Our long-awaited trip finally happened, and we visited this unique basin. It was our second long road trip in America (the other one was to the Canadian Rocky Mountains), and it didn’t disappoint us at all. It is – without a doubt – one of the best road trips in the US.
The Death Valley National Park is on the border of Nevada and California states (mostly in the latter one). It is the biggest National Park in the US outside of Alaska: it covers 14 000 km2. The valley is about 210 km long, surrounded by mountains. Even though you will not see too much “life” there, the landscape is varied, especially during the daytime. At night, we met with 3 coyotes on the road while driving.
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Why is it Death Valley? A bit of history
In the 19th century, the valley was explored in the hope of gold. Even though only one member of the group died, the valley got the name Death Valley. Instead of gold, borax was discovered and mined for a long time. In 1933 the national park was established, and the area became the target of tourism. Why an old mining area and a hot and dry valley can be a spectacular destination? Let us show you!
The hottest, driest, lowest place in the US
It is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the US so definitely worth visiting if you are looking for extremes. We made a road trip to the park in November, and the temperature was still well above 30°C in the shade. There is a long list of places worth visiting, we used it while planning our route.
1. Badwater Basin: salt and extremities
With its salt desert, the Badwater Basin lies at 85 meters (282 ft) below sea level. This is also the lowest point of the US: an extra reason to visit it.
Probably one of the most popular places in the valley, considering we were there in November and it was full of people. I had to wait for a long time to take this picture before the next group of people would appear.
Don’t imagine anything like the Salar de Uyuni, but there is a significant amount of salt still here as well. You can even take pictures of the salt hexagons if you observe left or right from the path where people demolish everything.
2. Ubehebe Crater
It is about 180 meters deep maar crater. In short, it means that steam and gas explosions formed when hot magma rising up from the depths reached groundwater. The estimations for its age range from 300 years to 800 or even 2000 years. Although more recent studies suggest that the crater is rather young.
It was one of our last stops and the night just started when we approached it. As we didn’t want an extreme climb down and up in the darkness (and would have no point in doing anyway), we decided to take few pics from the rim only.
3. Devil’s Golf Course
The Devil’s Golf Course is full of huge salt crystals. It was named after the National Park Service (NPS) guidebook that stated, “Only the devil could play golf” on this terrain. I guess they were right. It was the least spectacular place for me, but still worth a quick photo stop.
4. Artist Drive
A scenic route where the rocks are painted in various colors by the minerals in them. It is not much longer to drive on the Artist Drive than on the bigger road, and you will see amazing, unrealistic hues all the time.
5. Borax Mine
It is possible to see pieces of old mining equipment in the middle of the park at the Borax Mine. As you remember, the first while people came here for gold but found only borax. Equipment and ruins of buildings are on display. We also met here with the NPS ranger giving a presentation about the valley and mining history. Make sure you check the times from the visitor center when you can hear more about these places.
6. Eureka Sand Dunes and observing the sunset
Another bustling location beside Badwater Basin. Luckily it is a huge area and most people climb the closest dunes, so you will have an opportunity to explore them on your own.
It was one of the several places where we’ve seen signs of animals: to be precise, snakeskin and sliding patterns on the sand.
We reached the dunes at the golden hour and seen the sun just right above the mountains surrounding the valley. I wish I could drink a beer/glass of wine here. It was a perfect place for it. We have to come back!
7. Zabriskie Point and the eroded badlands
An easy photo stop next to the parking lot. And also spectacular. Even the band U2 used it for one of their album cover photos. It is a properly built viewpoint with zillions of people trying to capture the landscape or taking selfies. We did the same… 😉
If you want, you can escape from the crowds by walking/driving away and still see amazing spots. If you are not afraid of the heat, you can go for a longer hike as well among these beauties. For me, it was hard enough to cope with the temperature and the growing baby, so we checked it lazily.
How long time to spend in the park?
We spent only one very long day in Death Valley, and we could not see everything we wanted to. I would suggest at least 2 days to see the most popular places. Besides the ones listed here, we made few shorter stops on some less spectacular spots and drove on few alternative routes as well. If you go for a hike, you may need even more time. We need to come back once. Karol would love to try also during the summer to feel the real heat.
Death Valley Entrance Fee
Entrance fee to the park: $30 for 7 days for a vehicle and all its passengers (2021)
Where to stay in the Death Valley
There are quite a limited number of places to stay overnight. Furnace Creek offers a couple of options:
Make sure you take a look at our other road trips too!
About the Author
Katalin is a Lapland-based outdoor enthusiast who loves hiking, road-tripping and traveling with her family. She spends her free time far away from civilization in one of the national parks around the world, explores off the beaten path places, or hops on a road trip with her kids in an RV.
Read more about her adventures and the blog.