I am so excited to share with you guys about Death Valley, and truly don’t know why it took me so long to finally visit. We were only here for 24 hours, but even so, this strange destination left such an impact on me. Few places have made me feel more like I’m on another planet than this jaw-dropping landscape.
This desert national park located on the border of California and Nevada is truly otherworldly, has become one of my favorite road trips to take from Southern California. The harsh climate and fascinating history from the Native American inhabitants to the craze of the Gold Rush and mining colonies make this land lost in time a fascinating place, and exploring the scattered ghost towns or ruins will cause you to feel like you’re in the Wild West.
Some things to keep in mind when you’re planning your trip to Death Valley:
CHECK THE WEATHER
As you may already know, Death Valley is one of the hottest places on earth (in 1913, a record high world temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded!). We went during January, which made the usually scorching destination brisk and chilly. I would highly recommend going between November and March to give yourself a cushion of comfortable temperatures, but if you do go during the hot summer months (please don’t do this), make sure to pack lots of water and sunscreen:
THE PARK IS GIANT
At 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the fifth largest national park in the country—and the other four are all in Alaska, so it’s the largest within the contiguous USA!
With a size like this, you definitely want to plan out where you’re going ahead of time. For example, driving from Ubehebe Crater to Badwater Basin could take you up to two hours. While my husband and I would have LOVED to see Ubehebe Crater, Charcoal Kilns and Racetrack Playa, we simply did not have enough time since we only spent a day in Death Valley. But we can’t wait to see these places our next trip!
GOING OFF THE GRID
You MIGHT get cell reception in certain patches of Death Valley…perhaps by one of the hotels or at some random points on Artist’s Drive. But mostly, you’re going to be reading “No Service” where bars should be on your phone. So download some offline maps, get your music ready and enjoy the ride with your travel buddies!
WHAT TO SEE
There is no shortage of incredible sights in Death Valley. But here are some of my favorites:
1. ZABRISKIE POINT
WHAT: One of the most notable stops in Death Valley, and also one of the easiest to get to. The adjacent parking lot has a decent amount of space, and a ramp up to the viewpoint makes it easy for anyone to stop by and take in the breathtaking view.
WHERE: 36.4201° N, 116.8122° W
WHEN: We didn’t make it for sunrise, but I’ve heard that sunrise here is the most spectacular thing to behold. I’ve also heard though that if this is a goal for you, you’ll need to stake your claim on a spot about an hour before. We stopped by Zabriskie Point twice—once around 8:30am when the lighting was harsher, and once just before sunset. I enjoyed the softer tones of the before-sunset glow, but I think no matter what time of day you visit here, you’ll love the result!
Fun Fact: the black tips of the mountains are actually hardened lava!
2. ARTIST’S DRVE & ARTIST’S PALETTE
WHAT: Take a drive down this 9-mile stretch and marvel at the unique formations and vibrant sediments. I was pleasantly surprised to find such colorful rocks, as I thought I had to go all the way to Peru to see these. The colors aren’t orderly—they’re splashes here and there, like a messy canvas or chalk box—and it’s a fun place to see, befitting of the title “Artist’s Palette.”
WHERE: 36.32995, -116.82995
WHEN: We visited mid-afternoon, which was a lovely time for lighting but a somewhat crowded time to go. No matter—we patiently waited or turn to take photos!
Fun Fact: The colors are caused by different metals in the rocks oxidizing—like iron (red/pink/yellow), mica (green) and manganese (purple)!
3. BADWATER BASIN
WHAT: In my opinion, this is the coolest photo spot in Death Valley. This weirdly wonderful place is -282 feet below sea level, which makes it the lowest point in North America. These salt flats are 5 miles long, and are a sight to behold.
WHERE: 36.2461° N, 116.8185° W
WHEN: The parking lot gets very crowded, but there’s no getting around this. Because it’s at a low point in a valley, you will need to go midday if you want to get any shots in harsh lighting. But if you’re content with softly lit portraits against snow-white ground, get here a couple hours before sunset.
Fun Fact: The polygonal shape comes from mud beneath the foundation drying out and causing the surface to form cracks!
4. DANTE’S VIEW
WHAT: Dante’s View boasts a panoramic perspective of the Death Valley’s southern basin.
WHERE: 36.2211° N, 116.7256° W
WHEN: We came here to watch the sunset, which was a lovely thing to behold as the sun disappeared behind the Panamint Range. It was very cold and windy for us in January, so if you’re visiting in the winter months, bring a jacket!
Fun Fact: Dante’s View was used as a filming location for the 1977 film STAR WARS, when the characters are looking over Tatooine’s spaceport!
WHERE TO STAY
Lodging is limited in Death Valley. There are a few campgrounds (Furnace Creek, Mesquite Spring and Wildrose) and a few hotels (The Oasis, Stovepipe Wells Village and Panamint Springs). We chose to stay at The Inn at the Oasis, and absolutely loved our experience! It is a bit of a splurge, but we felt that it was so worthwhile to have a comfortable, clean and relaxing home base. Their lobby area is filled with old western charm and board games to pull out, and their pool is fed by a local spring and has no chlorine!
WHAT TO EAT
Sooooo, let’s be honest. You’re not going to Death Valley for the food. I would highly recommend bringing snacks or food with you when you visit Death Valley, as there will certainly be long stretches of time without food nearby. However, there are certainly a few options (and I certainly don’t have photos of them!):
THE INN DINING ROOM
for a luxurious dinner experience with a lovely view of the Panamint Mountains, try The Inn’s Dining Room at The Oasis. We enjoyed a lovely, romantic dinner here and were pleased with the menu items, service (truly might’ve been the best-timed service we’ve ever had) and their ability to accommodate allergy requests. Yes, it’ll be pricy—but for food in the area, it’s the best date night option you’ll get.
19TH HOLE AT THE FURNACE CREEK GOLF COURSE
We had a perfectly fine (but not amazing) lunch at the 19th Hole. It definitely is a fun spot to visit, especially as the golf course here has the lowest altitude of any in the world. The relaxed open-air dining area was perfect for us in the mild January weather, but understandably, the restaurant is closed during the scorching summer months between May and October.