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I wasn’t expecting much when it came to Death Valley National Park. Given its name, I assumed it was basically a bit of wasteland with not much going for it. So it came as a bit of a surprise when we visited during our three-month cross USA road trip and discovered it was absolutely stunning.
Despite being one of the hottest places in America, it poured with rain, hail and we were treated to an almighty thunderstorm during our night in Death Valley. Just as well there were some spaces at one of the Death Valley campsites so we could hunker down for the evening and try and avoid getting struck by lightning! If you’re planning a trip to Death Valley National Park (and you absolutely should!), then here are some of the best things to see in Death Valley, California. Oh, and be sure to check out this guide to Death Valley National Park and these awesome Death Valley hikes!
Where is Death Valley National Park?
Death Valley National Park is in eastern California and is just west of the Nevada – California State border. It’s 123 miles from Las Vegas to Death Valley (2 hours), and roughly 3.5 hours drive away from Los Angeles.
If you’re driving to Death Valley National Park and need to rent a car, definitely check out RentalCars.com. They make it super easy to compare rental prices so that you can be sure you’re getting a good deal!
Death Valley National Park map
[Click the link to see an enlarged Death Valley map]. Here’s a map of Death Valley National Park that shows the roads and main sites some of which are mentioned below or in other posts.
Entrance fees to Death Valley
The Death Valley entrance fees are $30 per car, this lasts for 7 consecutive days.
If you’re entering by foot, bike then the entrance fee is $15 per person.
If you’re visiting a few US National Parks over the course of a year then you’ll be better off buying the “America is Beautiful National Parks Pass” from REI for $80.
You can also buy a pass from the Death Valley Visitor Centre.
Where to stay near Death Valley National Park
There is some limited accommodation within Death Valley National Park but you’ll get more options for lodging at Death Valley if you’re willing to sleep over the state line in Nevada. Here are some of the top options for accommodation in Death Valley and it’s surroundings.
Hotels near Death Valley National Park
- The Inn at Death Valley – the best Death Valley lodging inside the park
- Shoshone Inn
- Best Western Pahrump Oasis
Death Valley Camping
It’s unusual for all the Death Valley campgrounds to fill up but if you’re hoping to stay at Furnace Creek campground you may want to reserve prior to your visit. All other campgrounds are first come, first served.
- Furnace Creek: Reservations required from October 15 – April 15. Costs $22 per night, $36 per night for electric hookup
- Sunset: Open October 15 – May 2, costs $14 per night
- Texas Springs: Open October 15 – April 24th, costs $16 per night
- Stovepipe Wells: Open October to May 10th and costs $14 per night
- Emigrant (tents only): Open all year round with no reservations needed and is free
- Wildrose (where we stayed): Free, open all year
RV resorts & campsites near Death Valley
Death Valley tours
Prefer to travel as a tour or are you short on time? Check out these tours to Death Valley tours from Las Vegas:
- Death Valley Trekker Tour: Pick up and drop off from Las Vegas. See Furnace Creek, Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater, Zabriskie Point, and more.
- Death Valley day trip from Las Vegas: Tour in a small group with lunch and pick up/drop off from Las Vegas
What to see in Death Valley National Park
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Right in the middle of Death Valley, there’s a desert complete with sand dunes! You’re free to walk in amongst and over the sand dunes but, again, don’t forget your water as you’ll most definitely need it.
Visit Dante’s View
I think this should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Death Valley. It was easily one of my favourites from our visit.
Since we entered Death Valley National Park from the east, one of the first things we came to was Dante’s View. The drive up there is quite far from the main road which cuts through the National Park but the view is so worth it!
If you have a trailer you’ll have to leave it in one of the car parks as the drive is very, very steep up to the top.
From here you get a fantastic view of Death Valley National Park and Badwater Basin in Death Valley. We arrived just as the sun was starting to peek through the clouds and the rays came through – highly recommended.
Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette, Death Valley
Taking Artist’s Drive to Artists Palette is very scenic and you won’t believe the colours in the rocks. It’s no wonder this is one of the top Death Valley attractions; it’s just like an artist has come along and started to mix his colours up right there on the rocks!
The 9-mile road is one-way and is only drivable with vehicles less than 25 feet in total length. If you have a trailer you’ll have to leave it at the bottom of the road.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon
Winding through otherworldly badlands, the Twenty Mule Team Canyon is a 2.7 mile, one-way loop drive. It’s unpaved but generally drivable without a four-wheel drive assuming it hasn’t rained recently.
See Zabriskie Point
The colours of the rocks at Zabriskie Point are amazing, I really didn’t expect it! It’s particularly good at sunset that’s for sure and it’s one of my must sees in Death Valley. Be sure to stop here as you’re driving through Death Valley National Park and get out your car – you won’t regret it!
Gaze at Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation in the US. It’s actually 282ft below sea level and it gets extremely hot down there. You should probably try and avoid Badwater, Death Valley at midday, but definitely take a drive over, or get out and have a quick walk in the morning or evening. It’s a pretty cool place to see.
Devil’s Golf Course
This is such a weird rock formation but it’s one of the most interesting places to visit in Death Valley thanks to that.
This huge area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires. Apparently, if you listen carefully you’ll hear sounds like tiny pops and pings. It’s the sound of billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat.
If you’re a fan of arches then don’t miss this natural bridge in Death Valley National Park. It’s just a short walk from somewhere you can park your car and it’s a pretty cool spot.
There are a few spaces here where you can camp for free; even in a car or a tent. We pulled up in the evening and the places were all taken but we managed to squeeze in next to a car camper and settled in for the night.
We didn’t fancy trying to drive any further what with all the lightning and rain – it was the biggest storm we had during our entire trip – I hadn’t expected it to happen in Death Valley National Park!
Go for a hike!
If you’re still wondering what to do in Death Valley then put on those hiking boots and go exploring. This post covers some of the best hikes in Death Valley as well as a few important things you should know before you go hiking in this massive area!
Death Valley wildflowers
Every now and again Death Valley National Park becomes full of life when the wildflowers go into bloom. Whilst Death Valley didn’t get enough rain in the 2018/2019 season, you can find out whether blooms are expected in coming years here.
True you’ll only see a desert full of gold, pink, purple and white flowers when there have been the perfect conditions for a Death Valley bloom, but even when there isn’t much rain you can still find pockets of Death Valley flowers.
Discover Borax Mine in Death Valley
The Harmony Borax Works was the central feature in the opening of Death Valley and played an important role in Death Valley history. The plant began processing ore around 1883-1884 and produced three tonnes daily before going out of operation in 188. It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since December 31st 1974, and can be visited during your trip to Death Valley.
Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley
*Currently closed due to flood damage – expected to reopen in 2020*
Yes, there’s an actual castle in Death Valley National Park! Also known as the Death Valley Ranch, Scotty’s Castle is a window into the life and times of the Roaring ’20s and Depression ’30s. This castle was an engineer’s dream home, a wealthy matron’s vacation home and a man of mystery’s hideout and getaway. When it’s open you can take walking tours to learn more about the history and people who’ve lived here.
More USA National Parks posts
- A guide to visiting Death Valley
- Best Death Valley hikes
- Guide to visiting Zion
- Canyonlands National Park guide
- Visiting Bryce Canyon
- A guide to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim