Death Valley NP

Top 5 best things to do in Death Valley 

Death Valley National Park is definitely one of the national parks that surprised us the most. The extreme temperatures and otherworldly beauty create an atmosphere that almost feels surreal. We really had the impression of being on another planet! What also surprised us was the wide range of diverse landscapes and activities. There is so much to see and to do at Death Valley, it can be tough to pick just a few places to visit! That’s why we wanted to share our top 5 best things to do in Death Valley.

1. Sunrise at Zabriskie Point

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point

Whether you spend a few hours in Death Valley or several days, a sunrise at Zabriskie Point cannot be missed. This iconic spot stands as one of the most magical places in Death Valley, particularly during the early morning hours.

Just a short walk from the parking lot, you’ll be treated to some panoramic views of otherworldly landscapes. It’s as if you’re stepping onto another planet, with surreal formations and contours that stretch as far as the eye can see. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and cannot be compared to anything! If you ever want to know how it feels to be walking on the planet Mars, just visit Zabriskie Point by sunrise. It is that amazing! Small disclaimer: we have never been to Mars ourselves, but it sure feels like it. 😉

We arrived half an hour before sunrise and spent a total of an hour here admiring and photographing the extraordinary landscapes. If you’re just looking to take some quick pics, you can do it in 15 minutes or even less!

2. Badwater Basin

Top 5 best things to do in Death Valley: Badwater Basin

One of the most incredible things we saw in Death Valley were the salt flats at Badwater Basin. As you arrive at this remarkable destination, you’ll find yourself standing at the lowest point in North America (86 m/282 ft below sea level), a surreal experience in itself.

Badwater Basin Salt Flats

From the parking lot, the vast expanse of the salt flats seemed endless. We couldn’t believe our eyes! The best part was walking around here, this was such a fascinating experience. We could literally feel the salt ‘cracking’ beneath our feet, can you imagine? In addition to its natural wonders, Badwater Basin is also a very cool photography spot. You’ll find countless unique opportunities to capture the stunning scenery!

We visited Badwater Basin right after our sunrise at Zabriskie Point and had the whole place to ourselves. So magical! We spent two hours here strolling around, exploring, and capturing unforgettable moments. Time seemed to stand still as we immersed ourselves in the surreal beauty of this extraordinary place!

We suggest you do the same, arrive early and explore all by yourself. This place is quite popular, and having to share it with others will make the experience less magical. Make sure to take a closer look at the salts, too! Some might look like snow, and underneath them there are even puddles of water! It feels like walking on ice. We examined absolutely everything here, it is so fascinating that you don’t know where to start!

3. Mosaic Canyon Trail

Mosaic Canyon Trail

The Mosaic Canyon Trail is one of the greatest things to do in Death Valley. This geologic wonder is so gorgeous with its marble walls and intriguing rock formations. Our favorite part was when the canyons narrowed, this was so cool! We had so much fun hiking here, the whole setting was just wonderful. 🥹

The trail is about 2,3 km one way. However, after less than a kilometer you already reach the narrowest part of the canyon, which is also the most impressive part. It took us about an hour to explore this part, with many photo stops included. Going this far is recommended if you don’t have a lot of time.

If you plan to hike the entire trail, we suggest doing so in the early morning or late afternoon. During the day it can get very hot, it isn’t recommended to hike then! Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, head protection and lots of water. Also, always put your hands where you can see them. You don’t want to get a surprise visit of a rattlesnake. 😳

4. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

As we already mentioned, Death Valley has an incredible diversity of landscapes. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is probably the landscape that surprised us the most. We could hardly believe there is a desert surrounded by mountains on all sides, it seemed so out of place!

The best thing about Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is that you can go as far as you want, there is no defined route that you have to follow. After less than 10 minutes of walking, we already realized how hard it is to step in sand! Especially since it’s uphill and downhill all the time. Quite an intense workout! We walked around for an hour, but were thrilled when we got back to the car. 😂 We saw some people walking, playing, and even running on the highest dune. Not us though!

