Death Valley is one of the most diverse national parks in California. Here are the most beautiful of Death Valley’s attractions.
Death Valley is one of the most diverse and beautiful national parks in California. And that’s with some tough competition! What makes Death Valley’s attractions so famous is their diversity: from salt flats to volcano craters, from snow-capped mountains to dry sand dunes, and from colourful hills to arid desert.
Having visited there on a break in the developed world, we wanted to write a one-stop catalogue to the best attractions Death Valley has to offer.
All the locations are with reference to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, which is home to the biggest campsite, and very near the second-biggest campsite (the one we chose).
In this guide…
- A comprehensive map of all of Death Valley’s attractions
- Badwater Basin, salt flats that are at the lowest point in the US
- Zabriskie Point, a beautiful view over Star Wars-like dunes
- Dante’s View — a great panoramic view over the mountains surrounding Death Valley
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes — the largest of the four sand dune areas in Death Valley
- Racetrack Playa — an alien landscape with rocks that move mysteriously when nobody is looking
- Devil’s Golf Course — vast landscape made up of large, jagged salt formations.
- Ubehebe Crater — Peer into an ancient crater that’s surrounded by black volcanic landscape
- Artist’s Pallette and Artist’s Drive — a splattering of paint created by volcanic deposits
- Father Crowley Overlook — A panoramic view of the Valley with occasional fighter pilot fly-bys!
Read on for more detail.
Death Valley Attractions Map
Here is a map summary of all of the most beautiful Death Valley locations you shouldn’t miss.
Click on this map to open it on your phone or in another window.
Become a Discoverer
Like this guide to beautiful places in the US (and elsewhere)? Join our humble email list. Days of work go into each post.
Distance from Furnace Creek Visitor Center: 15.3 miles; 20 min by car
Badwater Basin is one of the most well-known attractions in Death Valley, and arguably the most beautiful! It’s the lowest point in North America, resting at 282 feet (85m) below sea level.
If you’ve been to the Dead Sea, you’ll know that that goes a lot lower — a massive 1400 feet or 430m below sea level! Check out our suggested 3-day Dead Sea itinerary.
The appearance of Badwater Basin changes depending on the time of year and the cycle of rainfall and evaporation.
During months of heavy rain, the basin floods and gives the illusion of a shallow lake. During drier seasons, the water evaporates and the salt crystallizes to create beautiful hexagonal patterns in the ground.
When we visited, it was somewhere in the middle. It had rained recently and the water had evaporated enough to reveal the hexagonal shapes and the pools of water reflected the beautiful colors of the sunset.
Since Badwater Basin is one of the most popular attractions in Death Valley, it can get crowded. The parking lot fills up pretty quickly so you may have to park on the side of the road and walk a bit.
Badwater Basin is beautiful at all times of day, but watching the sunrise or sunset is particularly unforgettable. The benefit of coming during sunrise is that it is far less crowded.
Distance from Furnace Creek Visitor Center: 17.5 miles; 22 min by car
Zabriskie Point is an elevated panoramic overlook with a view that looks like a scene from Star Wars. And that’s for good reason — Zabriskie Point was actually one of the filming locations for Star Wars!
The sharp rocky formations of Zabriskie Point were formed from sediment from Furnace Creek millions of years ago.
This view is just a short walk from the parking lot. You can also explore the area further by hiking the Badlands Loop, which is a 2.5-mile hike. Visit Zabriskie Point at sunrise or sunset for the best views.
Before or after Zabriskie Point, visit Artist’s Palette, which is right nearby.
Distance from Furnace Creek Visitor Center: 25.2 miles; 37 min by car
Dante’s View is a part of the Black Mountains and is another memorable attraction.
On a clear day, from Dante’s View you can see a panorama of nearly all of Death Valley. You’re able to see Badwater Basin and even Great Basin mountain ranges of Nevada.
If you visit during the colder months, ask the rangers at the visitor centre whether the roads to Dante’s View is open. During the winter, if there has been rainfall, it’s possible that the roads to Dante’s View may be icy and closed. It snows on Dante’s View because it is at such a high elevation and the roads may not be safe for driving.
Dante’s View is best visited at sunrise. It’s also a spectacular place for stargazing, if you want to go at the dead of night!
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Distance from Furnace Creek Visitor Center: 22.7 miles; 26 min by car
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is another recognizable attraction in Death Valley. A look at these sand dunes will make you feel as though you’ve been transported to the Sahara Desert.
There are several sand dunes in Death Valley, but Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is the most well-known. It’s one of the larger sand dune areas in the park. It’s also the easiest to access and doesn’t require a 4WD vehicle.
The other dunes in the park are the Eureka Dunes, Saline Valley Dunes, Panamint Dunes and Ibex Dunes.
There are no paved trails on Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, due to the constantly shifting sands, so you can make your own path and explore to your heart’s content. People take sleds (or anything to slide on) and slide down the sides of the dunes, too.
If you want a photo of clean dunes without any footprints, sunrise is the best time to visit. Not only will you get the perfect light just before sunrise, but you’ll be one of the first few visitors. And getting that perfect clear shot will be much easier.
