Before I traveled to Death Valley, California, I was skeptical about the place. “What is there to see besides a bunch of rocks?,” I wondered. But it turns out that Death Valley National Park actually offers a lot of scenic places to see!
Fun Death Valley activities include visiting dry salt beds, brilliantly-colored rock and mineral formations, and even – if you can believe it – snow. You can hike to Telescope Peak, go camping, and drive past some cool-looking natural features.
If you’re heading to Death Valley National Park, consider checking out these five points of interest!
Death Valley Activities: Eight Things To Do in Death Valley National Park
1 Badwater Basin
Every visitor to Death Valley stops by Badwater Basin, the must-see spot that makes the park famous. At 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest elevation in North America. The temperature rises to well over 100 degrees here during the summer, but it’s not as dry as you’d think.
There’s a small pond here called the Badwater Pool. The water is much saltier than the ocean, and only a few small marine organisms can survive in it.
Visitors are encouraged to walk out on the basin, but during the summer months when the temperature routinely reaches 120 degrees, you should take care not to walk too far from your vehicle and to have plenty of water on hand. Keep yourself hydrated!
2 Telescope Peak
I never expected that I could stand in Badwater Basin in May with the temperature at 107 degrees and look over and see snow on a nearby mountain, but that’s one of the surprises Death Valley offers. Telescope Peak in the Panamint Mountains has an elevation of 11,049 feet.
One of the most adventurous Death Valley activities is hiking to Telescope Peak. If your vehicle is up for it, you can drive along a gravel road to the trailhead at 8,000 feet, then hike seven miles to the peak.
The round-trip is a strenuous, seven- to nine-hour trek. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep during your journey! Go during summer, or you’ll need an ice axe, crampons and other professional climbing gear.
3 Drive Artist’s Palette
Artist’s Palette is a section of the Black Mountains where the rock is colored brilliant shades of green, orange and purple. The colors emerge due to weathering and the oxidation of various metals in the area. It’s one of the coolest places to see in the park.
You can see this section of Death Valley by following a nine-mile one-way road through the edge of the mountains. Feel free to pull over and hike into the hills to see even more magnificent colors hidden from the view of the road.
4 Visit Dante’s View
For a wonderful view of Badwater Basin and the surrounding mountains, head to Dante’s View in the Black Mountains. The viewpoint more than 5,000 feet above the basin provides some of the best views in Death Valley.
It really brings home the scope of Death Valley when you’re looking down into the massive valley while viewing the mountains off in the distance. Such an impressive sight!
5 Mesquite Sand Dunes
The Mesquite Sand Dunes were formed by years of wind blowing sand into an area nearly surrounded by mountains. The highest dune stands about 100 feet tall and serves as one of Death Valley’s top points of interest.
Hike through the dunes or take photographs and enjoy the scenery. Sunset is said to be the best time to take photos. Just watch for the sidewinder rattlesnakes in the area.
Several Hollywood movies filmed scenes here, including multiple Star Wars films, so fans of that series should consider checking out the dunes.
6 Stay in a campground under the wide-open sky
Death Valley National Park has some primitive campgrounds. Because of the extreme heat, many are not staffed during the summer, but you’re still welcome to pull in and set up camp.
During my visit in May I grabbed a spot at the Furnace Creek campground. I thought I might be the only crazy person camping there since it was already summer, but at least a dozen other travelers had the same idea.
Sleeping under the stars while coyotes howled throughout the night was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Death Valley. There’s virtually no light pollution in this part of the desert, so it’s a very cool experience to watch the stars all night long.
7 Hike to Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge is a rock formation that was evidently formed thousands of years ago by rushing water. Visiting this spot is one of the coolest Death Valley activities you can do. And you can grab some awesome pics here! The round-trip hike is only about one mile, or 45 minutes total.
That’s about as long as you want to be hiking in the heat of Death Valley anyway. Bring lots of water, and hike during early morning if at all possible. The heat here is no joke!
There are actually lots of good hiking trails in Death Valley, but don’t consider using them unless you’re an experienced hiker. Visitors are strongly encouraged to plan hikes during the cooler winter months rather than during the blazing heat of summer.
8 Drive to Charcoal Kilns
The Charcoal Kilns are ten beehive-shaped structures created in 1877 by a mining company to store fuel. They were only used for about 20 years and then abandoned, and they are still in great shape today.
Visiting them requires a bit of a detour, as they’re 90 minutes from the main visitor center. Located in Wildrose Canyon, the kilns sit at an elevation of 5000 feet, so they’ll give you an opportunity to explore a different side of Death Valley. This area of the park sees far fewer visitors than the main tourist spots.
Death Valley Points of Interest: Additional Tips and Map of Attractions
Check out Death Valley’s official website for more ideas on things to see and do. Be sure to stop by the Furnace Creek Visitors Center when you arrive to inquire about points of interest or any other questions you may have about Death Valley activities.
Here’s a link to the Death Valley visitor guides and map of attractions as of 2020, courtesy of the National Parks Service.
Keep in mind that a January or February Death valley visit is very different than a visit during July or August. So be aware of the weather and come prepared with plenty of water and the appropriate type of clothing for the season.
And don’t forget to visit the cool ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada, located not far from Death Valley’s eastern border! It’s one of the most interesting ghost towns in America.