12+ Must-See Sights in Death Valley National Park

By Anna Hall, Hickory NC Publisher April 16, 2015
Death Valley National Park, located on the southeastern border of California just two hours west of Las Vegas, Nevada, is known for its extremes. The largest national park in the contiguous United States, it is the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America. Approximately 95% of the park is a designated wilderness area, containing a diverse desert environment of salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. With so much to see, Death Valley is an ideal destination for all lovers of the great outdoors.

Four days is the minimum amount of time needed to visit the highlights of Death Valley, each different from the other. The entry fee into Death Valley National Park is $20 for a seven day pass with unlimited re-entry for a standard vehicle. With twelve campgrounds within the park, camping offers the most options for overnighting but visitors will find lodging as well as services such as food and gas in Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs within the park boundary. Armed with food, water and a reliable mode of transportation (and a tank full of gas), don't miss these twelve must-see sights in Death Valley:

Dante's View (pictured above) - From a vantage point 5,500 feet above sea level, take in a panoramic view of the southern Death Valley basin. Look down into Badwater, the lowest dry point in North America. Across the valley, notice Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park at 11,331 feet above sea level, often snow-capped. On very clear days, the highest and lowest points in the contiguous 48 states can be seen: Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet and Badwater at -282 feet.

Badwater Basin and Devil's Golfcourse - A surreal landscape of vast salt flats comprised of almost pure table salt awaits at the Badwater Basin. While the basin appears as a massive expanse of white with a few pools of standing water created after rainstorms, the surface at Devil's Golf Course is made up of jagged spires reminiscent of a coral reef eroded like so by wind and rain.

Artist's Palette
- A vista along Artist's Drive, a 9 mile paved scenic loop through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills, Artist's Palette is a picturesque display of various colors of rock caused by the oxidation of different metals.

Natural Bridge - A short hike of 10 to 15 minutes leads to a natural stone bridge, with interesting rock formations and smooth vertical chutes caused by dry waterfalls seen on the canyon walls along the way.

Zabriskie Point - One of the most visited overlooks within the park, Zabriskie Point is noted for its erosional landscape composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake which dried up 5 million years ago.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon - A winding, scenic 2.7 mile unpaved drive through otherworldly badlands, the loop gives visitors a sense of the narrow routes travelled by twenty-mule teams that carried borax out of Death Valley in the 1880s.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
- Made up of tiny grains of quartz and feldspar, the smoothly sculpted sand dunes rise as high as 140 feet from Mesquite Flat for a breath-taking display of ripples and patterns surrounded on all sides by mountains off in the distance.

Mosaic Canyon
- Formed through a process of cut and fill, Mosaic Canyon has smooth, polished marble walls and mosaic patterns composed of angular fragments of different kinds of rock. A 1/4 mile walk up the canyon, the trail narrows dramatically as it follows the canyon's sinuous curves, opening up after 1/2 mile to reveal Tucki Mountain standing at 6736 feet tall.

Darwin Falls - A 2.5 mile drive on an unpaved road and a short one-mile hike with some rock scrambling and stream crossings leads to this spring-fed waterfall. At a height of 20 feet and surrounded by a collection of greenery rare in the desert, the lower Darwin Falls creates a beautiful oasis.

Titus Canyon - The scenic 26 mile one-way dirt road leading through the largest and most diverse canyon in Death Valley starts outside the park boundary a few miles south of Beaty NV. Along the way to the narrow, winding gorge at the canyon mouth, visitors will come across interesting rock formations, beautiful vistas, Indian petroglyphs, and Leadfield ghost town. Prior to the start of the route, be sure to take the side trip to Rhyolite, "one of the most photographed ghost towns in the West."

Scotty's Castle - Also known as Death Valley Ranch, the two story villa is neither an actual castle nor was it ever owned by the gold prospector Walter E. Scott for whom it was named. Once a vacation home of his wealthy friends, Scotty's Castle offers ranger-led living history tours for a look at life and times of the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression.

Ubehebe Crater
- At half-mile across and 500-777 feet deep, the large crater was formed when heat of magma mixed with an underground spring, causing a massive volcanic steam explosion. Ubehebe Crater is visible from the parking area on its rim but hikers can walk to the bottom and/or around the crater.

Overlooks, scenic drives, canyons, sand dunes, a crater, waterfall, and a castle are the not to be missed places to see within Death Valley National Park. Should your visit allow for more exploration, check out these additional sights:

Aguereberry Point - At 6,433 ft, this overlook provides a view of Death Valley from the west.

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns - Completed in 1877, these ten beehive-shaped kilns were once used to produce charcoal to process silver/lead ore.

Father Crowley Vista - Enjoy a beautiful drive to this scenic viewpoint of Rainbow Canyon.

Eureka Dunes - The highest sand dunes in California measuring heights of nearly 700 feet.

The Racetrack - A seasonally dry lake (playa) that is famous for rocks that mysteriously move across its surface.

Salt Creek - While much of Salt Creek is usually dry at the surface, the salty stream of water that runs in another part of the creek is the only home to the rare Death Valley pupfish.

Harmony Borax Works - This borax mine was the central feature in the opening of Death Valley and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Golden Canyon/Red Cathedral - A 1.25 mile walk up the colorful Golden Canyon leads to Red Cathedral, formed of steep cliffs composed of red colored oxidized rocks.

These two sentences from Wikitravel sum it up best: "While many potential visitors dismiss Death Valley due to a misconception that it is a lifeless, empty landscape, this 3.4 million acre park is arguably one of the most striking specimens of Mother Earth. Nearly every major geological era is elegantly exposed here in what sometimes appears to be one of her greatest tapestries, gloriously presenting her full spectrum."

National Park Service - Death Valley National Park

Places of interest in the Death Valley area - Wikipedia
Death Valley National Park travel guide - Wikitravel