Death Valley National ParkExtreme heat, ghost towns, and starry nights.
Explore Death Valley National Park's unique salt flats, sand dunes, and star-filled night skies in the Mojave Desert.
Death Valley National Park, located in the Mojave Desert of the United States, holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth. With towering sand dunes, unique salt flats, and Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, it presents a landscape of extremes. It's also home to the historic Furnace Creek Ranch, and a night sky designated as a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, making it a prime destination for stargazers.
Geographical Features and Landscapes
Death Valley National Park offers a varied terrain that draws visitors from around the world. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells provide a classic desert dune experience and are easily accessible. Another noteworthy geographical feature is the salt flats at Badwater Basin. Standing 282 feet below sea level, the basin offers a surreal landscape where salt crystals expand as far as the eye can see. For a stark contrast, the colorful volcanic and sedimentary hills of Artist's Palette showcase vibrant hues best viewed in the late afternoon light.
Climate and When to Visit
The park is known for extreme temperatures, especially during the summer months when the mercury can soar above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The most comfortable time to visit is from November to March when the weather is cooler and more conducive to exploring the park's vastness. Always carry plenty of water regardless of the season, and be prepared for the desert climate with sun protection and appropriate clothing.
Hiking and Outdoor Activities
For outdoor enthusiasts, there are numerous hiking trails ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks. Golden Canyon offers a moderate hike with rewarding views, especially at sunset. The Telescope Peak Trail presents a strenuous hike to the highest point in the park, where on a clear day, hikers are rewarded with panoramic views stretching to Mount Whitney. For a unique experience, take a guided tour of the volcanic Ubehebe Crater, learning about its explosive past and geological significance.
Wildlife and Plant Life
Despite its harsh environment, Death Valley hosts an array of wildlife and resilient plant species. Desert bighorn sheep are among the most exciting animals to spot, often found in the mountainous areas. Springtime visitors might experience a super bloom, where wildflowers transform large areas of the desert into carpets of color, a spectacle that depends on rainfall patterns.
Death Valley's history is colored by its mining past. The park contains remnants of old mines and ghost towns, with the best-preserved example being the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek. Here, you can learn about the 20-mule teams that transported borax across the desert and helped build Death Valley’s mining legacy.
The park’s status as a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park means that on clear nights, the sky is awash with stars, planets, and other celestial bodies. The Harmony Borax Works area is not only historically significant but also one of the favored spots for night-sky viewing due to its accessible location and dark surroundings.
Visitor Centers and Educational Exhibits
Death Valley National Park features informative visitor centers that provide educational exhibits about the region's natural and cultural history. The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is a good starting point for new arrivals to get oriented, pick up maps, check on current conditions, and learn about the park through its exhibits.
Photography Spots and Scenic Viewpoints
Photographers will find countless opportunities to capture stunning images. Zabriskie Point offers one of the most famous vistas in the park, especially at sunrise when the light plays across the badlands topography. Dante's View provides another breathtaking vantage point, overlooking the valley from over 5,000 feet elevation.
Safety Tips and Preparation
Due to Death Valley’s harsh environment, safety cannot be overstated. Check in at visitor centers for current information on weather and trail conditions. GPS systems are unreliable here; therefore, physical maps should be carried at all times. Cell service is limited or non-existent in many areas of the park. Always inform someone of your travel plans when venturing into remote locations.
Accommodations Within and Near the Park
There are several lodging options inside Death Valley National Park, including The Inn at Death Valley and The Ranch at Death Valley in Furnace Creek, which offer different levels of comfort and services. Camping is also available at various sites throughout the park, such as Furnace Creek Campground which provides easy access to central attractions.
Accessibility and Transportation
The vastness of Death Valley National Park often requires a personal vehicle to get around effectively. Main sites like Badwater Basin and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are connected via paved roads that are generally accessible to all vehicles. However, some attractions are only reachable by high-clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicles due to rough road conditions.