The ULTIMATE guide to visiting Death Valley National Park (Things to do + itinerary options)

Ready to visit one of the most wild, vast, and unique places on Earth? In this guide we’re sharing the best things to do in Death Valley National Park, plus where to stay, important tips, and itinerary options!

During our road trip through California in 2022, on our journey to Alaska, a big goal of ours was to visit some of the California National Parks that we had yet to visit. And towards the top of the list was Death Valley National Park.

The best way to describe Death Valley is otherworldly! Where else can you find mountains over 11,000 feet right next to a basin that sits below sea level? You can experience one of the driest places in the world and look up at snow capped peaks! There’s sand dunes, a waterfall, golf courses (an actual course and a course only the devil could play), mining history, and canyon walls that look like an artist put them together! 

Watch our experience in Death Valley National Park, including visiting Badwater Basin, Artist Palette, going for hikes, and more! 

We spent 3 days exploring as much as we could, including the famous overlooks, breathtaking hikes, and many iconic sights. It’s amazing how even though it is a giant desert landscape, there is so much diverse scenery to see. 

In this guide, we’re sharing everything you need to know to visit Death Valley, including how to get to the park, when to visit (and when NOT to visit), where to stay, and the best things to do in Death Valley based on our experience, plus some additional stops we didn’t have time for. And to top it off, we’re including some itinerary options to help you figure out how to organize your time there. 

Looking for more things to do in California? Check out our California guides and vlogs!

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is the largest US national park outside of Alaska and is larger than both Rhode Island and Delaware combined! While mostly in California, the park is located on the California-Nevada border, about 2 hours west of Las Vegas.

Death Valley boasts some pretty impressive superlatives! It’s the lowest spot in the United States at 282 feet below sea level, it has the hottest recorded temperature ever on Earth, and is the driest place in North America.

For many years the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe have called this area their ancestral land and by the mid 1800s pioneers began entering the area looking for a shortcut to the gold fields. You might be wondering, why is the park called Death Valley? Well, it got its name from a group of pioneers who were lost in the winter of 1849-1850. While only one of them died, they all assumed they would die there, so after they were rescued, one of them turned back and said “goodbye, Death Valley.” 

A few boomtowns popped up throughout the area, but only one lasted through the harsh climate and that was the Harmony Borax Works, who famously transported borax out of the valley by twenty-mule teams. 

In the 1920s, the park began its life as a tourist attraction with resorts established around Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells. The park became a national monument in 1933 and finally a national park in 1994.  

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. 

When to visit Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

You may have heard of the extremely hot temperatures in Death Valley National Park and they are no joke. The highest temperature ever recorded of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was here in Death Valley. To avoid this heat and have an enjoyable time at the park, the best time to visit is November through March

During the late fall through spring, the park will experience chilly nights, with temperatures in the 30s-40s depending on the month, but the daytime temperatures will be a lot more manageable, in the 60s and 70s.

During our visit in late February, we had moderate days, with temperatures in the upper 60s, plus lots of sunshine, which made it feel warmer. We ended up having to modify the days we visited last minute because the original week we planned to visit, just days after we ended up going, was going to be in the 80s, which was too hot to leave our pup during our hikes. So even in the winter, it can get toasty!

The summer time is brutally hot with highs above 110 degrees and low temperatures rarely going below 80. In fact, it can even be 100+ degrees after midnight! This heat has caused many people to have health related issues and even caused cars to have many issues, so it’s advised to NOT visit during the summer. If you do visit during the summer, make sure to start your days SUPER early to beat the heat and plan to be indoors during the afternoon. The high peaks in the park can be a great escape from the heat as well, as the temperature drops 5 degrees with every 1,000 feet you go up in elevation.

Getting to + around Death Valley National Park

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Death Valley National Park is located on the California-Nevada border, with most of the park in California. It’s a very remote park and there are not very many towns around. The closest town with a decent amount of services is Pahrump, Nevada, which is about an hour from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Beatty, Nevada, which is 50 minutes away, has some services like fuel and restaurants, but not many grocery options.

The closest major city to Death Valley, which is where many visitors travel from, is Las Vegas, Nevada, which is 2.5 hours from the park.

Flying to Death Valley National Park

If you plan on flying to Death Valley, the closest major airport is the Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada. From here you’ll have a 2 hour 13 minute drive (142 miles) to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Another option is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is a 4 hour 37 minute drive (272 miles) away.

