What comes to mind when you think of Death Valley National Park: scorching heat? An endless expanse of dry brown earth? Depending on when you visit, it can definitely be insanely hot, but endless brown it is not! When we visited in late February we were stunned by the colorful badlands, diverse landscapes, and the beautiful weather! It’s truly a photographer’s paradise and we want to share with you some of absolute best places to see.
We travel by RV and found a great free camping area called The Pads, just about 20 minutes from the first stop on our list! This free campsite is just a little outside the east boundry of the park – hence our reason for sticking to this side for our explorations. There are no amenities here (no electricity, drinking water, dump station, etc) and there is no cell connectivity. Not too far away though is the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center where you can pick up a little slow cell service and there’s an outdoor water spigot for filling portable jugs.
Let’s dive in!
There is a short but steep paved walkway to the overlook here, offering truly magnificent views of the colorful badlands below. This is a fantastic spot for sunrise or sunset. Brave souls might consider exploring a few of the different narrow dirt trails around the area for alternative, and less crowded, views.
This is one of the absolute must-see places within Death Valley. It does require about a mile walk before you get to the sand flats, over some pretty bumpy terrain – we saw people struggling a bit with strollers. Once here you can appreciate the intricate patterns that have formed in the extremely salty lake bed, what was once Lake Manly. This is another spot that’s beautiful anytime but if you get any color in the sky for sunset, it will look amazing coupled with the endless expanse of the salt flats.
DEVIL’S GOLF COURSE
This was quite the unexpected gem within the park – from the initial photos I saw, it wasn’t a priority to stop here but it would be a mistake to miss, especially since it’s on the way to Badwater Basin. These are also salt formations but they’re entirely different from what you see at Badwater. The terrain here is incredibly sharp and probably not suitable for kids to walk on but you can appreciate it right from the parking lot.
ARTISTS PALETTE DRIVE
Unfortunately we missed this on our trip, but if you have the time you should definitely check out the colorful striations in the rocks on this one-way loop drive. Just be aware that vehicles over 25’ long are not allowed on this road.
GOLDEN CANYON HIKE
You can do this hike a couple of ways: as a loop starting and ending at the Golden Canyon trailhead via Gower Gulch (4 miles RT) or as a loop starting and ending at Zabriskie Point (6 miles RT) – we did this second option. There are quite a few awe-inspiring views and I will say the stretch up towards Manly Beacon is very steep and strenuous. Also be sure to pay good attention to the trail route signs. All in all, it’s a magnificent way to explore the badlands of the park.
20 MULE TEAM CANYON DRIVE
This is another one-way loop drive that takes you through some incredible scenery. There are a few areas to pull over and little trails you can explore. This one isn’t quite as exciting as some of the other options on this list, but if you have the time, it’s a nice addition.
I hope we’ve given you some great inspiration and planning ideas for your trip to Death Valley National Park! There are of course so many things to see and do, including the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, The Racetrack, Darwin Falls and more but if you’re pressed for time, these are a great introduction to a gorgeous park.
Be sure to check out our video exploring this magical place!