Death Valley is one of my favorite places in California to visit and probably ties with Yosemite National Park as my number one top-rated national park in the USA. If you've read some of my other Death Valley posts or if you follow us on Instagram than you have probably heard me say that a million times before... but it's true!!!
Why do I like it so much? Because of it's natural beauty, uniqueness, vastness... I could go on and on. But for you to really understand, you would have to take a trip there yourself. I mean it's not a top California destination with tourists from all over the world for no reason. And the best thing is that Death Valley is located between Los Angeles and Las Vegas making it a great road trip detour if you are driving between these two cities.
Anyway, below you will find our top 10 things you must see in Death Valley. They are in my opinion, this parks highlights which you can not miss! If you get a really early start in the morning, you could possibly see everything in one day but if you have the time, you should spend an extra day here if not more to fully explore the area. Also, Death Valley is one of the largest dark sky parks in the world meaning its night sky is near pristine offering excellent stargazing opportunities which is just another reason why you should stay overnight.
Top 10 Incredible Places You Must See in Death Valley National Park
1. Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
The Wildrose Charcoal Kilns were built back in 1876 to provide fuel for processing silver and lead ore from George Hearst’s Modock Consolidated Mining Company which was in operation until 1878. There are ten of these beehive-shaped structures that you can visit which are among the best preserved in the west. When you walk inside them you can still smell the smoke. They are located in the Upper Wildrose Canyon in the Panamint Springs area and are a little difficult to get to but well worth the effort as it is a beautiful drive in a more remote part of the park. If you're lucky, you might even spot some burro's on your way out!
2. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
These sand dunes rise nearly 100 feet high and are especially photogenic at sunrise or sunset when the light accentuates the ripples and patterns in the sand. We recommend taking a walk on the dunes, however there is no marked trail because the sand is continuously shifting. You can walk as little or as far as you like, but we suggest heading straight for the highest dune! Stopping at the Mesquite Sand Dunes is a must and fortunately these dunes are located right beside the main road through the park so no matter if you are heading west to east or vice versa, you will be driving right past this Death Valley highlight.
3. Devils Golf Course
Another weird and wonderful creation by mother nature in Death Valley is the Devils Golf Course. The Devils Golf Course is an immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into painful jagged spires. The area got it's name because it was said that the rocks were so incredibly serrated that only the devil could play golf on such rough links.
4. Artists Palette
Artists Palette is another unique geologic attraction in Death Valley that is only a couple of minutes drive from the Devils Golf Course. It is a colorful volcanic and sedimentary hill painted in colors that include deep reds, pink, purples, blues and green. The colors are produced by the oxidation of the metals and elements found in the ground. To get here you must drive along Artists Drive which is a one-way 9 mile scenic stretch of road that winds through large mountains.
5. Ubehebe Crater
Despite what we thought was something a meteor crash had caused, Ubehebe Crater is actually a large volcanic crater that was created by steam and gas explosions when rising magma reached groundwater. The crater itself is 600 feet deep and half a mile across that is definitely a must see in the park. Ubehebe Crater is easily viewed from the parking area located on its rim but further exploration will reveal interesting erosion and smaller craters such as Little Ubehebe Crater. You can walk around the entire rim which we would rate as easy to moderate or even walk to the bottom of the crater (if you don’t mind walking back up).
6. Racetrack Playa
If you're into travel or landscape photography then you probably already have heard of this place but if not, Racetrack Playa is most famous for its mysteriously moving rocks. It is said that noone has ever witnessed the rocks moving. And some of these mysteriously moving rocks weigh several hundred pounds! The rocks glide across the floor of the Playa (a Playa is dry lake bed) leaving long trails behind them. Pretty cool to see right?! Yes! But getting there is not so easy and is only for those who are truly adventurous... who have more than a day to spend inside the park... and are prepared! This is because Racetrack Playa is located in a very remote location of the park that can be very difficult to get to, especially without a high clearance vehicle. It is about 27 miles down a rough, gravel road that is notorious for causing flat tires. There is no cell service out here. Make sure you bring plenty of water and know how to change a tire!
7. Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is a surreal landscape of vast salt flats which you can walk out on to. It is also the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Interestingly, not far from this destination is funnily enough also the the highest point in the lower 48 states which is the top of Mount Whitney. The temperatures down here can get frighteningly high in summer so bring loads of water.
8. Mosaic Canyon
Mosaic Canyon is referred to as a geologic "outdoor museum" so if you're into rocks you don't want to miss this stop. It is named after a rock formation known as the 'Mosaic Breccia' and you don’t have to walk very far into the trail to see the mosaic section. This is one of our favorite hiking trails in Death Valley and you can see our hike into Mosaic Canyon to decide if you want to hike the entire trail. The trail head is very close to Stovepipe Wells up a 2 mile gravel road which climbs 1000 feet to the parking area. From the parking lot it is an easy 1/4 mile walk which will lead you through a narrow canyon where the surrounding rock walls are composed of smooth water-polished marble.
9. Dante's View
Dante's View is a mountain top overlook that is more than 5000 feet above sea level and has the most breathtaking views of Death Valley. It is really pretty at sunset when all the mountains in the distance change color. You can find the paved access road that leads to the view point off Highway 190.
10. Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point is located east of Death Valley and is a part of the beautiful Amargosa Range. From the view point you can see a maze of wildly eroded and vibrantly colored badlands that is just phenomenal to see. From the parking area the view point is a short walk uphill which can feel like forever in the heat but truly worth it. There is also a hiking trail below if you are feeling adventurous. We didn't make the hike this time around but we would love to next time!