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Things to do in Death Valley – how to plan your trip?

things to do in death valley

Infamous deadly heat. We were so lucky, during our stay in Death Valley the temperature equaled to 46°C only. Majority of tourists go there only to take a picture next to the well-known sign in Badwater Basin. But there are many other things to do in Death Valley National Park.

A lot of people go there while staying in Las Vegas. However, we wanted to spend a few days in Utah and Arizona first, so we spent previous night in Saint George, on the border of these two states. We decided to travel through Death Valley from east to west via CA State Route 190, making stops to see everything we wanted. All attractions described below are in close proximity to this road, very well-marked and easily accessible for every car.

Tip: Find out more how our West Coast road trip itinerary looked like and how to rent a car in the US!


Zabriskie Point

We arrived at Zabriskie Point, where you can have a perfect view of rock formations, which look like somewhere in the outer-space! Wiki says that Philosopher Michel Foucault described his feelings after taking LSD in this place in 1975 as the best experience of his life. Well, yeah. No philosophy-junkies this time, but hundreds of tourists instead. Of course, all trying to take a picture showing how isolated this place is, away from civilization and humans. Anyway, visiting this place is still one of the most spectacular things to do in Death Valley:

things to do in death valley - Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, USA

Devil’s Golf Course

Majority of tourists go directly to the most famous place in Death Valley – Badwater Basin. However, it is worth stopping on the way there to have a look at Devil’s Golf Course, large salt pan, full of sharp formations. They are made of soil and salt and are surprisingly hard. This process of evaporation is accompanied by metallic sound, which overall is a bit creepy, looking at the surroundings. I heard the rumor that as road signs are a bit misleading, sometimes people come to play golf here (instead going to nice grassy course in Furnance Creek). Well, good luck!

things to do in death valley - Devil's Golf Course

Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley, USA

Badwater Basin

We arrived at last. Badwater Basin. The lowest elevation in North America things to do in death valley - Badwater Basin - remainings of the lakeat -85 meters below sea level. In fact, this lowest point is a bit further, but getting there is too risky – under the layer of salt, there is dangerous mud. Deadly heat makes water in the basin evaporate, so as a result, you can enjoy the view of a rather tiny puddle instead of a large pond. Evaporation here is so extreme that it would dry up 50-km long, 3,7 m deep lake in one year. Wow! It explains this tiny puddle then. 

Why is it called Badwater? One of the first explorers of this place wanted his donkey to drink some water from the puddle, but he was very reluctant – it was bad water, too salty to drink. On the other hand, endemic Badwater snails are not picky and live long and prosper here. Nowadays, taking a selfie with Badwater Basin sign is on the top of things to do in Death Valley.

things to do in death valley - Badwater Basin sign

Badwater Basin, Death Valley, USA

Artist’s Palette

On our way back to Route 190, we visited Artist’s Palette, where oxidation of different metals transformed boring grey rocks in a rainbow marvel. Iron went yellow, pink and red, mica – green and manganese – violet. 

things to do in death valley - Artist's Palette

Artist’s Palette, Death Valley, USA

Mesquite Flat Dunes

On the way to the motel, we enjoyed our last stop before exiting Death Valley – picturesque Mesquite Flat Dunes. Look familiar? Yeah, they were starring in the Star Wars movies! 

things to do in death valley - Mesquite Flat Dunes

Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley, USA

As I said, it was our last stop in Death Valley. With every kilometer driven, we could see less and fewer cars. Finally, on the last junction, we were the only ones turning left, in direction of Trona. What happened next? You can read here.

Racetrack Playa

Now, something about a place we really wanted to see, but due to logistic issues, it turned out to be impossible. There were 2 problems – first of all, this place is far away from the Route 190, so you need to drive 3 hours to get there from Badwater Basin. The other issue was our “regular” car – 4WD is strongly advised as the road itself is washboarded, tricky to drive while wet. I heard that some people still try to get there by Mustang, but often without success. We really didn’t enjoy the idea of paying 800$ (in cash!) for towing. 

But why is it still worth visiting? 

Racetrack Playa is a dry lake. But it is not an ordinary dry lake – rocks move mysteriously on it surface. Sometimes they suddenly change movement direction, sometimes go the opposite way than the other nearby stones. Some people call it magic, some link it with conspiracy theories. The others found a little bit different explanation, but it required 100 years of research and using GPS.


How to get to the Valley of Death? From Las Vegas the fastest route leads via Interstate 95, you have to turn in Amargosa Valley to NV-373 road and you will reach Death Valley Junction. The alternative route is NV-160 from Las Vegas straight to Deat Valley Junction. From there, you will pass the Death Valley National Park across CA-190 from east to west.

How much time do you need in Death Valley? To tick off all the above-mentioned things to do in Death Valley, you will need approx. 1 day. If you plan to visit Racetrack Plaza, you will need two days. 

Where to stay in Death Valley? You can stay in a hotel in Death Valley, eg. in Stovepipe Walls or Furnace Creek. If after visiting Valley you are going west – Trona, Inyokern or Ridgecrest are a good option (2,5h drive from Badwater Basin). If driving east – the best option is Las Vegas (also 2,5h drive from Badwater Basin).

Click here to book your perfect hotel in Death Valley!

Fees and prices: ticket valid for 7 days – 25$ per car. If you plan to visit more national parks in the States, consider purchasing America the Beautiful Annual Pass for 80$. You get unlimited access to all parks until the end of the year!

Important: Before you hit the road, check updated conditions and warnings in Death Valley (eg. roads closures). Also, remember to carry enough water – 2×1,5 liter bottle per person is a must!

Do you recommend any other things to do in Death Valley? For more our adventures in the US, click here!

things to do in death valley - sunset

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Infamous deadly heat and Badwater Basin. What to visit in Death Valley? Top things to do in Death Valley - Death Valley itinerary.

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  • Reply
    Cherry K Wilson
    September 29, 2017 at 02:58

    I appreciate this article. Now I have a better grasp on what and how to see Death Valley. My hubby and I are planning a trip to Cali next summer and we want to drive through Death Valley on our way to Sequoia from Las Vegas. You said you’d need a day to see all the points on the route. Would you say that equates to 6-8hrs or more like 10-12hrs? I’m trying to get a good handle on how to plans the legs of my journey.

    Thank you!

    • Reply
      September 29, 2017 at 04:27

      Hey Cherry, thank you for stopping by! I would say more like 10-12 hours, especially when you’re driving from Las Vegas (about 2h to Death Valley) and you’re planning to stay the next night somewhere nearby Sequoia NP (if you wanna stay in eg. Bakersfield, druving time from Death Valley is approx. 4h)

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