Stark in appearance and haunting in name, Death Valley is a very-much-alive desert set between high, snow-capped mountains. The name doesn’t do justice to the vibrancy of Death Valley—the mysteries of the life sustained in this arid and isolated landscape capture the attention of adventurers. The first Death Valley visitors arrived in 1849. Those ill-prepared gold-seekers trying to find a shortcut to the gold mines further north nearly died, hence giving the valley its name.
Before you visit:
- Death Valley holds the record for the highest recorded temperature on earth of 134 °F . On a normal sunny day, 75 degrees could easily feel like 85, so plan accordingly. I would never attempt a trip to Death valley in summers!
- Cellphone access within the park is very limited. Download offine maps and for your best chance to get service, head to Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells.
- Don’t reach into places where you can’t see. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, or black widows may be hiding out.
- Many places are accessible via dirt roads where SUVs are highly preferred.
- Selection is very limited in available general stores and it’s a good idea to pack what you need in advance.
The trip begins:
The best way to get to Death Valley from San Francisco is to take the Interstate 5 to Bakersfield, then go north toward the western entrance of Death Valley National Park through Panamint Springs. In total, it takes around 8 hours to travel the distance between Death Valley and San Francisco (460 miles). As this was a quite a long road trip, we decided to camp overnight near Sequoia National Park and started early the next day towards Furnace creek visitor center.
Artists palette and Artist’s drive
Devil’s Golf Course
STOP 1: Artists palette and Artist’s drive
One of the most important landmarks in Death Valley is Artist’s Palette, an area where the oxidized minerals of the mountain glow in reddish, pink, yellow, green, and gray tones. To get here, we have to take a 20-minute semicircular route. Artist road is a one-way drive which moves from southeast to northwest, and the views along the whole journey are spectacular.
- The road is quite narrow and curvy, so vehicles over 25 feet are not permitted.
STOP 2: Devil’s Golf Course
The entrance to the sandy road that leads to Devil’s Golf Course is on Badwater Road between the entry and exit of the Artist circular road. The Devil’s Golf Course was created over many years as water occasionally rises up through the salt bed and reshapes the formations. When the water evaporates in the blazing heat, the large infernal stalagmites and spiky mounds are what get left behind. It’s basically a large salt pan covered in large halite salt crystals deposited upon the evaporation of the prehistoric Lake Manly.
STOP 3: Dante’s view
To get to Dante’s View, we have to cross a 13-mile road with no exit. It will take more than half an hour, but it’s completely worth the epic view. From this high viewpoint, we get a bird’s eye view of Death Valley and see the pure white color of Badwater Basin, which we could not see from up close.
- For Sunset Photographers: With mountains soaring more than 11,000 feet on its west side, the valley falls into shadows starting up to an hour before sunset – and by the “official” time the sun goes down, it will be completely in shadows. Make sure to reach at least an hr before the official sunset time.
Mesquite flat sand dunes
STOP 1: Mesquite flat sand dunes
Mesquite flat sand dunes is the one of the best places for sunrise shoots in the park. Also if you are staying in Stovepipe Wells (as we were), then the Mesquite Dunes are pretty much right in your backyard. We decided to reach there before sunrise. There is a large parking lot for the dunes, and it doesn’t get full before sunrise. Once you make it to the dunes, you can pretty much explore however much you want. The walk out to the top of the main dune is about 2 miles round trip, but it is not an easy two miles as you have to walk up in the sand which is no fun. The early morning light often adds some purples and blues to the sky which is great for getting set up and finding a good shot.
STOP 2: Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin takes you to the lowest point in North America – 282 feet below sea level! If you dare, you can even taste a bit of the salt. From Furnace creek drive about 1 mile southeast on highway 190 until you see the signs pointing to Badwater. Turn right here – this is the Badwater road and continue further for 17 miles until you see the well-marked Badwater basin parking sign.
- A work of caution – there is no shade or water at this stop and it can get extremely hot. Come prepared!
STOP 3: Golden Canyon
Several trails are available in Death valley for hikers of all age groups and skills. Golden canyon is a 2-mile hike up and back and the most popular trail to get the essence of the area. A few places here were also used as filming location for star wars.
This stunning Death valley view point offer the best of everything – dramatic mountains, unique badlands and unforgettable rock formations. Head here for epic pictures – Sunrise or Sunset! Sunrise shows Manly Beacon sandstone rock formation at Zabriskie Point. It is quick walk for the parking lot making it extremely easy to access.