Death Valley National Park is one of the largest National Park within the United States. Located in the eastern side of California, Death Valley has plenty of POI’s to offer to all kind of travelers from Mountains, Canyons, Salt Flats, Oasis and Sand Dunes.
There are over 1000 miles of paved and unpaved dirt roads and that means there are many adventures to be had in Death Valley. If you only have a few days to visit, like a weekend, here are some of the best things to do in Death Valley.
You can reach most of the places listed below in a regular family car. We have also added the GPS Coordinates so that you can plot your route and plan your trip accordingly.
Death Valley National Park Attractions
Mesquite Flats Sand DunesThis is one of the five Sand Dunes in Death Valley and the most popular among the tourists. This sand dune is best known for its easy access and continuous flow of the dunes. This is also one of the best spots to visit at night for some astrophotography. Just be aware of your location and have a GPS trail tracker to track your position so that you don’t get lost and can find your way back to your car at night.
GPS Coordinates: 36.60596, -117.1159
Best time to visit: The best time to arrive is either an hour so before sunrise or sunset. At both times, you will see the soft light creating some interesting shades in the dune. If you wish to explore the dunes, these hours are best as the weather would be mild, manageable, and not too harsh.
Furnace Creek Visitors CenterMake sure to stop at the Furnace Creek Visitors center and pick up the information brochure. You can also purchase your park tickets and souvenirs if you haven’t done so.
GPS Coordinates: 36.46178, -116.86661
You can chat with one of the National Park Rangers to get some information about the current conditions, places, the road closures, the weather and the best time to visit a particular spot. The park rangers are more knowledgeable about the ins and outs of Death Valley at that moment more than the internet.
There is a small exhibit about the various landscapes Death Valley has to offer. Also, be sure the watch the informational video in the auditorium. Of course be sure that you take a picture of yourself in front of the big thermometer outside the Visitors Center.
Always check with the Park Rangers about the road condition as things can change without any notice. Take a look at an example from the flash flood damage caused during the 2015 flood near Scotty’s castle and the road leading to it.
Artist PaletteArtist Palette Drive is a scenic loop drive on Badwater Road that you don’t want to miss. This is a nine-mile windy stretch that will take you to a beautiful multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hill.
GPS Coordinates: Stop 01: 36.33265, -116.80595
GPS Coordinates: Stop 02: 36.36446, -116.80058
There are two vista points where you can pull over and hit the trails. You will see ancient volcanic ash falls that are over millions of years old that have weathered and transformed the hills into a plethora of colors from aqua blue, to green, and magenta red.
Best time to Visit: An hour before sunset would be the best. This is when the palette explodes into colors you would never imagine. There are small canyons you can explore if you come in earlier. However, you don’t want to get lost after sunset as this place could get really dark so plan your trip accordingly.
Mars HillsJust as you drive out of the Artist Palette, you will join the road that leads to Badwater Basin/ Furnace Creek. Right across this intersection lies the barren flat that resembles the surface of Mars. This is one of the locations that NASA Scientist had used to test before the launch on November 26th, 2011.
GPS Coordinates: 36.38161, -116.85282
Best time to visit: Any time of the day is fine with this spot. This is just a quick stop unless you decide to venture into the flatlands.
Devils Golf CourseAs the name suggests, this is not a regular golf course. This area is filled with rock salt and mud that have eroded over the years by wind and rain. This erosion resulted in them forming sharp, jagged spires. This whole area is so jagged that only the devil could play golf on this surface (Hence the name).
GPS Coordinates: 36.28597, -116.82611
Interestingly enough, if you listen carefully, you will hear sounds like tiny pops from time to time. This is due to the tiny salt crystals bursting as they expand and contract due to extreme weather changes within days.
You will have to drive about half a mile on an unpaved road to access this spot. We have seen lots of regular sedans get by but do drive with caution.
Best time to visit: Earlier in the day or later in the evening when the sun is not too bright and bit low on the horizon.
Natural Bridge Trail
GPS Coordinates: 36.2838, -116.76734
This is one of the many easily accessible canyon trails in Death Valley. A decently maintained dirt road leads to the trail parking lot. From the parking lot, it’s just a two-mile round trip that is mostly flat but very rocky trail. At about a mile into the canyon, you will see the Natural bridge formed over the years. The trail continues further for a short distance and abruptly ends at a dry waterfall.
if you have made it till the natural bridge, be sure to venture further to see the dry waterfall as well. We didn’t know about the dry waterfall when we visited the park the last time. We definitely would explore this on our next trip.
Best time to visit: If you wish to get away from the hot sun and not get cooked up in the car, you can venture into the canyon. Be sure to take plenty of water with you and take it slow as the loose rocks beneath your feet can slip and slide. You don’t want to hurt yourself.
GPS Coordinates: 36.23125, -116.77695
This is the lowest point in all of the United States, it’s about 282 feet below sea level at points. The actual lowest point is miles away from the identified spot by the parking lot so don’t go looking for the lowest spot as they may vary from year to year and it’s not easily accessible.
The main attraction in Badwater Basin is the SEA LEVEL placard perched high above the cliff to show how low the location is below the sea level. Second is the interesting patterns around the salt pools. These patterns form when the water evaporates and the land sinks that results in the formation of a thick crust of dried up salt walls.
During a heavy downpour a shallow lake is formed for several miles across and only a few inches deep.
Best time to visit: Couple of hours before Sunset and Sunrise also depending on the time of the year.
Zabriskie PointProbably one of my favorite spots in the whole of Death Valley is the Zabriskie Point. You can start your trip here at sunrise or end at sundown. The soft light from the dawn/dusk sun reflects the golden reddish hues. This is also one of the best spots for stargazing and to see the Milky Way during a new moon night.
GPS Coordinates: 36.42006, -116.81223
If you have more time to spare you can actually hike through the canyons. It’s just mind-boggling and beautiful, Words can’t describe how gorgeous these canyons are – you have to experience it for yourself.
Best time to visit: Sunrise and Sunset and of course through the night for stargazing and to sight the Milky Way. Another interesting time is during the full moon, that is a whole different experience by itself.
Harmony Borax Works
GPS Coordinates: 36.47981, -116.87547
Located near Furnace Creek Springs, also called Greenland( although it’s not green anymore), this Borax mine was operational until 1888. You will see an original mule team wagon in front of the mine and a rundown mill where borax was mined and processed from 1883 to 1888
This is an interesting stopover to learn about the history of the mine, so be sure to read the informational displays. Also be sure to stop at the two remaining adobes at the site. That could get eerie and interesting at the same time.
Best time to visit: Any time of the day will work. This is another excellent spot for some stargazing and astrophotography with the exception of headlights from passing cars at night.
Mustard CanyonIf you take a short drive along the dirt road from Harmony Borax Works, via the unpaved road you will enter the Mustard Canyon. This bright yellow colored sand filled canyon looks like nothing you would have seen of this world before. The drive is short and easy for all vehicles.
GPS Coordinates: 36.48772, -116.87783
Best time to visit: Any time of the day when the sun is high up in the sky.