red cathedral at death valley
California,  National Parks,  RV Travel,  West US

24 Amazing Things To Do at Death Valley: Including the Most Beautiful Can’t Miss Attractions

Travel date April 2021

Despite being named Death Valley, by lost pioneers who feared the inhospitable valley, it is a beautiful place to visit. There are many things to do at Death Valley and we’ve highlighted the most amazing things to do including several beautiful can’t miss attractions.  

The 24 Amazing Things to do at Death Valley listed below are an in-depth look into the simplified half day, full day and multiple day simple itineraries in our Complete Guide to Visit Death Valley.   In addition, our Complete Guide to Death Valley includes key park statistics, lodging options and several fun facts about the park.

Is there anything to do at Death Valley?

Death Valley covers over 3.4 million acres.  There are a variety of activities and things to do in Death Valley for all types of visitors.   Sightseeing is the most popular thing to do at Death Valley.  We have included all of the can’t miss sights below.

With over 1,000 miles of roads in the park, visitors should plan to spend a lot of time driving.  Even with an efficient itinerary, expect to drive at least one hour between the main sections of the park (Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Ubehebe Crater, Panamint Springs).

We share itineraries for half-day, full-day and multiple-day trips in our Complete Death Valley Guide.  

Death Valley is known for its harsh conditions but late autumn to early spring is a great time to visit.  

sunset at mesquite sand dunes

Top Things to do at Death Valley

The first 10 attractions are the can’t miss things to do at Death Valley and the next 14 are bonus sights you can add as time allows.

1. Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek is home to the only visitor center in the park.  The Furnace Creek Visitor Center has some covered parking areas and we saw several families taking advantage of the shade to have a picnic.  

Next door to the visitor center is the Ranch at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek Ranch).  It is a very nice resort area with a café and bar that are open to the public.  The grassy courtyard behind the lobby is a great place to relax with a good book in the shade.    

There are also pay shower and laundry facilities, a post office, and wi-fi in the Furnace Creek area.   Additionally, one of the park’s two gas stations is located at Furnace Creek.

ranch at death valley courtyard

2. Learn More About Death Valley

Always stop at the Visitor Center when at a National Park.  Furnace Creek Visitor Center has educational displays and up-to-date information on closures.   It is a great location to learn some of the history of the park.

Additionally, park rangers are happy to make recommendations for hikes or other activities in the area.  When visiting a national park, it helps me to talk through my plan with a professional who knows the area.   Most times I am overambitious and the rangers politely explain the driving times involved.

3. Borax Museum: History of Mining at Death Valley

To learn more about the history of mining in the area, visit the Borax Museum on the grounds of the Ranch at Death Valley. 

The outdoor museum is free to visit and brochures are available in the gift shop.  The brochures provide details about each item on display.   We enjoyed the wagons and mining tools.

4. Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is located 5 miles (15 minutes drive) from Furnace Creek.  The viewpoint offers great sunrise views over the rippling cream to chocolate-colored rocks. 

Zabriskie Point is a popular sunrise spot.   The paved walkway from the parking area is steep but short.   There are even benches along the path if you need a rest.

Arrive a few minutes before sunrise for parking as the small lot does fill up.

The lookout was busy during our visit but we were able to secure a seat along the wall.   Several other visitors had cameras on tripods.  The sun rising over the mountains gently lit the surrounding rock formations in a full range of pastels.   It was worth waking early and joining the crowds.  Also before sunrise, the temperatures were cool enough for long sleeves. 

sunrise at zabinskie point at death valley

5. Badwater Basin

You cannot visit Death Valley without a trip to the salt flats at Badwater Basin.  It is located 15 miles from Furnace Creek.

 Badwater Basin is the most iconic Death Valley location at 282 feet below sea level. 

To get out past the trampled ground from park visitors requires about one mile of walking from the parking lot.   After a mile, you will reach wide open cracked salt-covered white flats.  Wear sun protection and take your time.  The ground is flat but the cracks can be trip hazards. 

This is my favorite picture from Death Valley.  Not pictured are other visitors around us posing as if they are all alone.

kara at badwater basin in death valley

6. Dante’s View

Dante’s View is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Death Valley and it is a can’t miss location.  It is located 28 miles further south on Highway 190 beyond Zabriskie Point.   

Dante’s View offers sweeping views of the Valley including the salt flats at Badwater Basin.  It is definitely a can’t miss thing to do in Death Valley.

dante's view at death valley

7. Play on the Sand dunes

Mesquite Flats Sand dunes are the easiest to visit in Death Valley.  They are located near Stovepipe Wells.  The parking area is large and can get busy. 

Sandboarding is allowed at Mesquite.  It is a great place to let the kids run out some pent-up energy. 

