Death Valley National Park may sound menacing, but as the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the country, it’s actually one of the most interesting spots in the Southwest. Rest assured – Death Valley is anything but dead.
If you’re looking for an off-Strip adventure, don’t discount Death Valley. It’s less than three hours from the Strip, it’s the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, and the area’s extreme temperatures, range of elevation, and untamed wilderness are the perfect complement to the over-the-top glamor of the Strip. If you need a little extra convincing, here 14 breathtaking Death Valley viewpoints you can explore:
1. Furnace Creek
Furnace Creek. Image by Ben Clark via Flickr.
Furnace Creek is actually a census designated place in Inyo County, CA, with a population of 24 (as of the 2010 census). It’s not technically a viewpoint, but it is home to the Death Valley Visitor Center, which is a must-visit stop for anyone exploring the National Park. Be sure to check out the 20 minute film about the area, as well as the museum exhibits and seasonal ranger programs.
2. Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin. Image by Supercarwaar via Wikimedia Commons.
Badwater Basin is made up of almost pure table salt. It’s also the lowest point of elevation in North America, sitting 282 feet below sea level.
Located at the south end of the National Park, this seemingly endless salt flat lies adjacent to the Black Mountains. The area was created about 2,000-3,000 years ago when the 30-foot deep Recent Lake dried up. A temporary lake still forms in the Basin during periods of heavy rain, but it doesn’t last long because of the area’s intense heat.GEOLOGY FACT: Badwater Basin is an “endorheic basin”, which is a closed drainage basin that typically retains water and doesn’t allow outflow to other external bodies of water, but instead converges into lakes or swamps that rise and fall as a result of evaporation. Over time, changing climate patterns, including glaciation, periodic water body breakthroughs, and erosion, have created many evaporating and reforming lakes in Death Valley, leading to hypersalinity (a landlocked body of water with significant concentrations of salt). Combined with sporadic rainfall and other geological factors, this hypersalinity has created periods of “briny soup”, or salty pools, on the lowest parts of the Death Valley’s floor. The salts then crystallize, coating the surface with a thick crust.
3. Devil’s Golf Course
Devil’s Golf Course. Image by Wilson44691 via Wikimedia Commons.
Sorry, golfers – the Devil’s Golf Course is not actually a golf course. It’s large area of rock salt that’s been slowly eroded by wind and rain to form jagged spires with a serrated appearance so pronounced it’s said that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links”.PRO TIP: Bend your ear to the ground to hear the sound of billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat.
4. Artist’s Drive
Artist’s Palette. Image by Wilson44691 via Wikimedia Commons.
This scenic one-way 9 mile loop travels through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills. The area’s colorful formations are especially apparent at Artist’s Palette – a hillside sporting shades of orange, pink, brown, green, and even turquoise thanks to the metals in the ground. The area is especially beautiful in the late afternoon.GEOLOGY FACT: The colors of Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette are created by a number of different metals:
- Red, pink, and yellow are created by iron oxide compounds.
- Green is created by the decomposition of tuff-derived mica.
- Purple is created by manganese.
5. Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point is the most famous viewpoint in Death Valley National Park. Overlooking the colorful badlands of the Furnace Creek formation and beyond to the Panamint Mountains in the distance, Zabriskie Point is especially popular at sunrise and sunset. Simply enjoy the view, or start off on a hike around the Badlands Loop, where you’ll find connecting trails to other areas of the National Park.
6. Twenty Mule Team Canyon
This unpaved 2.7 mile one-way loop is fenced in by rock walls on either side, as well as barren flats and colorful hills. The terrain is more rugged than other parts of the park, but it’s great for cycling.HISTORY FACT: Twenty Mule Team Canyon gets its name from the days when borax was mined in the area, when twenty-mule teams were used to haul borax-filled wagons out of the Valley.
7. Harmony Borax Works
Harmony Borax Works. Image by Daniel Mayer via Wikimedia Commons.
Located just north of Furnace Creek, Harmony Borax Works was the first successful borax mine in Death Valley’s history of borax mining. The Works was built when Aaron Winters found borax in the Valley in 1881. Winters sold the claim to William T. Coleman, who built the Works and refined the borate-bearing muds of Death Valley until 1888.
8. Dante’s View
View from Dante’s Peak. Image by Roger469 via Wikimedia Commons.
This 5,475 foot high peak offers views of the Valley floor, including Badwater Basin, and across to the Panamint Mountains on the other side. You can also spot Telescope Peak and view the greatest topographic relief in the entire conterminous USA – Telescope Peak towers 11,331 feet tall, compared to Badwater Basin which sits 282 feet below sea level. Be wary though – the temperature at Dante’s View is much cooler than on the Valley floor, so you might want to bring along a light jacket.
9. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Image by Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the largest dune field in the park, containing three types of dunes: crescent, linear, and star-shaped.
The area has been used to film several movies, including Star Wars. It’s known for its fantastic morning and evening views, when the angle of the sun casts long shadows off the dunes. You can even walk into the dunes, climb them, or simply relax and enjoy the sun.
10. Race Track
Known for perplexing stones that have left long trails behind them as though they’ve been pushed through the mud, this large, seasonally-dried mud bed is something of a mystery. There has been much speculation about how the stones move, but recent timelapse photography shows that the movement of the rocks is caused by floating ice. Most stones move once every two or three years, and the tracks usually last about 3-4 years. Watch this video to learn more:
11. Ubehebe Crater
Ubehebe Crater. Image by Tim Buss via Flickr.
Located near Scotty’s Castle in the north end of the Park, this giant crater (which measures about half a mile wide and 400 feet deep) was created by a violent volcanic explosion. If you’re up for a walk, a number of hiking trails lead down into the center of the crater.
12. Rhyolite Ghost Town
Figures near Rhyolite Ghost Town. Image by Erik Wilde via Flickr.
Rhyolite is an abandoned mining town. Remnants of its bustling glory days are still visible, including art installations of ghostly figures on the edge of town.
13. Telescope Peak
Telescope Peak from Badwater Basin. Image by Stan Shebs via Wikimedia Commons.
Telescope Peak is the highest point in Death Valley National Park, and it’s also the tallest peak in the Panamint Mountain range. Named for the great distance visible from its summit, Telescope Peak offers views west to Mount Whitney and east to Charleston Peak.
14. Spring Wildflowers
Spring Wildflowers. Image by National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons.
Every spring, wildflowers bloom in abundance in Death Valley. The bloom peaks in March, but make sure you ask at the Visitor Center to find out what’s in bloom when you visit. The best place to view the bloom is in the south part of the park, around Badwater Basin towards Furnace Creek.
Visit Death Valley
Only a few hours from the Strip, Death Valley offers an adventurous escape from the glitz and bustle of Sin City. Visit Death Valley on our guided bus tour:
Join us on this wonderful tour Ubehebe Crater, Furnace Creek Ranch Museum, Badwater Mud Canyon and Rhyolite Ghost Town. As a special memento of your adventure, you will receive a Death Valley Explorer Certificate at the end of your tour!