Death Valley is the largest, hottest, driest, and the park with the lowest elevation in North America. It is an absolutely amazing national park and almost always in the top five parks to visit in the USA. We went there during the worst possible time (end of August) and we truly understood why Furnace Creek was named so. It was the hottest place we have ever been to in our lives. When the wind was blowing it did not bring any joy … it felt like it brought molten lava on your skin. It was scorching hot, 120 degrees hot! The silver lining was that the park was practically empty and a few of the days we were there the weather was in the low 90s. Also, most of the places we wanted to see were the only ones there. Having the Racetrack Playa, Ubehebe Crater, etc only for us was truly priceless! No lines, no cars, no people, just you and the wilderness.
We drove from Los Angeles and it took us about five hours with some occasional traffic. Please note that although we were with 4×4 SUV (Subaru Forester) it was not sufficient to get us to some of the park attractions without upgrading the tires to all-terrain ones. Since we did not have these we suffered a punctured tire one of the days and we had to jump through hoops to fix it. On the next day, we just rented a Jeep with the right setup and we went whenever we wanted with zero concerns. This is especially true for the Racetrack Playa.
- Sunset: See at Dante’s View
- Sunrise: See at Zabriskie Point
- Most Unique Attraction: The Racetrack Playa
There are not many places to stay in the park. Right next to Furnace Creek there is an awesome hotel called The Inn at Death Valley. It looks and feels like an oasis in the desert. It has all the things you would expect from a four-star hotel and we truly enjoyed our stay there.
Things to see
The park is humongous. It has attractions to see which can easily take an entire day driving for a round trip. Some of them are packed and close to Furnace Creek but The Racetrack, Ubehebe Crater, and others would take you good three-plus hours one way to get to. Here are the things we were able to see and really enjoy:
Eureka Valley Sand Dunes
This trip is the one we had trouble with our 4×4 Subaru Forester. The road is rough and it does require all-terrain tires. The drive is long and there is no reception or super spotty one you can not rely on at all. So if you are going in that direction make sure you are properly equipped and have tons of water with you. Due to the fact it was so hot that day we reached the dunes but did not hike them etc. We were the only living souls there and it was truly a unique experience. During the winter season, this would be an absolute must-see attraction. Note that if you do not plan to hike the dunes this attraction might not be worth the risks during the summer.
The Ubehebe Crater is on the way to the Racetrack Playa and most of the people do both in one trip. It is absolutely worth stopping there. The view is magnificent. We visited this crater two times and both it was just us and the few birds flying over the crater. There are plenty of great views around the crater as well as hikes you could takedown. You also get an awesome view of the valley around the crater.
This to us was the columniation of our adventure. It was a long drive on some unforgiving gravel/rocky roads but it was absolutely worth it. The Racetrack is famous for its flat valley and the rocks which leave tracks on the desert floor. Like they are alive and move on their own. It has been a mystery for quite some time.
Just like most of the other places we were the only human beings on the racetrack. It was truly ours for the few hours we stayed there and it felt magical. The fact that that day it also rained and the temperature was in the low 90s also helped! The drive is long and slow. You need a proper SUV with the right tires to make it. We rented a Jeep with all-terrain tires at Furnace Creek. They tell you when you get the car that you can not drive more than 10 miles per hour on the gravel road. They do not tell you right away however that more than 75% of the road is gravel/rocky road. Going there takes time since you also do not know exactly what to expect.
Note that the photos below do not show the bad sections of the road where you drive over small to medium size rocks. Driving more than 10 miles per hour felt risky on the way there and we kept it around that speed.
For those of you who still wonder how do those famous rocks move in the RaceTrack Playa here is the mystery explained. We witnessed the tracks ourselves. There were plenty of them all around the floor.
This attraction is one of the few that are close to Furnace Creek and easy to reach. Roads are perfect and all you need is to pack and move out of the car to enjoy this beautiful landscape. Overall one of the better and more colorful attractions to see in the park.
We truly wanted to walk the mile or so “hike” and reach the end of the Badwater Basin but it was not realistic due to the 115 degrees weather that day. It is a unique walk and if the weather allows it we think it is worth it. This was by far the busiest place we encountered in the park. It is in close proximity to the Furnace Creek and can easily be visited in combination with other ones (like the Nature Bridge, Artist’s Palette, etc).
Devil’s Golf Course
It is not a real golf course of-course but it is truly a unique desert-like landscape. Everywhere you look there is only desert and dried land. It is just off the main road and can easily be combined with the Badwater Basin, Artist’s Palette and others to be visited in one day.
By far the best view of the entire park is at Dante’s View. The road is great and well maintained. You can also visit the Zabriskie Point on your way. This also is the best place to enjoy the sunset and stargaze since it is at a high elevation (almost 5,500 ft). It does get busy so have that in mind. Especially if you plan to take pictures of the sunset make sure you are there early. Plenty of tripods with cameras were there on our arrival.
On the road to Dante’s View, you can stop and see one of the better and more colorful mountain landscapes at Zabriskie Point. If you stay at The Inn it is 15 minutes drive. We visited this attraction two times since during the day it is very exposed and the shadows ruin the pictures. At sunrise, this was one of the best views we experienced in the park. The viewpoint has 360 degrees view of the different color hills and it is a nice place to just sit and relax enjoying the landscapes. With some coffee that is one of the best ways to start your morning while in the Desert Valley National Park.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
If you plan to climb any of the dunes in Death Valley our recommendation would be to try the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. They are very close to the main road and you can simply park and start hiking on the sand. There are bathrooms and plenty of parking there as well. Hiking the Eureka Sand Dunes is a lot harder and it takes hours to get to them via a harsh gravel/rocky road requiring special tires and 4×4 vehicles etc.
Death Valley is also famous for its ghost towns. One of them is Rhyolite. Although it’s not actually in the park or even in California. It’s just off of nearby border town Beatty, Nevada, and from 1905 to 1911 it was known as the “Queen City.” We visited the remains of this town on our way out of the park and we left it with mixed feelings. Most of the buildings had fences around them and you could not really get into any of them. There were a bunch of ghost statues and few abandoned cars etc but overall nothing like what we expected.
Overall Death Valley National Park was one of our most memorable adventures. The park is humongous and easy to get lost if you do not follow the main roads. The park during the summer is insanely hot and unwelcoming if you do not like (or can deal with) hot weather. The attractions are so unique and different that it makes it hard to compare with other parks in the USA. The main roads are in great condition and most of the places have proper signs. If you are into the off-road attractions Death Valley would not disappoint and can offer plenty of places to visit and enjoy. For us personally, Dante’s View and the Racetrack Playa were the most interesting and memorable attractions. The first one due to the 100-mile view of the park and the other since it is so unique and with so much history. Overall Death Valley is a blast and we highly recommend it!
- Death Valley National Park Web Site
- Death Valley Wikipedia page / Weather & monthly temperatures
- The Inn at Death Valley Booking Page