Driving to Death Valley National Park

If you’re driving to the park, here’s how long you can expect to drive from some popular destinations:

St. George, UT: 3 hours, 50 minutes (250 miles)
Joshua Tree National Park: 4 hours (241 miles)
San Diego, CA: 5 hours, 20 minutes (352 miles)
Yosemite National Park: 6 hours, 40 minutes (396 miles)
Sacramento, CA: 7 hours, 40 minutes (434 miles)

Death Valley National Park

Getting around Death Valley National Park

There is no park shuttle in Death Valley so you’ll either need to drive your own vehicle to the park or rent a car. For the most part, any type of car will work, but there are a couple roads where a high clearance vehicle and potentially 4×4 will be required, like Titus Canyon. If you decide that you’d like to do some of these more backcountry drives, make sure to rent a car that can handle them and confirm that you’re allowed to take your rental on them.

Where to Stay in Death Valley National Park

As mentioned before, the park is very remote, so there aren’t a ton of lodging options outside of the park that are convenient, but thankfully there are a variety of options inside the park, ranging from hotels to camping!

Hotels 

Inside the park at Furnace Creek is The Inn at Death Valley, which was built in 1927 and is a luxurious experience in the park. Known as the Crown Jewel of Death Valley, this was once an exclusive escape for Hollywood elites Marlon Brando and Clark Gable. It has been recently renovated and includes a spring-fed pool, stone patios, standard rooms, rooms with views, and even separate casitas. 

Located next to the Visitor Center is The Ranch at Death Valley. This 224 room hotel is under the same management as The Inn and has also been recently renovated. It is a former working ranch with towering date palms and mission California architecture. It now has a restaurant, ice cream and coffee bar, Last Kind Words Saloon and a general store with groceries and souvenirs.  

Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel is another good option that is a bit further from Furnace Creek, but still close to top sights, especially the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and also Mosaic Canyon. This hotel has 83 rooms and been around since the 1920s, but has been redone to have a western vibe. It also features a pool, which feels like a must when visiting Death Valley! 

Panamint Springs Resort is another lodging option in the park, although it is a bit further from the popular sights than the other two above. This resort is a bit more rustic, but offers guest rooms, cabins, and even camping and RV options.

Death Valley National Park

Camping in Death Valley

Developed campgrounds in the park

For a more affordable stay in the park, camping is definitely the way to go! Death Valley has seven park managed, developed campgrounds, which all offer restrooms and trash services, plus potable water, but no showers. 

These developed campgrounds are mostly first-come, first-served and do not offer electric hookups. However, there is one exception, the Furnace Creek Campground, which requires reservations from October 15 to April 15. 

Furnace Creek is the most popular campground in the park and can fill up six months in advance. It is also the only campground in the park that has full RV hookups. However, out of the 136 total sites, only 18 sites have hookups, so these get snatched up FAST!

If Furnace Creek is full, many of the other developed campgrounds tend to have spots available, despite being first-come, first-served. But one important thing to note is that not all of these campgrounds are open year-round, many of them close in the summer due to heat. You can see details on all of these campgrounds, including the number of sites, cost, and its operating season, here.

Primitive Campgrounds in the park

There are several more primitive campgrounds throughout the park, which are much more remote and require high clearance and/or 4×4 to get to. These campgrounds do not have any services, minus vault toilets, so you must bring your own water and pack out your trash. If you want to escape crowds, these are a good option, but you won’t be able to freely explore the park as easily.

Backcountry camping in the park

If you’re looking to backcountry camp inside of Death Valley, there are quite a few options, but  you will need a free voluntary permit, which can be obtained online or at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. 

Before attempting to backcountry camp in the park, there are a few important things to know and some precautions to take. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of water, research the hazards, and have a map of where you want to go. Be sure to walk on durable surfaces, properly dispose of your human waste, and follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

You’ll also need to know where you can and can’t camp. There are quite a few rules, including how far you must be from a road, which roads and areas you can and cannot camp at, where to park and set up a tent, and more. For a complete list of do’s and don’ts, make sure to check out the park’s backcountry camping page.

Boondocking outside the park

Camping overnight in parking lots in national parks is prohibited, but thankfully there are some FREE camping areas close to the park, but outside of its boundary, that are legal to boondock at. The best spot in our opinion is “The Pads,” which is just outside the park on US 190.

This spot is basically a giant open area with 40-50 level concrete pads to park on. We aren’t 100% sure of its history, but it seems to be an old, abandoned RV park, but without creepy abandoned vibes.

We stayed here for a few nights and always left early before the sunrise and got back late after sun down so we never saw it in the daylight, but it was easy enough to navigate in the dark and no major potholes on the road in. And getting to stay for free on a level spot was pretty clutch! 

