Don’t let the foreboding name fool you: Death Valley isn’t a barren hellscape populated exclusively by tumbleweeds. It’s a place where golden sand dunes shift in the wind, sparkling salt flats stretch for miles and 11,000-foot mountains soar over undulating badlands. Death Valley National Park may be the hottest place on earth (the area recorded a high of 134 degrees in 1913 and routinely sees temperatures about 120 in the summer), but a visit during the fall, winter or spring can actually be quite pleasant.
Located just 120 miles away from Las Vegas, the dramatic desert landscape feels worlds away from the Strip. If you’re willing to make the two-hour trek, here are eight things to add to your itinerary.
Google “Death Valley” and the first thing you’ll see are pictures of Zabriskie Point. Perhaps the most photographed spot in the park, this iconic viewpoint is an incredible place to see the sunrise. The shadows on the badlands, the alpenglow on the Panamint Mountains and the distinctive shape of the Manly Beacon spire make this site worth the hype.
Another incredible vista is Dante’s View. Located at the top of a winding, narrow road, this lookout puts you 5,476 feet above the valley floor. Here, you can enjoy sweeping panoramas of the otherworldly salt flats and towering mountains in the distance.
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the North America. It’s also the best place to experience the seemingly endless white salt flats that make Death Valley so strange and beautiful. Grab some water, take a stroll on the salt flats and you’ll appreciate the enormity of the valley.
Devil’s Golf Course
Admittedly, Death Valley can get a little carried away with all of the macabre names. One such example is the Devil’s Golf Course. You won’t find Satan playing a round here, but you will find odd salt formations that make a popping sound as they expand and contract on hot days.
This one-way route off Badwater Road allows you to take a driving tour of the colorful features of the Black Mountains. Be sure to stop at Artist’s Palette, where the green, pink and rust-colored rocks are most vibrant.
Fish in the desert? You’re not seeing a mirage; you’re seeing the pupfish that populate the shallow stream of Salt Creek. The endangered Salt Creek pupfish only live in Death Valley, and can be seen best in the springtime.
Mesquite Sand Dunes
There are multiple sand dunes in Death Valley – some accessible by foot, others by rough backcountry road – but the easiest to see are the Mesquite Sand Dunes. These dunes rise to about 100 feet from the side of Highway 190. Take off your shoes and hike around on the soft, warm sand.
Hikers won’t find much in terms of official trails in Death Valley, so if you’re planning a hike in this largely trail-less park, do your research (and stop by the visitor center) first. If you are looking for a trail, one of best options for day-trippers is Golden Canyon. True to its name, this hike takes you on a tour of golden walls plus red rock formations and badlands. You can do a quick three-mile out and back hike, a 4.3 mile loop that includes Gower Gulch or hike all the way to Zabriskie Point.