Courtesy of Travel California
Experience the famous extremes of Death Valley National Park, home to the lowest point in North America
Death Valley National Park is all about extremes. Famous for the highest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the world (a sizzling 134 degrees in July 1936) and as the driest spot in North America, from autumn into spring Death Valley is an inviting to explore.
Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in America, with summer temperatures peaking above 120 F°/49°C, and average rainfall of 2 inches/5 cm per year. Also extreme are the park’s elevations: Badwater Basin, the park’s lowest spot, rests at 282 feet/86 metres below sea level while Telescope Peak soars to 11,049 feet/3,368 metres. So go high, or go very, very low; get hot, or chill out with amazing desert vistas. Death Valley delivers on every end of the scale.
The largest national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley is an almost unfathomable place. The park’s 3.3 million acres /1.34 million hectares encompass mountain-size sand dunes, below-sea-level salt flats, mysterious singing rocks, and colorful sandstone canyons.
Catch Sunrise at Zabriskie Point
Wake up early and watch the badlands glow gold as the first light of day reaches Zabriskie Point. The morning sun also paints the Panamint Range across the valley with gorgeous pinks and purples.
Learn About the Park at Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Get some expert advice from rangers on how to explore this vast desert park—the largest national park in the Lower 48—at Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Check out exhibits on geology and Native American life in the area, and for a great introduction to Death Valley, catch the 20-minute orientation film.
Take a Drive Down Badwater Road
While everyone wants to see the salt flats and pools at Badwater, North America’s lowest elevation, take some detours as you drive south from Furnace Creek. A three-mile round-trip hike leads through serpentine, flood-carved Golden Canyon and to dramatic Red Cathedral. Or take a one-mile round-trip hike to Natural Bridge, a dramatic rock formation that spans a wash. And an unpaved road leads to Devil’s Golf Course, a jagged expanse of eroded rock salt. (Note that hiking is not advised during summer months.)
Discover a Rainbow of Rocks on Artist’s Drive
Late afternoon is the time to experience Artist’s Drive, a nine-mile, one-way road that leads through some of Death Valley’s most vibrantly hued sedimentary and volcanic formations. The highlight is Artist’s Palette, where the rock is improbably colored with gorgeous yellows, pinks, and greens.
See a Spring Bloom of Wildflowers
In recent years, the rare phenomenon of a “super bloom” has swept across California’s deserts, and Death Valley was home to some of the most spectacular displays. Super bloom or not, the spring season is still the perfect time to spot rare wildflowers in the park. Read our guide on the best way to see Death Valley’s colorful plants.
Head Into the High Country at Dante’s View
Despite its hellish name, the panorama from this overlook at 5,475 feet in the Black Mountains is positively heavenly. Hike along the trails for different perspectives on Death Valley more than a mile below you.
Look for Wildlife in the Mesquite Flat Dunes
Dawn is the time to explore this sea of shifting sands off State Highway 190. Accenting the contours and ripples in the dunes, the early morning light is especially beautiful. You also might spot such creatures as coyotes, desert kit foxes, and kangaroo rats. And keep your eyes open for tracks across the dunes—the soft sands provide a record of animal activity during the night.
Walk Along the Rim of a Volcano
Gaze down into the gaping, 600-foot-deep abyss of Ubehebe Crater as you hike along a 1.5-mile trail that follows the rim. As you trek along the edge, you’ll get spectacular views over a remote section of the park, including smaller craters.