Top 10 Attractions of Death Valley National Park

Okay, that was a catchy title! The truth is, this park is arguably the most breathtaking place I have ever seen! 

Both Timea and I were blown away, not only by the monstrous heat, but also by the beauty of the desert, the sharpness of the mountains, the geology, with it's colorful multi-layered sediments, and by the vegetation growing there in spite of such adverse conditions.

The color palette of Death Valley is out of this world!

It's true, we visited during the warmest period of the year, in late July. The heat was intolerable mid day. It forced us to spend afternoons indoors and go out only during the morning and evening golden hours. However, we witnessed sunrises and sunsets like nowhere else, we've experiences sights and colors that will forever remain imprinted in our memory.

Here are some of the places we loved, and ones we believe are worth your time visiting.

1. Accommodations at Furnace Creek Ranch, a.k.a. "The Hub"

We stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch. If you ask me, this is the best place to stay in Death Valley, especially during the hot summer months. It's in the middle of everything, has a pool, a few restaurants, grocery, a gift store, even a post office. Its fancier cousin, the Furnace Creek Inn - which was being remodeled while we were visiting - is about a mile up the road, but personally, I would still choose the ranch if I were to go back.

2. Mesquite Sand Dunes

Dunes were made to be enjoyed at sunset, becase watching the last rays of sun painting the sand is surreal. This place is on the very top of my list when I remember Death Valley. 

Things to know: 
  • Get there an hour and a half before sunset because there's an approximately 30 minute hike from the parking lot to where the biggest and nicest dunes are.
  • Carry extra water, especially in temperatures like we had that day - 113F (45C). It turned out that, for us, 1 liter of water was not enough for for an hour spent on the dunes. If there's one single thing that I took away from this trip to the Mesquite Dunes is that dehydration can kill you in an instant. The dry desert wind will wick away moisture from your body at an incredible rate.

3. Dante's View

We liked this the best after the dunes because from up here we could see the entire valley. What a vantage point!

Things to know: 
  • The photos above were taken about an hour or two after sunrise (the valley was pretty hazy).
  • There's a paved road all the way to the top. The last 1/4 mile is steep and trailers are forbidden, but a regular car can make it just fine.
  • It's a great place to bring breakfast, lunch, or a muffin with coffee, and enjoy the views.

4. Badwater basin - 282 feet below sea level

This is high on my list because it's the lowest point in North America! And because it looks like nothing I have ever seen before!

Things to know: 
  • We came here twice; once right before sunrise, and a second time an hour after sunrise.
  • The patterns seen above can be found by hiking 10 minutes onto the salt lake.
  • Remember sun protection and carry plenty of water.

5. Zabriskie Point - one of the most photographed places in Death Valley

Zabriskie Point is a very popular Death Valley location, and deservedly so. The rock formations and its canyons are candy to your eye. This is one of those sites that you must visit at sunrise. We did the same, and planned to get there at first light. Besides, it's only a few miles from Furnace Creek Ranch. To our surprise, when we arrived, we found others already setting up tripods to take photos and, by the time the sun came up hitting the rocks half an hour later, there were close to fifty people present!

Things to know: 
  • Sunrise is the most popular time to go. Beat the others by going early or being creative about where you shoot from (I was boring and took the same shot as everybody else).
  • It's very close to Furnace Creek, just a few miles down the highway.
  • Dante's View could be next on your list once you've seen enough of Zabriskie.

6. Artist's Palette and Artist's Drive

Artist's Drive is an 8 mile loop, passing though scenery that, like the name suggest, feel like it was painted, or maybe more like somebody spilled a bunch of colorful paints on those hills. It's incredible how colorful it is!

Things to know: 
  • Late afternoon is a good time to go.
  • It's very close, just a few miles from Furnace Creek.
  • Allocate more time to be able to find all the hidden treasures.
  • Artist's Drive is a one-way loop.

7. Devil's Golf Course and Devil's Cornfield

Even though Devil's Golf Course and Devil's Cornfield are miles apart, I chose to group them together because they both belong to the same devil and because they are ideal places to visit in-between other sites. Say you have 30 minutes before dinner, go see one of these; you won't need much more time than that. They are also unlike anything else that the park has to offer to the visitor, so they should be on your list.

 Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley

Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley

Things to know: 
  • These places are great filler uppers to use in-between other attractions.
  • They're very easy to get to from a highway.

8. Stuff you see just driving around

This place is packed with picture perfect landscapes! From entrance to exit and just driving around, there are so many views to enjoy that I'm sure I don't remember them all. But here are some that I do because I took the time to take a picture.

 Before you even enter Death Valley, you can see Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states, from Lone Pine, California

Before you even enter Death Valley, you can see Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states, from Lone Pine, California

Besides Whitney, here is a slideshow of other sites you will see:

9. Racetrack Playa

This is the only regret that I have from this trip, that we didn't get to go see the Racetrack Playa. The temps were really high though, and it would have been a high risk to go out that far into the remote desert. We like to believe that we now have a good reason to go back some day.

Things to know: 
  • You need a vehicle with heavy duty tires in order to drive the extra 30 miles on an unpaved road, because of the sharp rock. Although we have not rented such a vehicle, there's at least one company that I heard of that rents them year-round. A regular rental car won't work (or you risk damaging it).

10. Ubehebe Crater and Scotty's Castle

Not the highlight of the trip, but the crater and the drive there makes for a nice little side-trip. We don't regret taking it. Scotty's Castle was closed for the summer, unfortunately, so we could not visit beyond the closed gates.

Things to know: 
  • Morning is probably not the best time to take photos of the Ubehebe Crater. Late afternoon might work better.
  • The drive there is long, approximately 30 miles, but it's worth it; nice views along the way.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this little guide to Death Valley National Park, as seen though our cameras' lenses and though our eyes. For us, it was a memorable vacation that we will remember dearly over the years. We didn't have great expectations going into this trip but we were blown away by the sheer beauty of this part of the world. It now sits very high on our list of the most beautiful places we have ever seen.

Thanks for reading!

Death Valley National Park

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