Spend your next three-day weekend with a visit to the great outdoors in Death Valley National Park! Because this California desert playground is the hottest and driest place on Earth, it’s best to visit in the cooler winter months, making November to April the perfect time for a Death Valley adventure!
1. Book a Spot at Furnace Creek Campground
If you plan to spend a few days in the park, reserve a site at Furnace Creek. The campground is RV-friendly, spacious and smack dab in the middle of Death Valley’s top sites. Just across the street is the Furnace Creek Visitors Center.
2. Drive Across the Border to Beatty, Nevada
Not going to lie: at first glance, this town is not a bustling attraction. But, it’s a great place to cool off with an ice cream cone and treats from Death Valley Nut & Candy at EddieWorld and fill up the tank at Rebel 74 (it’s the cheaper gas station) and bears some interesting Gold Rush roots that you can learn about at the free Beatty Museum.
3. Visit Rhyolite Ghost Town & Art Museum
Just before Beatty, you’ll happen across an enchantingly eerie open-air art gallery of odd hooded structures and various sculptures known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Keep driving this road, and you’ll venture back in time into the skeletal remains of Rhyolite, once known as the Chicago of the West. In its early-20th century heyday, this ghost town was home to nearly 5,000 people. But, just as quickly as the desert town appeared, it was completely abandoned five years later by 1913. Today, not much remains of the town, but it’s fascinating to imagine what once stood in the crumbling concrete foundations.
4. Sunrise at Zabriskie Point
This spot is one of the most popular in the park, thanks to its unreal views, proximity to Furnace Creek and user-friendly platform about a three minute walk from the parking lot. At sunrise, the canyons carved into the layers of hills and colorful soil cast spectacular shadows in dawn’s pastel purple hues. Worth the early morning wakeup call.
5. Explore Golden Canyon’s Red Cathedral
This 3-mile hike’s gradual incline winds through a canyon of sedimentary rock until opening up to a grand wall of red rock, appropriately named Red Cathedral. The entire hike is reminiscent of scenes in Star Wars and the canyon’s topography is stunning and feels like walking on another planet (or another galaxy far, far away?)
6. Watch Day Turn to Night at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
There’s a fun two-mile trek across the sand dune crests and peaks that offer great views of the valley–and shoes full of sand (just a warning).
7. Stargaze 282 feet Below Sea Level in Badwater Basin
These salt flats, among the largest in the world, are situated on the lowest place in North America. It’s also a fantastic spot for spotting the stars on a clear night, as the park is one of only three International Dark Sky Parks in the country.
8. Devil’s Golf Course
Located between Furnace Creek and Badwater Basin, this jagged lake of salt earned its namesake from a 1930s guidebook that wrote, “only the devil could play golf on such a surface.”
9. Artists Palette Drive
After a short canyon drive, you’ll happen upon this dreamy pastel landmark and Death Valley icon. (Sidenote: the 9-mile road that leads to Artists Palette is closed for repairs until March 2017.)
10. Sunset at Dantes View
Trek to this bird’s eye view of the park to watch the sun dip below the horizon from 5,476 feet above the salt-covered valley floor.
11. Pit-Stop at Stovepipe Wells Village
This rustic western stop near the Mesquite Sand Dunes is another place to rest your head for a night. Along with the Stovepipe Wells Hotel, there’s a restaurant, gas station, gift shop, general store and RV camping spots.
12. Find an Oasis at Darwin Falls
Near Panamint Springs on the Western edge of the park, Darwin Falls is a hidden little oasis reachable by a fairly easy-to-moderate two-mile roundtrip hike. The lower falls are about 20 feet tall, but if you’re up for a climb there’s a taller Upper Falls a little ways up.
13. Time Travel to Harmony Borax Works
For five years in the 1880s, William T. Coleman and his 40 employees worked at this plant to produce three tons of borax daily. His use of 20-mule teams to transport materials became a Death Valley icon thanks to an advertising campaign by 20-Mule Team Borax Soap. This is one of two wagons remaining in the park; the other is at Furnace Creek Ranch.
14. Off-Road Through 20 Mule Team Canyon
It takes about 25 minutes to drive this 2.8-mile dirt road. Interestingly, despite its name, the 20-mule teams did not take this route while transporting borax through the valley. However, it’s still a fun drive that’s dotted with borax mine shafts and gives explorers a taste of what Death Valley looked like a century ago.
15. Dance Among the Wildflowers
In February and March, the valley floor blooms into a yellow and purple sea of color. While a Superbloom only happens about once a decade, usually with enough winter rain you’ll see wildflowers, most commonly desert gold, for several weeks in early spring. Check the Death Valley Wildflower Report for the best locations and updates.
Looking for another park to visit? Check out The Wandering Alligator’s guide to weekend camping in Joshua Tree National Park!