There is no cell service on either AT&T or Verizon and you may hear a little road noise, but nothing too bad to keep you up. It was a fantastic spot if you’re spending long days in the park!

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What to bring with you to Death Valley National Park

Red Cathedral | Death Valley National Park

To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit. But for this specific area, we have a few items we really want to stress bringing with you.

Water

With likely very high temperatures in the park and lots of sunshine, you’ll want to have lots of water on you for all of your adventures. Even if it’s not super hot, the air is very dry and you’re likely to get extra thirsty. We like to carry our 3L Camelbak bladders while on any hike, which makes it easy to drink while on the go.

Sun Protection

There is hardly any tree cover in Death Valley, with the only shade being in canyons during specific times of the day, so be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Even in the winter the sun can be ferocious here!

Cooler and Ice

If we weren’t traveling in our van (which has a fridge), we’d bring our Yeti cooler with us to Death Valley! Having it filled with ice cold beverages, food, and snacks would be clutch after a few hours in the sun!

Layers

As we mentioned above, the mornings can be chilly at Death Valley and the temperature decreases 5 degrees every 1,000 feet of elevation you gain, so it’s a good idea to bring layers!

Things to know before visiting Death Valley National Park

Entrance Fee

It costs $30 per vehicle to enter the park and is good for 7 days. We recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass, which is $80 per year and gets you into all National Park Service managed sites and federal lands for free.

Unlike some parks that have an entrance booth, there are no entrance stations at Death Valley to pay your entrance fee. However, you can pay the fee in advance online, at the Visitor Center, or at many self pay stations in the park, which do accept credit cards. 

Dogs are NOT allowed

Dogs are not allowed on any park trails, but are allowed within 100 feet of roads, campgrounds, and picnic areas, as well as on any unpaved roads. Due to how hot the park can get, PLEASE do not leave your dog in a vehicle if it is warm out. During our visit, our pup Kona was in our van, but we made sure it was cool enough to leave her, plus we have insulation and fans, which dramatically reduce the temperature of our van compared to a car. 

Curious what we do with Kona when she cannot join us on a hike? Read this guide about how we travel with a dog.

Cell Service

Cell service is extremely limited in Death Valley, so make sure you’re prepared to be off the grid. We had a tiny sliver of service at the Furnace Creek area, but it was pretty slow and not very useful. Our best service actually was on top of Dante’s View! We had a couple bars of LTE here and were able to use our phones as normal.

Download offline maps

Speaking of poor cell service, one of our top travel tips is to download offline Google Maps. You’ll want to have the area of the park downloaded so you can get between places even if you don’t have cell service (you likely won’t). While most areas have good signage, it’s nice to have Google Maps to direct you so you don’t miss any turns.

We also suggest downloading offline AllTrails maps so that you navigate on hikes even without cell service.

Get fuel BEFORE entering the park

This is a VERY important tip! There is a fuel station in the Furnace Creek area and Panamint Springs, but be ready to pay a premium! Fuel prices are always MUCH higher in Death Valley than the surrounding area.

During our visit, fuel prices were on the rise throughout the US, with most of California being in the $5 per gallon range (for diesel). However, the fuel in Death Valley was $7.77 per gallon (for diesel), which was INSANE! Weeks after our visit, as prices continued to rise, we hear it got to around $10 per gallon in the park.

Before you visit Death Valley, make sure to fuel up! We suggest getting fuel in Nevada, which was much cheaper. We paid under $5 a gallon for diesel in Beatty, Nevada beforehand. One tank of fuel should be able to cover you for most of the popular sights in the park, however, we were running low on fuel towards the end of our time in the park and had to suck it up and get a few gallons at the high park fuel price.

Pack food!

While there are some restaurants in the park, we suggest packing food to eat for your meals as much as you can, which will not only give you more time to explore, but also save money. If flying in, try to stock up on groceries in Las Vegas before heading to the park!

Make sure to see the sunrises and sunsets

In our opinion, Death Valley is the most beautiful at sunrise and sunset, when the lighting is a bit less harsh and you get a nice pink or golden light on the desert and mountains. We suggest prioritizing your must-see spots for these times of the day to see them at their best!

Max vehicle length

In some areas of the park there are restrictions on the length of your vehicle, including Dante’s View and Artist Drive, where the vehicle length is restricted to 25 feet max.

The Best Things to do in Death Valley National Park

Being the largest national park in the lower 48, there are so many things to do in Death Valley National Park…it would be hard to see it all in one visit! Below are the spots that we visited during our three full days in the park, which we highly suggest prioritizing if it’s your first trip!

Looking for more ideas? We’re also including some spots we did not have time to check out, but came highly recommended in the section after this one, as well as some itinerary options at the end to help you organize your time!

