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  • Writer's pictureBasecamp Outdoor Gear Team

Favorite things to do in and around Death Valley

The lowest place in the entire western hemisphere lies less than 2 hours away from Las Vegas. It's absolutely worth a drive out there any time of year! And then stay a bit longer to take in the rest of the surrounding scenery. What is there to visit in Death Valley? Here is a list of our favorite things to do and see in and around Death Valley National Park. For more detail, download our free DetourOn Roadbook.

Wondering where to stay? Check out this list of places to camp in the park. Before heading out there, read these tips for a safe and enjoyable visit to Death Valley National Park.

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A wooden sign for Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin - Lowest place in the Americas

Best scenic drives in Death Valley

Although there are many scenic drives in and around Death Valley, the following are our favorites. They are beautiful in any season and at any time of day. As with all roads in Death Valley, check conditions here before heading out.

Note that these drives are all narrow one-way roads with tight curves and steep inclines. They are not suitable for long-berth vehicles.

Artist Drive

Expect to see traffic on this road. It is, after all, the most popular scenic drive in the park. Despite that, it is an absolute must-do in Death Valley! The 9-mile paved drive winds through multicolored hills with natural hues beyond the imagination.

Artist Drive is very conveniently located off Badwater Rd, between Golden Canyon and Natural Bridge. No doubt you'll be passing it on your way to wherever you go, so you might as well take the 30-minute detour.

hills of colored sand
A small sample of the colors you encounter at Death Valley's Artist Drive

Twenty-Mule Team Canyon

The park website calls Twenty-Mule Team Canyon "a roller-coaster drive," and it is not wrong. A small sign points to it just off highway 190 between the turnoff to Dante's View and Zabriskie Point. This 2.5-mile road winds between, around, and over yellow hills, and offers spectacular scenery. The coolest thing about it is that you cannot see it from the highway, so most people just continue driving unaware of the splendors that lie nearby.

Although it is a dirt road, it is usually well-maintained, which makes it suitable to most vehicles. However, the road might be damaged after rain, so check conditions before setting out.

Titus Canyon

Titus Canyon is so cool! In its 27 miles, you wind through hills and mountains, colorful rock formations, a ghost town, petroglyphs, and a super narrow miles-long canyon!

You'll need a high-clearance vehicle with all-terrain tires for the Titus Canyon Rd. Make sure you have a good spare tire as well. This rough one-way dirt road is full of sharp rocks.

Note that Titus Canyon Rd often closes due to snow, mud, or wash outs. Check road and weather conditions diligently. The canyon is prone to flash flooding, so do not enter if rain is in the forecast.

Approach Titus Canyon from highway 374 (Daylight Pass Road), just a mile southwest of Rhyolite.

dirt road through narrow canyon
Entering the narrows of Death Valley's Titus Canyon

Best viewpoints in Death Valley

In alphabetical order because I can't decide which one I like best. Just see them all!

Badwater Basin

Badwater is the lowest point in North America at 282 ft below sea level. It's also contestably the hottest place in the world. In daylight it isn't the most interesting viewpoint, but it's worth a 5-minute stop. As you walk out on the salt flat, look back at the Black Mountains behind you, take a deep breath, and look for sea level.

An all-time favorite of mine is driving out to Badwater around midnight. Whether it's summer or winter, full moon or new moon, you won't be disappointed! Walk out on the pure white salt field, lit up by the moon and the stars, throw a blanket on the hard ground, sit down, and listen to the silence.

salt flats at night
Badwater Basin in the moonlight

Charcoal Kilns

This is such a cool random place! Who would have thought there would be silver-extracting ovens all the way up here? Funny enough, these kilns were constructed in 1877 and only used for roughly 2 years before being abandoned. Now they are just really well-preserved historic artifacts. You can read more about the Charcoal Kilns of Death Valley here.

Going here just for the Kilns makes a bit of a detour. I recommend combining this with a stay in Wildrose Campground and/or hike to Wildrose Peak.

beehive shaped charcoal kilns
Charcoal Kilns in Death Valley National Park

Dante's View

On a clear day at Dante's View, you can take a picture of the lowest point and the highest point in the contiguous US in one shot. Badwater Basin (-282 ft) is just 5000 ft below Dante's View. Behind it rise the Panamint Mountains. And behind that, in the very far distance, lies Mt Whitney (14,505 ft) in the Sierra Nevada Range. I admit that this makes me go back to Dante's View time and time again. But equally as enticing is the breathtaking view from the vista point, day or night, rain or shine.

view of salt flats with mountains in the background
The View from Dante's View

Furnace Creek

Forget the desert for a second and stop at Furnace Creek to stock up on souvenirs. This is the location of the park's visitor center, so of course it's worth a stop. But Furnace Creek is also a little hopping town in the shade of palm trees with a couple of hotels, restaurants, a post office, a very expensive gas station, and the lowest 18-hole golf course in the world! You're not going to find the best food in the world here, but you will get shade and air conditioning. Needless to say, ice cream sells aplenty here in summertime.

Mesquite Sand Dunes and/or Eureka Dunes

There are only 7 sets of sand dunes in Death Valley, the most impressive of which (in my opinion) are Mesquite and Eureka Dunes. Mesquite Sand Dunes are very easy to get to. You'll find them right off Hwy 190 near Stovepipe Wells. Eureka Dunes are more remote and require a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to get there. Sunsets and sunrises at Eureka Dunes are absolutely divine. If you go all the way there, you might as well stay at the campground at the base of the dunes to experience this magic.

Sand dunes with mountains in the background
Mesquite Sand Dunes

The Racetrack

I mention the Racetrack every chance I get. After you go there, you will too.

The Racetrack is a unique dry lakebed known for its mysterious moving rocks. You won't see the rocks move, but you know they have traveled because they leave tracks behind them. Learn more about this phenomenon here.

Getting to the Racetrack is a long and arduous affair. The dirt road leading to the Racetrack is well-graded washboard but it is full of sharp rocks that are simply unavoidable. You need a high-clearance vehicle with very good all-terrain tires. Check your spare tire and make sure you know how to change it!

Again, I recommend camping out here to break up your drive a bit. Of course, as with almost all destinations in Death Valley, being here at night is just as magical as daylight.

rock with track behind it
Just one of the many moving rocks on the Racetrack at Death Valley

Ubehebe Crater

Don't miss this if you're in the area! Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600 ft deep and 1/2 mile across. There's a short hike around the crater rim, but it's unnecessary. The best view of Ubehebe Crater is just a short walk from the parking lot.

2 people walking along the rim of an extinct volcanic crater
Hiking around Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley

Zabriskie Point

It's right off highway 190 so of course you have to stop here! Unless you've taken the detour to Dante's View, this will be your first view of Death Valley coming from Las Vegas-Pahrump. From the viewpoint, look at hikers meandering through the yellow-tinted badlands down toward the salt flat below. Across the plain marvel at the snow-covered Panamint Mountains.

Zabriskie Point has become so iconic that the park had to enlarge the parking lot and viewpoint! Prepare to make your way through hoards of tour buses and countless other onlookers.

yellow-colored hills
One of the views of the Badlands at Zabriskie Point

Best hikes in Death Valley

In order of easiest and shortest to hardest and longest:

Natural Bridge

Although this is one of the busiest places in Death Valley, it is one of my favorite places to visit in the park. A short 1/2 mile hike leads to the bridge. The trail is wide and easy to follow, but it is relentlessly uphill so you get a good workout. The canyon beyond the bridge continues a short distance where it abruptly ends at a dry waterfall. This is one of the few places in the park where you can find shade any time of day.

The bridge itself is much bigger than you think and the canyon beyond it is fun to explore. Pictures do not do it any justice.

Badlands Loop

This 2.7-mile loop starts at Zabriskie Point and meanders through rolling golden-colored hills, aptly named the Badlands. You'll be hard-pressed to find any vegetation on this hike. A few other trails intersect this loop to create longer hiking opportunities, should you want the extra workout. But in my opinion this shorter loop is the most impressive of them all.

You can hike this trail any time of year, but if you're here in summer, I recommend an early start. Hiking here during sunrise is especially noteworthy. Carry lots of water, put on sunscreen, and wear a hat. There's no shade anywhere on this loop!

rolling hills of golden sand with mountains in the background
The Badlands Loop meanders through these badlands

Mosaic Canyon

If you like narrow canyons and pretty rocks, this hike is a must-do for you! You'll find natural "mosaics" in the walls and outcroppings of this aptly named Mosaic Canyon. Just 1/4 mile up the wash from the parking lot the canyon walls narrow into a beautiful marble-like slot canyon. The hiking becomes a bit more challenging as you use your hands for balance from time to time, making it a fun adventure for the whole family.

At 1.3 miles you'll reach a boulder field blocking the canyon, making it seem like a dead-end. If you're enjoying the adventure, you can keep going by skirting this boulder field on the left. If you're tired, you won't miss much if you turn around here. You've already seen the most beautiful part of the canyon in my opinion.

This hike can be done at any time of year. It offers lots of options for shade. Take lots of water with you in summer.

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls is a small yet very cool year-round waterfall. If you an extra 2 hours to spare on your drive across Death Valley, we highly recommend stopping here. The 1 mile hiking trail to the waterfall is fairly flat but rocky. Start by following the desert wash and notice how it gradually transitions into a high walled canyon.

Inside the canyon, the trail meanders through thick vegetation and crosses the stream a few times. Trail conditions change depending on water level, but it's generally easy to follow. This hike is a great option in summertime as the water cools down the entire canyon, but it's just as spectacular in winter.

Wildrose Peak or Telescope Peak

If you could only choose one, which one would you do? Telescope Peak is the toughest and longest day hike in Death Valley. It climbs to the summit of the highest peak in the park. Wildrose Peak, just an unassuming summit nearby, is a much more enjoyable hike with better views. What are your priorities? A nicer hike or saying you've been to the highest point in the park? You do you.

For reference, Wildrose Peak is 8.4 miles roundtrip and can be done at any time of year, as long as the road is open. There may be some snow on the trail in winter. Telescope Peak is 14 miles roundtrip and can only be hiked in summer.

snow-lined ridge trail
Telescope Peak Trail on a warm June day

Cool destinations outside of Death Valley

Amargosa Opera House

If you can time it right, don't miss a performance at the Amargosa Opera House. It might not be the best recital you'll ever attend, and it might not be your genre, but it will take place in the most unique setting. That alone is worth the drive.

Tecopa Hot Springs

If you like hot springs, take a dip at Tecopa Hot Springs. You've got plenty of choices in this little rundown town. Choose from built up spas to hotel rooms with private tubs to free natural springs. Whatever your hot spring preference, Tecopa will deliver.

Note: If you're not into hot springs, don't bother coming here.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

If you like ghost towns or you're a wild west history nerd, make a detour to Rhyolite.

Note: If you're not into ghost towns, only stop here if you happen to pass through Beatty for something else.

A house made of glass bottles
Rhyolite Bottle House

And the list goes on...

Death Valley is a year-round destination with a lot to offer. Please read these tips for a safe and enjoyable visit to Death Valley National Park before heading out there. Check out this list of places to camp in the park and don't forget to reserve your camping gear rental with us.

Try planning your next trip to Death Valley using DetourOn! There you can edit this template and download your free roadbook. If you'd like more information on any of the destinations mentioned please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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