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Death Valley is amazing and huge and overwhelming. There is so much to see and do there, it can be hard to know where to start. Well, that’s what I’m here for, at least if you’re looking for things to do in Death Valley besides hiking.
Some of these things are just quick stops on Badwater Road or one of the other main roads and some of them will require a few hours or even most of a day to see because of how remote they are.
You definitely won’t be able to do all of this one day and will have to pick and choose, but a few you won’t be able to see if you don’t have a high-clearance/4WD vehicle.
There are a couple of short hikes on here but as usual, they are all one mile or less and considered easy by National Park Service. Whatever you decide to do in Death Valley, be prepared for a lot of driving and have extra food and water in your car, just in case.
National Park Pass + Other National Park Deals
- If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks (3 or more) on this trip or within the year, I would highly recommend getting a national park pass. It’s $80 but will pay for itself in about three trips to parks. It’s so worth it and I buy one every year! They’re also great for gifts for the park lovers in your life.
- To help plan the best national park trip ever, this Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is perfect! You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip! Homage is donating 5% of sales from the national park collection to the National Parks Conservation Association this year. Buy national park shirts here.
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
- Planning a big national park trip? Check out these other posts: National Park bucket list, Make the most of a National Park trip, National Park camping packing list, My favorite National Park hikes, More National Park hikes I love, Underrated National Parks.
Drive up to Dantes View
First up is the drive up to Dantes View, the best view in Death Valley, more than 3,000 feet above Badwater Basin. This isn’t really near anything else but you can stop at Zabriskie Point on your way up or down.
It’s about 45 minutes from Furnace Creek and has a big parking area at the top. There is some hiking up there if you do want to walk a bit but it’s not necessary.
Below, you’ll be able to see the gleaming white of Badwater Basin and various mountains around you. This would be a great spot to enjoy sunrise or sunset. We didn’t make it up here on our trip here but I wish we did!
Walk to Zabriskie Point
This was my favorite place we stopped in Death Valley and one of the most iconic views in the park. We went a little before sunset and the glowing gold ground was so beautiful!
There were enough people here but it was still so quiet. Like, completely silent, it was so crazy how quiet it was. There is a short uphill walk (.25 miles) but it is entirely paved.
This is a great stop because it’s easy to get to and just 15 minutes from Furnace Creek. This and Dantes View are along the same road and easy to visit if you’re going in or out of the park toward Death Valley Junction.
See the Ashford Mill
Way down near the bottom end of Badwater Road are the old Ashford Mill ruins, a former mining settlement. There isn’t a ton to do at this stop but the scenery here is beautiful and it’s good if you like history.
I wouldn’t go out of my way for this one since there are much better things to see, but if you plan to drive the entirety of Badwater Road (which I would recommend), make the stop. It’s not super exciting but it is pretty.
Do the Artists Drive
This is. definitely one of the highlights of Death Valley. This is a nine- mile, south to north, one way drive right off of Badwater Road not far from Furnace Creek.
It’s one of the best things to do in Death Valley besides hiking because you can still see the highlight, the Artists Palette, without much walking, though there is a short trail.
Near the beginning of the drive is a short hiking trail on the right. It’s short but steep. We did most of it but didn’t think it was that interesting. I would save any walking (if you can only do so much or are limited on time) for the Artists Palette.
There are pullouts along the way and a small parking area at the Artists Palette. You can see the beautiful colors from the parking area but there is also a short trail that will take you into them if you want to get closer.
Enjoy the Mesquite Sand Dunes
Just outside of Stovepipe Wells are the most popular and most accessible sand dunes in Death Valley, the Mesquite Sand Dunes. These are right off the side of the road and require no hiking to at least see them.
Of course, the best way to experience them is to hike out into them but that’s not possible for everyone. Since they’re so easy to get to though, it’s worth stopping as you pass by to see them and maybe walk out into them just a little bit.
See the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
The Wildrose Charcoal Kilns are 1.5 hours southwest of Furnace Creek down Emigrant Canyon Road and Wildrose Canyon Road. These are another great stop for history buffs to learn about former life in the area.
While most of the drive is paved, the last two miles before the ten stone structures is gravel so you’ll want to check road conditions at the visitor center before making the long drive.
While these kilns made of local stone were being used, they loaded them up with wood from the nearby hillsides and fired it to make charcoal which was then transported by pack animal and possibly wagon for smelting in lead-silver mines.