Death Valley National Park experienced major floods in 2022, which heavily impacted the park. Please check this page for current updates on the park’s roads and trails, as this guide may not reflect current closures.

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin | Death Valley National Park

Welcome to the lowest, hottest, and driest point in the Western Hemisphere! Here you’ll find geometric shapes of salt polygons that form on the flats from groundwater rising up and evaporating through deposits and sediment left long ago by an ancient inland lake known as Lake Manly. The salt flats cover almost 200 square miles and are made of mostly table salt, with calcite, gypsum, and borax. 

There is a large parking area with restrooms and after parking, you can walk out onto the valley floor to see the salt flats up close. The best views are about three quarters to a mile away from the parking area, so be prepared to walk a bit!

Something we thought was really neat is if you look onto the Black Mountains to the east (above the parking area) you’ll see a sign that indicates sea level and then if you look to the west at the Panamint Range, you’ll see Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet. Nowhere else in North America can you see such a dramatic vertical relief in such a short distance! SO CRAZY!

As you may see in our photos, the salt was not very white during our visit. For years we saw photos of super stark white salt flats here and were a bit confused when we arrived and they were more brown. We thought maybe everyone just photoshopped their images, but then later learned that some flooding had occurred about a month before our visit and the flats turned brown. So be prepared to maybe have brown salt flats instead of white!

Dante’s View

Dante's View | Death Valley National Park

Dante’s View is a 45 minute drive from Furnace Creek and is nestled on the ridge of the Black Mountains, towering 5,575 feet above Badwater Basin. It’s a fun (and steep) drive up to a viewpoint (only vehicles 25 feet or less are allowed), which gives you incredible views of the valley and the Panamint Range. If you’re a Star Wars fan you might recognize this view from Episode IV: A New Hope when Luke Skywalker is overlooking the Mos Eisley Spaceport! 

There is an overlook area in the parking lot, which is accessible for anyone and we loved looking down and seeing tiny specks of humans walking on the salt flats. After enjoying the views here, we recommend walking out onto the two humps to the left to get more of the views to the south. Keep in mind that at a much higher elevation, it can be much cooler up here, so make sure to have a jacket handy!

Dante’s View is a great spot for sunrise or sunset and although it can be busy, the area is large enough where you can spread out to find your own slice of solitude. If you’re into night photography this is an amazing spot as well. 

Zabriskie Point

Quite possibly the most popular spot to see the sunrise in the park is Zabriskie Point. The point is perched above yellow and brown striped badlands, with the striking Manly Beacon (a shark fin shaped formation) rising above at an elevation of 823 feet. 

Normally when we visit spots at sunrise we have them to ourselves, but that is NOT the case here! When we arrived well before sunrise there were already 50+ people here waiting to see the mountains light up in the morning light, many with tripods trying to capture the perfect shot. If you just anticipate not having solitude, it’s still enjoyable and well worth the early morning wakeup call. Seeing the Panamint Range light up in a gorgeous pink color as the sun began to rise and catching the first glimpse of light on the Manly Beacon was hands down the most beautiful sight we saw in the park! 

Although this is a popular sunrise spot, it’s well worth a visit any time of the day! The views even in the afternoon are still beautiful and we hear it’s nice at sunset as well. But for the ultimate experience, sunrise is the way to go. After admiring the views from the point, we suggest hiking the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop, which we’ll detail below!

Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop

Miles (roundtrip): 6.4
Elevation: 1,082 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

Most of the stops we made in Death Valley were quick overlooks, but we did a handful of hikes as well and this was probably our favorite!

You can start this hike from either Zabriskie Point or from down in the valley at the Golden Canyon Trailhead, but we started from Zabriskie Point after watching the sunrise, which we recommend, as we beat the majority of the crowds this way and the parking lot is bigger at Zabriskie Point. 

Starting from Zabriskie Point you’ll descend into the badlands and after about 0.4 miles you’ll start to see the Manly Beacon. Continue down the trail for another half mile and you’ll reach a junction for the Red Cathedral offshoot trail. We highly recommend taking this detour to the Red Cathedral. It’s only about a mile round trip and includes some fun scrambling through some nooks and crannies to get there!

You could turn around and go back the way you came, but we decided to make this hike into a loop and continued towards the Golden Canyon Trailhead. Once back on the main trail it’s a gradual decline to get to the valley. Enjoy the flat land here because it’ll be a steady incline back up to Zabriskie Point. The only downside to this hike (if you start after sunrise like we did) is that it’ll start to get pretty toasty by the time you get to the most strenuous part of the hike.

