Best time to visit: November through March
Recommended Hikes: Sidewinder Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, Golden Canyon, Mesquite Flat Sanddunes
Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Auto-Touring, 4WD Auto-Touring
Where to stay: Campgrounds and hotels at Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells
Death Valley is the largest national park in the lower 48 and one of its most underrated. The valley is striking and imposing with steep, rugged mountains that tower above canyons, salt flats, and sand dunes. There is a ton to see here and drive times between attractions are long. The park's huge size makes it feel less crowded than most national parks, even during peak season holidays.
Death Valley is a winter park - visit November through March to be able to hike and see all the canyons. Summers are too hot to visit and older cars may overheat when driving through.
Must See Attractions:
Badwater Basin - The lowest point in North America and a great place to see some of Death Valley's expansive salt flats. Look for the "Sea Level" sign high up the side of the cliff above the Badwater Basin parking area.
Natural Bridge - An impressive arch made of rocks and mud that have been cemented together over the eons. The arch is about a half mile from the parking area and requires a slightly uphill hike to see.
Mesquite Flat Sanddunes - The most fun place in the park. The dunes are located in between Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek and you can hike across them for as long or as short as you please.
Ubehebe Crater - A deep and impressive volcanic crater - formed from underground fault lines. It's a pretty long drive to get here but its right on the way to the Racetrack if you are heading out there.
Devil's Cornfield/Devil's Golf Course - Two cool areas that are easily accessible from the main park road. Seeing these attractions will only take about 10 minutes each.
Racetrack Playa - Home of the famous "sailing rocks" of Death Valley. You will have to drive 50 miles on rough dirt roads to get here. This drive might be doable for a sedan but it would be extremely slow (under 10 mph) and the cost of getting towed out if anything goes wrong is very expensive. If you have your heart set on seeing it and are worried about your car, you can rent a jeep at Furnace Creek.
There are great hiking options in Death Valley - but they can't be hiked during summer. Visit in winter to enjoy these routes and explore hidden slot canyons.
If driving through the park during summer be weary of overheating you car. The road from the valley to the west entrance gate is steep and can be hard on older vehicles.
The park's north entrance and Scotty's Castle are currently closed due to flood damage. It is scheduled to re-open in 2019/2020. Access to Ubehebe Crater and the Racetrack is open from the south.
There are gas stations and small general stores at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells.
Drinking water is available at the visitor center and campgrounds - bring your bottles to fill up.
There is no shuttle service in Death Valley National Park.
Where to Stay:
Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells both have hotel options and camping options. Both spots are right in the heart of the park and are ideal for exploring Death Valley in its entirety. The park's large size makes staying outside its boundaries unrealistic.
Stovepipe Wells has a small campground which is first-come-first-served, and a rustic hotel which can be reserved here.
There are several more primitive campgrounds throughout the park which are first-come-first-served. They are at higher elevations which make them ideal if you are looking for somewhere to camp in hotter months.
Hiking in Death Valley:
There are a lot of really cool canyons up and down the valley that you can hike. There are slot canyons, arches, and dryfalls (dry waterfalls) throughout these routes.
Sidewinder Canyon - This is a must-do hike and it's not very well known. The hike is up a major wash with 4 distinct slot canyons branching off from it. The slot canyons are all located on the right side of the wash as you hike up, and there is a good chance you will have them all to yourself. The trail is not marked on the map, but the trailhead can be found roughly 32 miles down the Badwater Road. Read more about the hike and finding the canyon here.
Mosaic Canyon - Another must-do hike with prominent dryfalls and marble walled slot canyons. The bottom section of this hike is pretty crowded but it becomes more and more empty as you hike further. There are two sections that seem like they are impassable, but if you read the hike description here, you will find instructions on how to get passed them.
Golden Canyon - This is probably the most popular and crowded hike in Death Valley. Golden Canyon is made up of yellow hills and ridges that look similar to the rock formations found in Badlands National Park. It has several route options which allow for customization. Read more about Golden Canyon here.
Click here for more Death Valley hikes and route descriptions.
Parts that I missed
Scotty's Castle - Currently closed due to flood damage, but scheduled to open in 2019/2020.
Dante's View - A viewpoint high above the valley which can be reached in a car. Dante's View is sometimes closed when there is snow.
Titus Canyon - A steep dirt road leads through Titus Canyon which is one of the most popular canyons in the park. There are also a few hiking options in Titus Canyon. Read more about it here.
Dirt Road Destinations - Besides the Racetrack and Titus Canyon, there are many more destinations that you can reach via dirt roads. There are several canyons on the west bank of the valley that look to have cool hiking routes, and another dune field at the very northern end of the park called the "Eureka Dunes". 4WD vehicles are best to explore these destinations.