We watched the sunset over the Mesquite Flats.  It was popular but with 15 minutes of walking, we found a dune top to ourselves.  If you want to reach the tallest dunes, plan to walk at least one mile out. 

Strong winds can create a sandblasting effect on the dunes so long sleeves and sunglasses are a good idea.

Eureka Dunes are a taller and less-visited option in the park if you have more time.

mesquite sand dunes at death valley

8. Devil’s Golf Course

Devil’s Golf course is a quick detour on the way to Badwater Basin.  It is not an actual golf course.   

Devil’s Golf course is a large area of rock salt that has been eroded by water and wind.  The result is serrated jagged spires.  It is said that only the devil could play golf on such a rough surface.

On a warm, quiet day, you can hear the salt crystals expanding and bursting in the heat.  It is a quick stop with limited parking just before Badwater Basin.

devils golf course at death valley

9. Artists Drive and Artists Palette

Artists Palette is an unworldly corner of Death Valley and it is definitely worthy of the 15-mile drive from Furnace Creek.

Weathering of volcanic rock and ash created the green, blue and mauve colors at Artists Palette.   You might recognize it as Tatooine in the Star Wars movies.  This place is so unbelievable that Hollywood used it as a filming location for a galaxy far far away. 

Artists Drive is a scenic one-way 9-mile road.   It is very popular and accessible by all vehicles.  

artists palette at death valley

10. Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater is a massive volcanic crater in Death Valley.  The 600 feet deep and half a mile crater is impressive. 

Ubehebe Crater is located in the northern section of the park and is 56 miles from Furnace Creek.

I wouldn’t recommend visiting unless you have more than one day at Death Valley because the round-trip drive alone will take several hours.

The crater clusters in the area are known as maar volcanoes.  They are created by steam and gas explosions when rising hot magma reaches groundwater.

There are several crater clusters in Death Valley but Ubehebe is the largest.  It is believed to have formed less than 300 years ago. 

ubehebe crater at death valley

Cinder fields cover the area.  The cinder ash is visible along the roadside as you approach the crater parking area.

Visitors can easily view the impressive Ubehebe Crater from the accessible parking area.   However, those looking for a little more adventure have a few options including a 1.5-mile rim walk, an extremely steep path into the crater or a short but steep walk to Little Hebe Crater.

We walked to Little Hebe Crater and the views were majestic.  It is a steep half of a mile path up a gravel path that got our hearts pumping.  Prepare for strong winds and steep drops.

little hebe crater at death valley

11. Twenty Mule Team Canyon

Drive through Twenty Mule Team Canyon while at Death Valley to add to your understanding of the Borax mining.  It is a great educational thing to do at Death Valley if traveling with children.  We enjoyed the information provided about Borax mining by our GPS-based app, Just Ahead.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon is accessed on a dirt one-way road located one mile south of Zabriskie Point.  The road is well maintained and accessible by all vehicles. 

There is a small parking area with a half-hour hiking path from the canyon drive for those interested.

12. Stargazing

Take time to enjoy the remote dark skies around Death Valley.   I told Kevin I could see ALL of the stars from our site at Sunset campground. 

That may not be exactly true but nature’s show is impressive for those of us not used to completely dark star-filled Western skies.

13. Charcoal Kilns at Wildrose Canyon

We weren’t really sure what to expect when visiting the Charcoal Kilns at Wildrose Canyon.  The drive is about 90 minutes from Furnace Creek.  I wondered several times during the drive if it was worth it for charcoal. 

The kilns are the best example of original charcoal kilns.  There are ten pristine beehive-shaped stone structures.  They were used to fire locally harvested wood to make charcoal.   The charcoal was then used for smelting for the lead-silver mining operations in the Panamint Mountains.

charcoal kilns at death valley

14. Hiking at Death Valley

Death Valley is not a good summer hiking location due to extremely hot temperatures.  Winter is the best time to visit for hiking in Death Valley. 

Due to our overall travel itinerary, we visited Death Valley in early April.   It was already hot.  We found a few great hikes at the park and started early in the day to beat some of the heat.   Check out our upcoming posts Death Valley Hiking for more details about the variety of hikes available in the park.

hiking at death valley

15. Red Cathedral

Red Cathedral is only accessible by foot.  It can be reached from the Golden Canyon Trailhead or Zabriskie Point.    The red rock spires are worth the legwork if you have time and mobility to make the trek.  

red cathedral at death valley

From Golden Canyon expect a 2.9-mile walk mostly in the canyon to Red Cathedral and back.  The trailhead at Zabriskie Point is less well marked but can be seen to the right as you approach the viewpoint from the parking area.  Both approaches can be combined with Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch trails for a longer hike.