Overall it’s a fun workout with loads of beautiful scenery and if you’re a Star Wars fan there are some spots where they filmed a couple scenes along the trail!

Read our full guide to hiking the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop, including more details on the trail, our experience, and more! (coming soon)

Devils Golf Course

Devil's Golf Course | Things to do in Death Valley National Park

Adam was all ready to get his golf clubs out and hit the links and then he stepped out of the van and proclaimed, “only the devil could play golf on such rough links!” Not really, Adam didn’t say this, but we did read that this reference came from a 1934 National Park Service guide book to the park and Adam couldn’t agree more!

This “golf course” is not in fact a golf course, but is actually a large area of extremely jagged, serrated spires of rock salt that were eroded by wind and rain over time. On hot days you can apparently hear tiny pops and pings, which is the sound of billions of salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat. 

To see the Devils Golf Course you’ll need to drive down about a mile and a quarter on a gravel road that is suitable for almost all cars. After parking, you’re able to walk out onto the golf course, but be careful, as these spires of rock salt are VERY sharp and if you fall onto them, you may get cut up. Whether you decide to walk out onto the course or just admire it from the parking area, it’s definitely a unique stop!

Artists Drive and Artists Palette

The Artists Drive Scenic Loop is a 9 mile, one way drive that takes you through colorful hills, with the most popular spot being the Artists Palette Overlook, about halfway through the drive.

The Artists Palette Overlook gets its name after the shades of pinks, blues, and purples that paint the hillside. It’s such a unique contrast to the rest of the scenery and Adam compared it to looking like sherbert, which is a great way to describe it!

These colors come from different minerals in the volcanic deposits, such as iron producing the shades of red, pink, and yellow. You’re able to view these hills from either the parking area’s overlook or you can walk down into them, which is a lot of fun, as it’s a bit of a maze and makes for some good exploring.

Artists Palette | Things to do in Death Valley National Park

We heard the colors were the best in the blue and golden hours, so we visited around sunset and while the colors were definitely noticeable, they didn’t seem as vibrant as many photos online made it seem. Whether that is due to photo editing or maybe the lighting not being 100% right during our visit, we aren’t sure, but either way it is still a very beautiful and unique stop!

Note: Only vehicles 25 feet or less are allowed to drive on this road.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Death Valley National Park is home to five dune fields, with the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes being the most accessible. 

We highly recommend visiting these dunes at sunrise or sunset for the best lighting. To experience these in the soft golden light, be sure to get to the parking area about 45 minutes to one hour before sunrise or sunset so that you have time to start walking into the dune field. The tallest dune is about 2 miles round trip from the parking lot and gains about 185 feet, which when walking in sand, feels very far and hard!

There are no official trails in the dunes so it’s a lot of fun to create your own path! We ended up at some dunes close to the tallest one, which was the perfect spot to watch the sunrise. We were able to watch the sky light up with soft pinks and blues then watch as the golden light slowly started to pour over through the valley and onto the dunes that surrounded us. It was a magical moment that created some beautiful photos and videos. We also had way too much fun running down the dunes!

Ubehebe Crater (Currently closed)

The Ubehebe Crater (pronounced You-Bee-Hee-Bee) is a massive volcanic crater that is 600 feet deep and over a half mile wide! This volcanic crater is a Maar volcano, which is a crater that was created when hot magma comes in contact with groundwater which then causes steam under high pressure to burst leaving a massive crater. 

It is located a bit further from some of the more popular sights by Furnace Creek, this crater is worth the trek (in our opinion), as it’s so different from anything else in the park!

While at the crater you can view it just from the parking area, which is all we had time for, or you can walk a 1.8 mile trail that circles the crater. Along this trail you have a detour option to visit the Little Hebe Crater, as well as the option to take a trail down to the base of the crater. It is easy to get down to the base, but remember what goes down must come back up and the way back will be difficult because of the very loose ground. 

Mosaic Canyon

Miles (roundtrip): 3.3
Elevation: 958 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

The hike through Mosaic Canyon was such an unexpected surprise for us! We had heard it was a great hike, but weren’t sure if we’d have time and at the very last minute added it on. And we’re glad we did!

To get to the trailhead you’ll need to travel a two mile (one way) gravel road which, similar to the other day use gravel roads, is maintained by the park and safe for any vehicle. Once on the trail, you’ll quickly enter a canyon, made up of smooth marble walls of Noonday Dolomite. Over time, flash floods loaded with gritty debris have brushed these walls to the smooth texture they are today. 

As you follow the trail keep an eye out for areas of mosaic breccia, which is a scientific term for rock created by the natural cementing together of older smaller pieces of rock. It looks just like mosaic art and is absolutely beautiful!

After exiting the more narrow canyon and walking through a wash for a bit, which is also beautiful, the hike becomes a bit tougher, with sections of narrows to traverse through, which requires some scrambling through large boulders, tight spaces, and up steep, slick rock faces. At some points you will need to use your hands to help you get through these areas. 

We found this part of the trail to be really fun, even if it was a tad tricky at times. If you’re unable to complete this part, that is okay too, you can turn around at any point and still have a fun hike. This trail is more about the experience along the way, rather than the ending, as the trail just dead ends at a 25 foot dry fall (a dried up spot where a waterfall was at one point) in an amphitheater. 

Read our full guide to hiking the Mosaic Canyon Trail, including more details on the trail, our experience, and more!

Harmony Borax Works

Harmony Borax Works | Death Valley National Park

One important piece of history in the Furnace Creek area was borax, which has been used for a variety of household and industrial applications, like in laundry detergent and household cleaners. Borax was first discovered in the Furnace Creek area in 1881 and a large-scale mining operation called Harmony Borax Works opened.

When it was at full operation it employed 40 men who produced 3 tons of borax everyday. It was tough to get this borax from Death Valley and the operation gained notoriety because of the 20-Mule-Team, which were 20 mule teams that drove 2 large wooden cars filled with borax along the 165 mile, 10 day route to the closest railroad in Mojave, CA. Growing up, you may have seen boxes of 20 Mule Team Borax in the grocery store, this is where the name comes from!

The operation went out of business after only 5 years of production, but the operation and townsite played an important role in the opening of Death Valley and the popularity of the Furnace Creek area.

Along the short Harmony Borax Works Trail you can see one of the remaining wagons and machinery used to process the borax. There is a large parking area and a nice, short path to view the remains. It’s a fun way to see some history of the park!

Drive Titus Canyon Road (Currently closed)

While many people may enter the park from some of the paved highways in the area, we decided to enter the park in an even more scenic way, along Titus Canyon Road!

Titus Canyon Road is a 27 mile rough, gravel road which can be traversed with a two-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle. If you go soon after some adverse weather you may need 4×4, but normally it is not necessary. We were able to successfully drive this road in our 22.5 foot Sprinter van, which at times was a bit hairy due to its length, but we made it out unscathed! 

The road begins outside the east side of the park in Nevada near the town of Beatty and the first 24 miles of the road are one way traffic until you exit the other side of Titus Canyon, where it becomes two way for the final 3 miles. There is a parking area once you exit the canyon on the west side, where people can park and walk into Titus Canyon (keep an eye out for people walking in the canyon if driving!).

Along this drive you’ll go through some cool mountainous desert scenery, up and down switchbacks, which were exhilarating at times, pass the remains of a ghost town, and then the best part, into the actual Titus Canyon. 

It’s in Titus Canyon where the canyon wall tightens to 20 feet at its narrowest, which makes you feel like you’re driving through a slot canyon. It is extremely magical and one of the coolest drives we have ever taken our van on!

This drive will take most people about 2-3 hours to drive, but plan for a bit longer if you want to stop and take photos, see the ghost town, or if you’re in a larger vehicle and have to go a bit slower, like us. We had a blast on this drive and it is well worth the adventure!

Safety Tip: Before embarking on any remote drive, be sure to prepare your vehicle. Have extra food and water in your vehicle and know that there is very little cell service in the park, especially on the remote drives. If you break down on a road, stay with your vehicle until help arrives, but know that you could be out there awhile until someone comes along. We also suggest having an air compressor and tire deflator so you can air down your tires for this drive.

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls | Things to do in Death Valley National Park

Miles (roundtrip): 1.9
Elevation: 232 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

One of the most surprising things we came across in Death Valley National Park was a beautiful waterfall! Darwin Falls was a nice little oasis in the middle of the desert and the trail to get out to it is a pretty laid back experience. The road to the trailhead on the other hand is not! To get to the trailhead you’ll travel 1.2 miles down bumpy and pothole filled Old Toll Road. We’d recommend taking a high clearance vehicle down this road to make it a bit more enjoyable, but I think we both agree that even in our higher clearance van, this was the worst drive in the park.

The parking lot at the trailhead is pretty small, big enough for maybe 10 cars max, and if we would have gotten there at the wrong time (we hiked midday) we would’ve had a hard time finding a parking spot. 

The trail is a flat, easy trail that follows a wash with water sometimes flowing through it. At first it was hard to believe that it would lead to a waterfall, as the scenery was so dry. But as you get closer to the falls, there will start to be more vegetation and you’ll have to navigate through a mini jungle and also over a little rock outcrop. After a couple minutes through the brush you’ll reach beautiful Darwin Falls, which isn’t a super tall waterfall, but it sure is beautiful and such a fun surprise in the desert!

Note: Be sure to stay out of the pool beneath the falls. You’ll notice as you hike some pipelines running alongside the trail. These pipes collect drinking water for the nearby Panamint Springs Resort.  

Read our full guide to hiking the Darwin Falls Trail, including more details on the trail, our experience, and more!

Other things to do in Death Valley National Park

We unfortunately couldn’t do everything while in Death Valley National Park, so here are some additional things to do in Death Valley that came highly recommended that we will be sure to check out on our next visit!

Racetrack Playa (Currently closed)

In a park full of unique sights, the Racetrack Playa may be one of the most mysterious…it is a dry lakebed with rocks that move on their own! While here you’ll see large rocks on the dry lakebed with a tailing track behind them, but no footprints or any sign of a human dragging them through the landscape.

You may be wondering how these rocks move on their own and this was an unsolved mystery for a long time until in 2013 in the middle of a scientific experiment the researchers finally saw evidence of how this phenomenon is created. Since these rocks can be hundreds of pounds and sometimes don’t move at all for decades, the scientists didn’t expect to find an answer to the questions.

A unique occurrence of events has to happen for these rocks to move and create a trail behind them. First, the lakebed has to fill with a very shallow layer of water and then freeze to create windowpane ice that is thin enough to be able to move, but thick enough to be strong. Then as the sun melts the ice, light winds move the sheets of ice and bring the rocks with them which leaves a trail in the mud below the ice. 

This unique landscape is very fragile. You can walk out to view these rocks, but do not walk on the lakebed if it is muddy because your footsteps will be left behind possibly for decades and will ruin the experience for others. Driving on the lakebed or moving the rocks is also prohibited. 

A big reason why we didn’t visit the Racetrack Playa is because it requires a 3.5 hour drive (one way) down a rough washboarded 26 mile gravel road. You’ll need good tires, high clearance, at certain times 4×4 capabilities, and a sense of adventure! Since we had limited time and had just done Titus Canyon, we decided to skip it, but many people who make the trek raved about it!

If you do decide to do this, start early and plan for an all day activity!

Eureka Dunes

If you want to visit the tallest sand dunes in California, and possibly North America, then Eureka Dunes is where you need to go! These dunes rise over 680 feet above the dry lakebed and cover an area 3 miles wide by 1 mile long. They look super impressive!

The Eureka Dunes are located in a remote area of the northern end of the park, so getting to them is a bit of work, as you’ll have to drive many miles of graded gravel road. High clearance and 4×4 capabilities are recommended under some circumstances, but not always needed. But because they require more effort, they are WAY less busy than the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. You can even camp out here too!  

Twenty-mule team canyon

Twenty-mule Team Canyon is a short (2.5 miles), one way gravel road through colorful, eroded badlands, which is passable by most standard vehicles. This area was used to mine for borax 100 years ago and now you can pass through here to experience scenery similar to what you’ll see from Zabriskie Point. 

About ⅔ of the way into the drive there is a pull off where you can park and explore a bit of the hills by foot. The drive with a stop to hike around a bit should take 1-1.5 hours to complete.

Desolation canyon

Miles (roundtrip): 3.6
Elevation: 770 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

Located near Artists Palette and sharing many features with it, is Desolation Canyon. This hike will take you close to the colorful walls and some unique geological formations. If you want to see more scenery like Artists Palette then this would be a fun option!

Telescope Peak

Telescope Peak

Miles (roundtrip): 12.7
Elevation: 3,323 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

One of the top things we wanted to do in the park was hike Telescope Peak. This peak, which towers over Badwater Basin, is the highest point in the park at 11,049 feet above sea level. 

The trail is long and completely exposed most of the way so be prepared for lots of sun and wind. It has a mix of flat terrain and steady uphill climbs ending with switchbacks to the peak.  And what is extra cool about this hike is that from the peak, you can see Mt. Whitney, which is the highest peak in the lower 48, as well as Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Seeing the highest and lowest spot from one hike is pretty epic!

The Mahogany Flat Campground is located at the trailhead for Telescope Peak and has 10 campsites. This would be the perfect spot to camp the night before and get acclimated to the altitude. The final 1.5 miles to the campground can be rough and a high clearance vehicle is suggested, but several reviews on AllTrails said they got there just fine in a regular vehicle. If you don’t feel comfortable driving this stretch you can also leave your car at the sign warning you of 4×4 required beyond that point. Because of the high altitude, snow can keep the road to the trailhead and campground closed from late fall to early spring and it can also be present on the peak. 

The reason we did not attempt this hike is because it was a bit too long for us to leave our pup, so one day we will return without her so we can conquer it! 

Natural Bridge

Miles (roundtrip): 1.4
Elevation: 449 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

This is a great short hike for all ages and most abilities! There is no official path, but follow the wash from the parking area and you’ll be brought right under the 35 foot thick and 35 foot high natural bridge.

Unlike the smooth sandstone arches found in Utah, this natural bridge is made of jagged, rocky alluvial deposits. The canyon where the natural bridge is located was carved by flash floods and the water changed its course several times which lowered the canyon floor then changed its course again and it carved out a hole beneath where the natural bridge is today. Considering how infrequent it rains in Death Valley, imagine how long it took to carve this out! 

Wildrose Charcoal kilns

Another historical structure in the park we want to check out next time are the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. These kilns were built in 1877 to provide fuel for two smelters at nearby silver mines. Evidence at them shows that the relatively short use of them has helped to preserve them in such good condition for so long. 

The kilns are located on Emigrant Canyon Road, 28 miles from Highway 190 or about an 1.5 hours from the Furnace Creek area.

Aguereberry Point

Another viewpoint we’d love to check out next time is Aguereberry Point, which is at the top of a 6.5 gravel road. The viewpoint is named after Pete Aguereberry, who was a miner who lived in the area for several decades working the Eureka Mine. On the way to the viewpoint you can view the area where Pete lived, including a couple cabins and a guest house. In his later years Pete would take visitors to this viewpoint that he called “The Great View” of Death Valley, which is now Aguereberry Point.

Death Valley National Park Itinerary Options

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes | Things to do in Death Valley National Park

Now that you know tons of things to do in Death Valley National Park, it’s time to figure out what to do with the time you have! While there are many ways to structure your time in the park, depending on how busy you like your days to be, your hiking abilities, and your interests, here is how we’d suggest spending your time whether you have 1 day or 4 days!

One day in Death Valley

If you only have one full day in Death Valley you likely won’t have time for any hikes, but you can still see most of the most popular sights!

  • See the sunrise at Zabriskie Point
  • Drive up to Dante’s View
  • Visit the Devil’s Golf Course
  • Check out Badwater Basin
  • Drive the Artists Palette Scenic Drive
  • Visit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for sunset
Zabriskie Point | Things to do in Death Valley National Park

Two days in Death Valley

With two days in Death Valley you’ll have more time to hit the trails! Here’s how we’d suggest planning your time.

Day 1

  • See the sunrise at Zabriskie Point
  • Hike the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop Trail
  • Drive up to Dante’s View
  • Drive the Artists Palette Scenic Drive
  • Visit the Devil’s Golf Course
  • Check out Badwater Basin for sunset

Day 2

  • Visit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for sunrise
  • Hike Mosaic Canyon
  • Drive to the Ubehebe Crater
  • Stop by Harmony Borax Works
Artists Palette | Things to do in Death Valley National Park

Three days in Death Valley

Day 1

  • Drive into the park on Titus Canyon Road OR drive to the Racetrack Playa
  • Visit the Ubehebe Crater
  • Stop by Harmony Borax Works

Day 2

  • See the sunrise at Zabriskie Point
  • Hike the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop Trail
  • Drive up to Dante’s View
  • Drive the Artists Palette Scenic Drive
  • Visit the Devil’s Golf Course
  • Check out Badwater Basin for sunset

Day 3

  • Visit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for sunrise
  • Hike Mosaic Canyon
  • Hike to Darwin Falls
Badwater Basin | Death Valley National Park

Four days in Death Valley

Day 1

  • Drive into the park on Titus Canyon Road OR drive to the Racetrack Playa
  • Visit the Ubehebe Crater
  • Stop by Harmony Borax Works

Day 2

  • See the sunrise at Zabriskie Point
  • Hike the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop Trail
  • Drive up to Dante’s View
  • Drive the Artists Palette Scenic Drive
  • Visit the Devil’s Golf Course
  • Check out Badwater Basin for sunset

Day 3

  • Visit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for sunrise
  • Hike Mosaic Canyon
  • Hike to Darwin Falls
  • Camp at the Mahogany Flat Campground

Day 4

  • Our #1 suggestion for this day would be to summit Telescope Peak! But if you’re not up for that, you could visit the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns and drive Aguereberry Point instead. 

Ready to visit Death Valley National Park?

Pin this list of things to do in Death Valley National Park to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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