This was such a photogenic and unique landscape and is definitely one of the top 5 best things to do in Death Valley! Again, we recommend bringing plenty of water, it is quite tiring to step in sand and it can get very hot! There’s absolutely no shade available, so bear that in mind, too.

5. Sunset at Artist’s Palette

Artist's Drive

Last but not least, we recommend ending your day at Artist’s Palette. To get there you have to drive along Artist’s Drive, a spectacular scenic drive with many stunning sights. This is a one-way road, once you start you can’t turn around!

Top 5 best things to do in Death Valley: Artist's Palette

Artist’s Palette is a very unusual but breathtaking phenomenon. You can admire the prettiest colorful hills here, the whole scenery is so unique! The gorgeous colors are formed by volcanic deposits and create a real work of art.

Artist's Palette

The reason we recommend ending your day here is because that’s when the colors come out best (picture on the left). The sunset glow will provide you with the most dramatic bursts of colors, so magical! The bright sun, on the other hand, tends to wash out colors and should be avoided if possible (picture on the right). It gets prettier the less sun there is! Between sunset and an hour after the colors are at their best.

Side note: On Instagram, you see a lot of photos appearing with vibrant colors. Keep in mind that many of these photos are heavily edited, so when you see it in person, it’s not as vibrant. It’s still very pretty and magical though!

Pro tip
The entrance fee per vehicle for Death Valley is about € 27. If you plan on visiting multiple national parks, we recommend purchasing the America The Beautiful pass! For € 70, you have access to a lot of national parks, including Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and so many more!

How to get around

Unlike most other parks, Death Valley does not have shuttle buses available. The only way to get around is by personal vehicle. If you are staying in the park itself, keep in mind that there aren’t many restaurants or stores. We recommend buying some things from the supermarket in advance so you still save some money. There are also not many gas stations available. There was one near our hotel at The Ranch, but prices were absolutely ridiculous! They were at least € 0,5/L or $2/gallon more expensive for the regular tier gas (87). There is also one gas station near the the Mesquite Sand Dunes which is cheaper, but only offers 85 grade gas. Last but not least, make sure to download the map of Death Valley on Google Maps for offline use, since cell phone coverage is scarce!

Where to stay in Death Valley

As we mentioned in our preparation guide, we wanted to stay near national parks in order not to lose time. We had a lot of sunrises planned, so we didn’t want to spend an hour (or more) on the road just to be in time for sunrise. When we looked up accommodations near Death Valley, we noticed that the options were quite limited. The park is massive, so even in the park you can sometimes drive an hour to your next stop.

We ended up having to choose between two hotels located in the middle of Death Valley. There is The Inn and The Ranch at Death Valley. Since The Ranch was the cheapest option (read: still over € 200 per night 🤯), we chose this hotel. Of course, not everything went smoothly. Curious about our misadventures? Read all about it here.

The Ranch

The Ranch at Death Valley

The Ranch at Death Valley is a very large resort, with different restaurants, a pool, a golf course, and even its own general store! The rooms themselves are basic and not that modern, but they have everything you need. We even had a small terrace, so cute. We really loved the majestic palm trees and oasis atmosphere at The Ranch, it felt like a little paradise in the middle of nowhere! How they keep that grass so green, we’ll never know. 😉

The only drawback is that you are indeed secluded, so you don’t have many options for eating. When we were there, only 1 restaurant was open, The Last Kind Words Saloon. So on our first evening, we decided to dine here. We fell from our chairs when we saw the prices! A pasta pesto cost € 38, without tax or tip! A little disappointed, we both ordered a salad. This was € 19, the cheapest option on the menu. Or at least we thought so… Kelvin’s Caesar Salad came with the additional cost of € 11 for chicken, so in the end we also paid € 30 for a simple Caesar Salad. Can you imagine this? What Caesar salad doesn’t come with chicken included? Therefore, this is the only restaurant that received a € 5 tip, which in our opinion is still too much!

Here are all our hotel recommendations in and around Death Valley, suited for every traveler’s wallet:

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Our favorite things to do in Yosemite
The best Grand Canyon views at the South Rim
6 best things to do in Joshua Tree

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