The final quarter of a mile of the trail requires some bouldering and steep inclines.  If you have a fear of heights or limited mobility, enjoy the views of Red Cathedral without weaving through the boulders and up the steep, gravel inclines.

kevin making his way to red cathedral at death valley

16. Natural Bridge

Hiking to Natural Bridge is one of the more popular things to do at Death Valley.  It is a pretty arch for those who have never seen a natural bridge.  If you have seen other arches or have limited time, I would skip the Natural Bridge at Death Valley.  

natural bridge at death valley

It requires an uphill walk along a gravel road and is two miles roundtrip.  The path isn’t very scenic other than a view over the valley which isn’t as good as Dante’s View.

17. Golden Canyon & Gower Gulch Loop

Golden Canyon is a great hike in Death Valley if you only have time for one.  This is the main hike we did at the park.  We started the hike right after sunrise to avoid the midday heat.

The Golden & Gower Gulch Loop offers a great variety of sites over the 4.3-mile loop.   Red Cathedral can be added for an additional mile detour.   We loved the badlands and various rock formations along the walk.  It can become monotonous towards the end when it follows a loose river bed for about a mile.  In hindsight, it was worth it if you enjoy hikes and I would add it to your Death Valley things-to-do list.  

kara on gower gulch trail in death valley

18. Mosaic Canyon

If you have additional time in the park, Mosaic Canyon is a moderate 4 mile out and back trail.  The trail is located near Stovepipe Wells.  It is similar to Golden Canyon but with a larger range of colors in the canyon walls.   

19. Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls is one of the few year-round waterfalls in Death Valley.   The falls are only 18 feet tall. They are not as imposing as some other California National Parks waterfalls such as Yosemite Falls.   

Darwin Falls is located in the west area of the park.  The unmarked trailhead is down a gravel road 1.2 miles from the Panamint Springs Resort. 

The hike is 2 miles roundtrip and rated as moderate.

darwin falls in death valley
Photo credit: NPS

20. Visit Pupfish at Salt Creek

Death Valley is an inhospitable place.   Few creatures can survive in a hot and dry environment. 

The Salt Creek Pupfish is a pretty impressive example of one species that adapted.  

The one-inch-long fish lived in the area when it was covered in lakes and rivers.   As lakes dried up and salinity levels increased, the pupfish adapted.  Today the pupfish can still be seen frolicking in a small stream along a wooden boardwalk at Salt Creek.

devils hole  is a great place to see pupfish in death valley

21. Racetrack Playa

Racetrack Playa, a dry lake bed in a remote area of Death Valley, is home to a unique phenomenon.  

Boulders slide across the 3 miles wide and 2 miles long dry lake bed leaving trails.   Some of the stones are as large as 700 pounds and may only move once in a 10 year period.

High clearance 4×4 vehicle is necessary to reach the Grandstand viewing area near Ubehebe Crater.

Scientists began researching the mystery in the 1940s and didn’t have an explanation until 2014.  A cross-institution team published the following detailed explanation in a scientific paper.  

First, the playa fills with water, which must be deep enough to allow formation of floating ice during cold winter nights but shallow enough to expose the rocks. As nighttime temperatures plummet, the pond freezes to form sheets of “windowpane” ice, which must be thin enough to move freely but thick enough to maintain strength. On sunny days, the ice begins to melt and break up into large floating panels, which light winds drive across the playa pool. The ice sheets shove rocks in front of them and the moving stones leave trails in the soft mud bed below the pool surface.”

22. Adore the Wildlfowers

A quarter of an inch of rain during the spring in Death Valley can result in a super bloom. A super bloom occurs when wildflowers carpet the desert floor in a show of color.  This is a rare occurrence that only happens about every 10 to 15 years.   It is very difficult to predict a super bloom event but annual spring wildflowers are beautiful on a smaller scale.

23. Scotty’s Castle

Scotty’s Castle is closed due to flood damage and is not expected to open until 2022 or later.  The castle is a dream home built by a Chicago businessman, Albert Johnson.

The property’s caretaker, Walter Scott, aka Death Valley Scotty, told people he built the property using wealth from local gold mining.   Some say the true owner Johnson was happy to participate in the dishonesty to protect his privacy.

Due to misfortune associated with a personal injury and economic downturn of the Great Depression, the home was never finished.  

Prior to the flooding, the NPS offered tours of Scotty’s Castle.   Check the Death Valley NPS site for current conditions.

24. Father Crowley’s Viewpoint

Father Crowley’s Viewpoint is located west of Panamint Springs.   I only recommend this viewpoint if it is along your route into or out of the park.  Otherwise, it is a remote edge of the park that requires over an hour’s drive from Furnace Creek.  

Conclusion

Death Valley is the largest park in the lower 48 states and this is no shortage of things to do on your next visit.   If you have limited time at the park, plan to visit the above items 1-10 and add in the next 14 as you have more time available.

ubehebe crater at death valley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *