Death Valley is our favorite of the 9 National Parks in California. Ghost towns and abandoned mills abound throughout its 3.4-million acres, including Leadfield on the one-way dirt road through Titus Canyon. Most of the attractions are found in and around the historic Furnace Creek Inn: watch sunrise at Zabriskie Point or sunset at 5,475-foot Dantes View; hike through gorgeous Golden Canyon or under Natural Bridge; drive to the ironic Devils Golf Course or the colorful Artists Drive; and walk into Badwater Basin, which at -282 feet below-sea-level is the lowest point in North America, even more impressive since it sits directly beneath 11,049-foot Telescope Peak.
Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon Trail, Devils Golf Course, Artists Drive, Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, Titus Canyon, Telescope Peak, sand dunes
Death Valley averages less than 2 inches of precipitation annually, yet less than 10,000 years ago Badwater Basin was the bottom of a massive inland lake, the remnants of which be found along Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. Here tiny desert pupfish survive in the salty, hot water. The related and endangered Devils Hole pupfish can be seen at a disconnected part of Death Valley National Park surrounded by Nevada’s Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
There are great trails throughout this park, but we prefer walking wherever we want on the many sand dunes. The best are the Panamint Dunes; tucked on a mountain slope they require a three mile hike to reach. That means when you drop your sleeping bag on top you will likely have the place to yourself. More centrally located are the popular Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. In the northern section of the park the steep Eureka Dunes have a free primitive campground at their base.
A dry, flat lakebed in the northwestern corner of the park provides a racetrack for rocks of all shapes and sizes. High winds and ice crystals are the key to their movement, which is clearly shown in their wake. Do not let the 26 mile dirt road stop you from visiting this spectacular site. It is passable by most vehicles when the road is dry (we drove our mini-van there)and when the Racetrack is wet you should refrain from walking on it anyway.
Spring and fall, with summer’s being incredibly hot except at the highest elevations. However, it can snow just about any month of the year.
$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass
The main roads are paved, but to really enjoy the park you should drive a high-clearance vehicle (rental 4x4s are available near Furnace Creek). As of December 2018, Scotty’s Castle is still inaccessible due to flood damage on the road.
There are campgrounds, but a unique aspect of this National Park is that you can disperse camp for free along many of its dirt roads. Backcountry camping is also free and does not require a permit.
Explore More – What is the connection between Death Valley, 20 Mule Team Borax, and Stephen Mather (who in 1916 became the first Director of the National Park Service)?