest points in California from the same spot! The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was at Furnace Creek in Death Valley where it hit 134° F in 1911. It is the largest National Park in the contiguous United States (only parks in Alaska are bigger) and it preserves a large section of the Mohave desert which is the driest place in North America. Death Valley is also very diverse, within the park you can visit sand dunes, salt flats, slot canyons, badlands, volcanoes, mountain peaks, and waterfalls. Because of all that. it sometimes feels like you are on a different planet which is why it was the filming location for several of the Star Wars movies, if you feel like you are on Tatooine it's probably because you are!

Park Statistics

8 Best Adventures in Death Valley National Park

1. Zabriskie Pont/20 Mule Canyon

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie point is a well photographed spot in the park, and for good reason. There is a short hike from the parking lot to get to the top of a hill where you can see many hills of badlands and into the Badwater Basin valley. The colors of the hills from here are amazing and strange at the same time. There are several trails at Zabriskie point that take you into the badlands and let you explore them up close. One of the trails connects to the Golden Canyon hike so if you are interested in a long scenic hike that would be a great option.


We instead opted to do something different here, the 20 mule canyon road. Once you leave Zabriskie point if you continue on the road towards Dante's view there is a small dirt road on the right side of the road called 20 mule canyon. This is worth it! The road was passable for us in a Chevy Equinox, but I image most cars would be able to do it. This road winds around through the badlands and is a super fun drive. There are several pull offs along the way (they are very small pull offs so don't miss them) where you can park your car and hike around the hills. It is really fun to wander around this area so plan on spending some time here.

20 Mule Canyon

2. Dante's View

Dante's view provides you a far reaching view over Badwater Basin and a large portion of the park, and on a clear day you might be able to see Mt. Whitney as well! The drive to Dante's view from the Furnace Creek visitor center is a little over an hour and you gain a lot of elevation, the top of Dante's view is 5,575 feet above sea level versus 190 feet below sea level at Furance Creek. The last section of the road is very windy and steep but it is paved all the way to top, just be cautious! There are a few trails around Dante's view that allow you to take in more of the view but be aware that it can be a little chilly up there, especially if you are traveling in the spring or fall, so bring a jacket if you want to hike around.

3. Badwater Basin

You can't go to Death Valley National Park without visiting Badwater Basin! This is the lowest point in the United States and it is a really cool site to see. Be aware that if you are traveling in the summer it may be too hot to hike around this area because the temperature frequently exceeds 110° F, in fact the average daily high for July is 116° F. Besides being very low and hot this area is beautiful, you can walk across miles of salt flats that are surrounded by towering mountains.


If you have time, another great spot to stop and walk around near Badwater Basin is the Devil's Golf Course. In order to get to the Devil's Golf Course there is a short dirt road that branches off from the main road. Again, if you want to visit this spot we recommend traveling in the spring or fall.

4. Artists Drive Loop

Artists Drive Loop takes you on a winding paved road through the foothills of the Black mountains just a few miles away from Badwater Basin. The highlight of this scenic route is the Artists Palette where you can see many colors such as blue, orange, red, yellow, pink, and green covering the hillside. You are welcome to park and walk around the colorful hills and take it in up close! Pictures don't do this area justice because the colors are so vibrant it's shocking when you see it in person. Besides the Artists Palette this drive gives you great views of the salt flats. Because it is so windy, it is not recommended to do the drive with a trailer.

5. Mosaic Canyon

 The Mosaic Canyon hike is located just outside of the Stovepipe Wells campground and village. There is a short dirt road that takes you up the steep mountain side to get to the trailhead. The road was in good enough condition that we were able to do it in a crossover SUV, however it seemed to be passable to most sedans. The hike is officially 4 miles round trip, there is a boulder jam about 1.5 miles into the canyon that most people don't pass and then a little further up there is a rock wall you have to scale to get to the end of the canyon. Our hike was about 3.5 miles long because we didn't scale the rock wall. This hike takes you through a narrow slot canyon with beautiful marble walls. At the narrowest spot you can touch both canyon walls at the same time! This was one of our favorite hikes in the park because it was a lot of fun climbing through the rocks. It is also a nice shaded hike that is a good spot to visit to get out of the intense heat. You can expect to spend about 1 1/2 hours here depending on how fast you hike. 

6. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

If you really want to feel like you are on another planet (AKA tatooine) you need to take a stop at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. You can spend anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 hours here depending on how sandy you want to get. There is no official trail through the dunes but you are welcome to wander wherever you'd like, however we recommend trying to make it to the top of the tallest dune. Getting to the top is not an easy trek but it definitely worth the effort. It is about 1.5 miles round trip to get to the tallest dune and back but it takes longer than you think because in the dunes every step takes extra effort. There is also not a lot of shade in this area so try to make it here in the early morning or later in the evening. It is only a couple minutes drive away from the Stovepipe Wells campground so if you want to see the sunrise at the dunes (or a sunset) consider spending a night there. Our group was in consensus this was the best part of our Death Valley trip!

7. Ubehebe Crater

The Ubehebe Crater is a Maar volcano that is a 1/2 mile across and 600 feet deep! The crater is a little bit out of the way compared to most of the other sites in the park (Remeber Death Valley is huge!) but the drive to the crater is scenic. If you make it out here there are two options for hikes, 1) Hike the rim trail, the trail takes you all the way around the crater and past another smaller crater called Little Hebe or 2) Hike into the Ubehebe crater and experience the volacano from the inside. We chose to hike into the crater and it was worth it! Once at the bottom you have a unique perpective of the crater that you just don't get at the top. Getting back up to the rim from the bottom is difficult because of the elevation gain, but should be doable for most hikers.

8. Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls is an 18 foot tall waterfall that flows year round in Death Valley National Park! The trailhead is a couple miles down a dirt road just outside of Panamint Springs Village. It is an easy turn off to miss so make sure you are looking for it. This road was a little more rough than some of the others we drove, so if you have a sedan make sure to proceed with caution. It is also NOT recommended to take RV's or trailers down this road. While we were there an RV got stuck in a river wash and blocked the whole road for a couple hours. It took many people and several Jeeps and Trucks to get it out. The parking lot at the trailhead is a small uneven dirt area that can only hold about 10 cars but there is space to park along the road if it's full.


The hike to the falls is 2 miles round trip through a small canyon that slowly gets more and more green and lush. At first it feels crazy to be hiking towards a waterfall because no water runs out of the canyon but slowly the water becomes visible until you are standing in front of a beautiful waterfall in a perfect little desert oasis! This is one of the more unique and different spots in the park so if you need a break from the rock and sand, go enjoy the mist of Darwin Falls!

For more information about Death Valley National Park head to the Park's official website:

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