Distance from Furnace Creed Visitor Center: 83 miles, 3hrs+ each way by car
Racetrack Playa (“playa” here refers to a dry lake bed) is eerie and amazing — but don’t even think about it unless you have a high-clearance 4×4 with appropriate off-roading tyres. Tourists often get flat tyres out there and are stranded with no cellphone coverage.
That said, if you have the right vehicle, Racetrack Playa has amazing views and a very eery story!
Racetrack Playa is one of the most remote locations in Death Valley. It’s not actually that far — but there’s a mountain range in the middle that you have to drive around. If you’re planning an outing, go there around a visit to the Mesquite Sand Dunes and Ubehebe Crater, where the trail begins.
Once you’re there, you have a long 27-mile (43km) one-lane gravel road, with many large rocks in the middle of the road, washboard-style bumps, and some traffic coming the other way.
What makes the Playa famous and eerie are the mysterious “sailing rocks”. There are large boulders around the park that move when nobody is watching, leaving trails behind them.
The conditions that cause the rocks to move are fascinating — a thin layer of water/ice and strong winds. It was a mystery for decades until one research team got lucky. Read more on the NPS website.
Racetrack Playa is a photographer’s bucket list destination. But please be a responsible tourist — don’t leave footprints, tyre tracks etc. on a dry bed that gets only a few inches of rain a year. And don’t move the rocks (it happens!)
Devil’s Golf Course
Distance from Furnace Creek Visitor Center: 10 miles, 20 mins by car. Do this on the way to Badwater. Dirt road closed in wet weather. Not the actual golf course that’s in Furnace Creek.
Devil’s Golf Course is an otherworldly barren landscape (a common description of Death Valley attractions!) made up of large, jagged salt formations. The salt was left behind by a 30 ft (9.1m)-deep lake that evaporated around 2,000 years ago. The salt beds extend more than 1,000 feet (300 m) deep everywhere, and in places up to 9,000 feet (2,700 m)!
At the signs, turn off the main road, and drive up the 1.3-mile (2km) dirt road. You don’t need a 4×4, most cars are fine. Park your car and walk over the barren landscape — but be careful and wear shoes, not sandals, as the jagged salt pieces are sharp. And don’t fall on them!
If it’s quiet, you can hear the faint sound of salt crystals cracking as they form and expand in the heat.
Devil’s Golf Course gets its name from an NPS guide book that likened the holes between the rocks to golf holes, facetiously claiming that “only the devil could play golf” on its surface. The name stuck.
Distance from Furnace Creek Visitor Center: 56.2 miles; 1hr 10 min by car. Consider doing this together with Racetrack Playa.
Ubehebe Crater is a massive 600 foot-deep, half-mile-wide volcanic crater that’s about an hour north of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. It’s a bit further away than the other attractions in Death Valley, but worth the drive.
The drive as you enter Ubehebe Crater territory is interesting in itself. The landscape shifts suddenly from usual desert roads and the hills transform into dark black gravel and sand.
The parking lot is just adjacent to the crater, so as soon as you step out of the car you can peer directly inside.
There are two trails around Ubehebe Crater from the parking lot.
- Center trail: There is a small trail leading directly into the center of the crater. The walk down is easy, but the walk up is much more difficult due to the steepness and the loose sand.
- Perimeter trail: You can also walk around the edge of Ubehebe Crater. The length of this hike is 1.5 miles. A smaller crater called Little Hebe can be reached from this hike.
Either way (or even if you stay in the lot area), Ubehebe is pretty cool.
Artists Palette and Artists Drive
Distance from Furnace Creek Visitor Center: 14.6 miles; 25 min by car
Note: Vehicles longer than 25 feet aren’t allowed on the drive. It’s a short road, so consider doing it on a bicycle!
Artists Palette is a very unique attraction of Death Valley. You leave behind the bleakness of the black rock from volcano craters and expanses of sand at the sand dunes, and greet a diverse range of colours left from volcanic rock deposits.
Artist’s Palette is just past Zabriskie Point if you’re coming from the Visitor Center, so it’s a good thing to do both sites in one trip.
The vibrant colours are formed by the oxidation of different metals into the rock. The colours are most visible from certain angles (and early or late in the day), so walk around until you get a good view. You can also stay in the parking lot and still see a lot.
Artist’s Drive is a short road through the area containing Artist’s Palette. It’s a slow road with many views, including over the Palette’s rocks and Badwater below. Don’t worry if a slow car is ahead of you — it’s only nine miles (or fifteen kilometers) long.
Father Crowley Overlook
Distance from Furnace Creek Visitor Center:63 miles; 1 hr 14 min by car
Father Crowley Overlook has a panoramic view that gives you a unique sense of just how vast Death Valley is.
But aside from views, the Overlook is best known for being an awesome vantage point to see US fighter pilots flying through a Star Wars-like canyon!
We, unfortunately, didn’t see it, but if you’re patient, you’ll see fighter pilots barrelling through doing drills. There is a fly-through nearly every day but it’s almost impossible to know when unless equipped with a radio tuned to the local base, and very patient — like, ready to wait hours.
Apart from that, Father Crowley Overlook has expansive views over Panamint Valley and the mountain range in the background and is worth a stop-off on a drive through Death Valley.
There’s a small and easy dirt trail east of the parking lot for a better view of the valley.