A vacuum of vast desert sprinkled with unique geological features and formations, the appropriately named Death Valley National Park is both enormous and ✨somewhat✨ interesting. While not the most eye-catching or “oohhh, ahhh” inducing National Park, it’s still worth a visit. Not only is Death Valley NP the hottest place ever recorded on Earth, it’s also home to the lowest point in North America – Badwater Basin. In addition, there are unique rock formations, natural arches, sand dunes, ultra-dark skies, colorful hills comprised of different minerals, remnants of the Wild West mining days, and, of course, the notorious sliding rocks.
Death Valley NP is the hottest, driest, and lowest National Park, as well as the largest in the Lower 48. The park’s entrance is a stone’s throw from Nevada, as it’s located in the furthest eastern portion of California, on the edge of Inyo County. We stayed in Pahrump, Nevada, the closest medium-sized city (fun fact: they film On Patrol: Live in Pahrump – it’s Nye County). We stayed at an Airbnb that unfortunately, I cannot recommend, so I won’t link it 😬. There are other Airbnbs, plus hotels in Pahrump, and lodging within the park – The Oasis at Death Valley (average $350 per night) and Stovepipe Wells Village (average $190 per night). If/when I return, I’ll stay at either of these locations.
The park itself is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, but the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, located approximately 15 miles from the park’s entrance, is open daily from 8am to 5pm. It houses a small museum, cafeteria, and movie theater, plus a miniature model of the entire park. I suggest coming here first to obtain a map and use the restroom, as all other restrooms located throughout are porta-potty style and not a great time. Be advised – the center is not near the entrance like most other National Parks, so you will have to backtrack to some locations if you visit it first.
Due to the park’s enormous size, there is quite a bit to do and see; however, most require long(ish) hikes or going off-roading. Some of the places that do NOT require long hikes or extreme off-roading are Badwater Basin, the Artists Palette and Artists Drive, Zabriskie Point, Harmony Borax Works, the Natural Bridge, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, and Father Crowley Vista Point- Rainbow Canyon. Many of these can fit into one day, if that is all the time you have.
More challenging hikes rated as “moderate” or “difficult”, as well as more extreme off-roading dirt roads include Ubehebe Crater Loop, Mosaic Canyon, Dante’s Ridge, Panamint Dunes, Telescope Peak, Echo Canyon, Titus Canyon Road, Hole in the Wall Road, Racetrack Road, and Steel Pass Road. There are far more of these difficult trails and far-out roads, with most requiring a 3 to 4-day stay within the park. One of the most well-known difficult areas to get to is The Racetrack, where the famous sliding rocks are located. The road is very rough, with good tires and 4-wheel drive usually required. Also, be advised, most of these locations lack cellphone service, bathrooms, or water stations.
We had only one day, plus my 6-year-old was with us, so doing any intense hikes or subjecting ourselves to harsh backroads in the vast desert with no cellphone service wasn’t an option. We chose to visit Badwater Basin, the Artists Palette and Artists Drive, Zabriskie Point, the Natural Bridge, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Hands down my favorite part was the Badwater Basin Salt Flat; check out my blog here – Badwater Basin Salt Flat: The Lowest Place in North America. 🙂. The hike to the Natural Bridge is a very easy, 1-mile, out-and-back trail, which takes approximately 45 minutes to complete. It goes slightly uphill, and the trail is rather rocky, but we all did it with ease (including my child). Artists Drive leading to Artists Palette is a must-do, as it affords you a nice reprieve in the car, away from the overbearing sun, while offering unique views of the colorful hills full of minerals like copper and zinc. It too takes approximately 45 minutes to complete and there are turnoffs at various points.
Zabriskie Point is located near the entrance and is a very easy point-of-interest. There’s a slight uphill, paved path that leads to benches, educational signs, and a wonderful look-out point. There are also numerous trails sprinkled nearby, so one could go much further than the actual look-out point. Another cool place to spend time is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. You can build sandcastles or slide down the various dunes on sleds, or hike the 2-mile roundtrip, out-and-back, informal trail.
We attempted to make our way to Ubehebe Crater, but the drive was extremely far (one hour +) and it was towards the end of the day. Due to being hot and worn out, plus my dwindling gas tank, we ended up turning around halfway.
Overall, what is mentioned in this blog is truly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Death Valley National Park. It’s the largest National Park in the lower 48 states within the United States and surpassed only by three located in Alaska. There are countless things to do and see, including sightseeing, hiking, camping, backcountry driving (off-roading), star gazing, mountain biking, backpacking, trail running, and more. It’s definitely a National Park that I’d recommend dedicating, at minimum, 3 days to. However, if you only have one day like us, I highly suggest checking out the places we did. Come and visit the hottest place on Earth (and the lowest place in North America) for yourself!