Do some stargazing
Thanks to it’s remoteness, Death Valley is one of the best places for stargazing in America and is a designated International Dark Sky Park. That means if you’re spending the night in or just outside of the park, stargazing is a must.
There is no bad place to go and you can even do it from a pull off along the road if you want. While there isn’t enough light to not see stars right in Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells, it will be better to drive outside of them a bit if you can.
Towards the end of February they even have a Dark Sky Festival! This would be a fun time to be there, especially if you’re interested in learning about space and space related things in the park.
Hike the Salt Creek Boardwalk
The Salt Creek Boardwalk is down a gravel road passable for all vehicles and is just 0.5 miles round-trip. It is flat which is even better and it’s also one of the best places in the park for birding!
Water in Salt Creek, which is what you’re walking by, is only flowing to the boardwalk from November to May so in the summer expect it to be dry. This is best hiked in the winter months, anyway, just like everything here (I think.).
This is a great short walk to stretch your legs that is a little off the beaten path. I had no idea this existed when we went but it was almost dark by the time we went past this area anyway. Next time!
See the Devils Golf Course
Between the Natural Bridge turnoff and the Artists Drive turnoff on the right is the Devils Golf Course on the left. You’ll drive a couple of miles down a dirt road (any car can make it) and at the end is a parking area so you can get out and see the strange saltscape.
The sprawling area is formed by the erosion of rock salt which formed the weird jagged ground you see at your feet. It’s so rough only the devil could play golf on it, hence the name.
There isn’t really any hiking here but it’s definitely worth the short drive to see. And if you listen carefully, you can even hear the pops of salt crystals expanding and bursting in the heat.
Stop at the Harmony Borax Works
In it’s heyday, three tons of borax were produced here everyday and it was then transported overland to Mojave with mules and double wagons. This lasted just five years (late 1883-1888) but you can see the remains there today.
There is a short interpretive trail here and it is just after the Furnace Creek Visitor Center toward Stovepipe Wells, so it’s super easy to visit.
Walk into Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is probably the best thing to see in Death Valley since it’s the lowest point not just in the national park, but in North America. Here, you are 282 feet below sea level!
If you look behind you from the parking area, waaaaaay up on the rock wall you’ll see a sign marking sea level. It blends in and is hard to spot but it’s cool to see!
This is where you’ll find the salt flats and the last notable stop on Badwater Road, though Ashford Mill is past this and it’s worth driving the whole thing for the scenery.
This can be as long or as short of a walk as you like. The official trail is one flat mile but you can walk further (1.5-2 miles round-trip) if you want to see more pristine salt formations.
Hike to the Natural Bridge
The Natural Bridge is just what it sounds like. Water carved this natural bridge out of the canyon and you can hike right to it. There is a gravel road to the trailhead that most cars should be able to drive.
The trail is rocky but easy to follow and you can continue under the bridge for a bit until you hit the dryfall. We didn’t do this hike (we were pretty short on time) but it looks like a nice easy hike good for stretching your legs.
Attend a ranger program
Death Valley has a variety of ranger programs from walks to talks for everyone. Programs run daily but only from December to March (depending on weather) and can be found online or posted at the visitor center.
They also have a paleontology hike that takes you to a remote are of the park to see a variety of fossilized tracks. This is a moderately strenuous seven-mile hike and can be reserved two weeks in advance.
Drive West Side Road
This is something I would only do if I had three or four days in Death Valley since there are so many other great things to do that meay be more interesting than this.
West Side Road runs parallel to the west of Badwater Road. It is a 36-mile dirt road that doesn’t require high clearance or 4WD but it could be helpful. It may be impassable if wet.
The road can be accessed from near Ashford Mill and the Artists Drive. I think there are some side canyon roads that require a high-clearance/4WD vehicle but for the most part this is a thing to do because it’s there.
There are a few springs and historical markers but overall time is probably better spent in other areas of the park. It does sound like this is a good road to enjoy the superbloom if you’re here at the right time.
See Ubehebe Crater
If you have plans to visit the Racetrack Playa (with the right vehicle) you can easily see Ubehebe Crater, an important cultural site for the Timbisha Shoshone people, on your way there or back.
Scotty’s Castle Road is just before the Mesquite Sand Dunes (coming from Furnace Creek), not far from Stovepipe Wells. Ubehebe Crater is at the end of this road.
