Where to eat, sleep, hike and photograph in Death Valley, California.
While the name doesn’t give it much credit, Death Valley is without a doubt one of the most beautiful national parks in the country.
No, I take that back — the world.
The oxidation of metals (which, I realize, sounds less than scenic) creates a rainbow of rock colors best described as “Mother Nature’s Ice Cream Shop.” I’m talking pinks, greens, yellows and purples – yes, purple rocks!
The canyons – of which there are many – change colors throughout the day based on the sun.
Oh, and speaking of sunrises … which you can watch from sand dunes (sand dunes!!) … they’re magical in this extreme desert landscape.
To sum my feelings up in one sentence?
Death Valley is the best.
But knowing I love it doesn’t really help you much. What do you need to know if you’re visiting this National Park?
A lot, actually. So let’s dive in.
When should you visit Death Valley?
Visit any time but summer, honestly. Summer gets crazy hot (desert, death … you get the picture). My mom and I visited Death Valley in early January, and had a few spits of rain, some overcast skies, but overall warm temperatures in the 60s. I’ve read fall here is also wonderful, but know this: Spring, winter and fall may be off-seasons for other travel destinations like Italy, but things can book up quickly out here. Which leads me to …
Where do you stay in Death Valley?
If you want to stay in the park, you have a few options. You can stay at Furnace Creek Ranch (family friendly and less frills, our choice), Furnace Creek Inn (more expensive, and a little over the top IMHO – did you really come to Death Valley to swim in a resort pool?), or Stovepipe Wells, which is a bit further north. You can also camp in the desert, but I didn’t get the chance so don’t have much expertise here.
How long should you spend in Death Valley?
We had two full days which gave us enough time to see most everything in Death Valley, but like every place I EVER visit, I would’ve been happy with just a little more time. Three days would be perfect.
How do you get around Death Valley?
You can take tours, you can hike (be safe!) or you can follow our route which – I’m sure you’re surprised given this is a road trip travel blog – involved a rental car! I love me a good road trip, so we got a 4WD Jeep in Vegas and drove that out to Death Valley. The 4WD was absolutely essential during some of the more “off road” drives like Titus Canyon (more to come), so if you have any inclination to go off the beaten path, get a 4WD and get insurance on said 4WD. You’ll thank yourself later.
Where do you eat in Death Valley?
Death Valley is not known for its dining options; visitors can eat at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and … that’s about it. You could always pack a cooler and picnic, or live off protein bars, but for real meals these hotel areas are your main options.
What should you pack for a trip to Death Valley?
Well, that depends of course on what you’re actually doing, but Death Valley-goers aren’t really the glitz-and-glam type, so you’re fine in hiking gear, leggings, casual jeans, etc. Don’t forget to pack warmer clothes for the nighttime, as once the sun sets, the temperatures drop significantly.
What should I see in Death Valley?
Ah, my favorite question. EVERYTHING! Seriously. This place is so jam packed you can’t go wrong with sights, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Artist’s Drive: Remember the natural ice cream parlor I mentioned? That’s Artist’s Drive. It’s a nine-mile drive through gorgeous mountains with one must-see stop off, Artist’s Palette. Here you can hike among the colorful rocks — it’s the closest you’ll come to walking on a rainbow!
- Titus Canyon: This canyon is insane for multiple reasons. It’s a 27-mile bumpy road that takes you from Nevada (oh, FYI – you’ll be switching states!) into the Grapevine Mountain range as you navigate rocky, dirt roads and ghost towns that ultimately lead you into a 1.5-mile tight canyon that you drive through. Yes, you drive through a canyon. (Driving during rainstorms is not recommended because, um, flash floods and scary things.) It’s like something out of a Disney movie; except there’s no “cast member” to fix your flat tires. Come prepared with a sturdy SUV and 4WD. (Oh, and take a restroom break beforehand because coffee + bumpy roads + two hours driving does not equal a comfortable ride…)
- Badwater Basin: The lowest elevation in North America (282 feet below sea level), Badwater Basin’s salt flats cover nearly 200 square miles with intricate, hexagonal salt patterns that are particularly stunning during golden hour. Badwater Basin has a flat, one-mile path out into the salt flats that’s easily accessible for all experience levels. This place is truly a photographer’s dream.
- Mesquite Sand Dunes: I fell in love with the Sahara Desert while volunteering abroad in college, so you can only imagine my excitement when I found Death Valley’s sand dunes within driving distance from Furnace Creek. (No? Can’t imagine it? I was thrilled! Jumping! Happy dancing! Basically, super – and uber – pumped). The Mesquite Sand Dunes are a far cry from the Sahara Desert, but they’re easily climbable, captivating during sunrise and relatively uncrowded, at least when we visited.
This is only a sampling of my favorite Death Valley destinations; fear not, there’s more to come (go ahead and subscribe on the right sidebar if you want to make sure not to miss anything)! For now, though, this will give you a simple taste of this National Park’s beauty.
And for the last, and by far the easiest question to answer:
Should I go to Death Valley with everything else to do in California?
Um, yes. See above (and by above, I mean this entire, glowing review of a post).
Death Valley is great for photographers. Perfect for hikers. A mecca for outdoor adventurers. And heck, even families with young children will enjoy the wide open spaces for fun and playtime.
In reality, if you’ve read this far, Death Valley’s for you. If you’re still here but hesitant, hit me with those questions! I’m happy to help you decide whether you should make this trip or not!
Looking for more California adventures? Check out my itinerary for the Lost Coast in Northern California!