The 0.5-mile crater is relatively young, a mere 2,100 years old, and is 500-777 feet deep, depending on where you measure from. If you don’t want to hike, you can enjoy the view from the parking area.
If you don’t mind some hiking, there is a 1.5 mile easy-moderate trail that takes you around the rim. It takes about an hour to get here from Furnace Creek and can be windy so be prepared for that.
Plan 2-3 hours for this because it’s a bit of a drive and you want time to enjoy the view. This would be a great place to enjoy the sunrise or sunset, too.
Enjoy the view from Father Crowley Vista Point
Near the western park boundary and Panamint Springs is the Father Crowley Vista Point which offers views into Rainbow Canyon. There is an easy 0.25 mile walk or drive on a gravel road to the viewing area.
Military test flights sometimes roar through the canyon, though less frequently than they used to. This is a good stop if you’re coming into or leaving the park from the west.
Do some biking
Biking in Death Valley is only allowed on designated bike paths or public roads with vehicle access which there are 785 miles of, hundreds suitable for mountain biking as well, so you’ll probably find one that works for you.
You’ll have to bring your own bike, there aren’t any to rent in the park, but this could be a fun way to experience the park as long as it’s not too hot.
Check out the Devils Cornfield
To go with the Devils Golf Course, but not right by it, Death Valley also has the Devils Cornfield right by the Mesquite Sand Dunes. This is right on the side of the road so it’s a nice quick stop you probably won’t be going out of your way for.
This is an area where wind blows sand which accumulates at the base of shrubs. As the sand builds up, they grow taller in a weird way that looks like harvested corn.
The bushes that make up this weird area arrowweed and if you’re here in the spring, you may see the tops of these blooming blue! There is a sign marking this but it’s pretty small.
If you’re coming from Furnace Creek, you’ll find two paved parking areas long the road about 2.5 miles past the turnoff for Scotty’s Castle Road.
Make the trek out to the Racetrack Playa
One of the most unique, but very remote, things to see in Death Valley is the Racetrack Playa. This is the playa where rocks seem to move of their own accord leaving trails in their wake.
Now, though, we know how they move but it doesn’t make it any less interesting to see. Occasionally, the playa will have a thin layer of rain water which can freeze.
When it thaws, the wind can blow pieces of ice with the rocks on them leaving the trails behind. They will sometimes even move up to 10 MPH! Don’t plan to see them moving right before your eyes though, it could be years before they move again.
You will need a high-clearance/4WD vehicle for this adventure so you may need to rent one if you don’t have one but it will be worth it. This is a great way to get off the beaten path and escape any crowds since it is so remote.
And along the way, be sure to stop at Teakettle Junction, a sign covered in actual teakettles. You cannot drive on the playa so plan to walk out onto it to see the rocks and their trails.
Plan to spend most of your day getting here and exploring the area with a stop at Ubehebe Crater on your way. This is best seen with two or more days in the park, I think.
Do a little birding
Finally, get your bird nerd on and do a little desert birding. Fall and spring bring hundreds of migrating birds through the park and while nesting is done in February, November to March is the worst time for birding in Death Valley.
Scotty’s Castle, Furnace Creek Ranch, Wildrose, High Panamints, and Saratoga Spring are the best places to look for birds. Some are easier to access than others but this is where you’ll see a variety of species that call the park home.
Death Valley safety
- There is no phone service in almost all of the park. There is some in Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells but it’s not great. It was mostly 3G for me. They do have WiFi but it wasn’t very good.
- If you do any hiking, be sure to wear sunscreen (face sunscreen, too) and I would also recommend a hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.
- Bring lots of water. And then some extra. And then some more, just in case. And don’t forget to drink that water. And then some more. Because it’s hot.
- Read the story of the Death Valley Germans before going and don’t drive down any roads your car can’t handle. And if you do, turn around if you get to a point you can’t pass.
- I just wouldn’t visit at all in the summer unless experiencing the incredible heat is part of the novelty for you. It can be 120+ degrees and you don’t want to be caught unprepared in that. If you do visit in the summer, bring even more water than I said.
- Even in the winter, it can be pretty hot. I would be plenty prepared for for any back road driving and I wouldn’t do much of that unless you’re experienced with it and have the proper vehicle.
- Get gas before going into the park because, while it’s expensive outside the park, it’s even worse in the park. And you can only get it at Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek.
Have you been to Death Valley? What did you do there? What did you think of it? Do you want to go?