5 Must-Do Hikes in Death Valley
- Closest towns (California side): Lone Pine, Ridgecrest
- Dog Friendly? In Death Valley, you can take your dogs anywhere a car can go (roads, parking lots, campgrounds) but they can’t go on trails or in wilderness areas. Dogs must be leashed at all times. Visit the Death Valley website for more info.
As your may or may not know, Death Valley is home to the lowest point in North America (Badwater Basin) and also boasts THE hottest temperatures on earth (up to 134 degrees). It’s a place of extremes, both in conditions and terrain. That being said, make sure you do your research and are overly prepared. Bring plenty of water and fluids, sunscreen, hats, layers, and some kind of GPS navigation. I also recommend making sure your fill up your gas tank and stock up on food before entering the park because services are few and far between, as well as very expensive!
1. Darwin Falls
When you enter Death Valley from the California side, one of the first hikes you’ll come upon is Darwin Falls. I know, I thought the same thing- there’s a waterfall in Death Valley?! It was just the first of many pleasant surprises we would experience while visiting this park. The road to the trailhead isn’t well marked, so download a map before you go and download waypoints (this goes for all the other hikes you want to do as well). This trail is about 2 miles round trip and does have some shade closer to the waterfall but not a ton!
2. Mesquite Sand Dunes
As you make your way farther into the park, you’ll see the Mesquite Sand Dunes just after passing the small “town” and ranger station at Stovepipe Wells. I’ve never been a huge sand dune person, meaning I generally feel pretty indifferent towards them. However, Sam and I were feeling ambitious and we picked the highest dune we could see and decided to hike out to it. It was sandy and hot but more fun than I expected! Once we “summited” our sand dune mountain, the views were amazing. The dunes are very much pick-your-own-adventure meaning there aren’t any trails. As always with any hike in Death Valley, don’t underestimate the heat and sun exposure out there- take plenty of water and know your limits.
3. Artist’s Palette
I’ll admit that this spot was the one I was most excited about visiting due to the all the cool photos I’ve seen of it. Pro tip: If you’re wanting the colors to pop in your photos, visit Artist’s Palette at sunrise, sunset, or after rain! We visited at sunset and were pleasantly surprised how few people were there (I didn’t edit anyone out of the photos below). The spot is pretty much just off the side of the road and a handful of social trails wind you up and through the colored hills. Find a spot to sit and enjoy or snap some photos! After sunset, we found a spot to camp along Echo Canyon Road (super close to the Zabriskie Point parking area). In Death Valley, you are allowed to camp “along dirt roads at least one mile away from any paved road or ‘day use only’ dirt road.” It was a good spot to park our van for the night and gave us quick access to Zabriskie Point in the morning.
4. Zabriskie Point
We got up early the next morning and drove a few minutes to Zabriskie Point for sunrise. I knew it was a popular spot for sunrise, but I was actually surprised to see just how many people were there! The decently large parking lot was full at 7 am. I hopped out and snapped some photos of the viewpoint ft. some strangers haha. The textures, layers, and colors at this spot were a feast for the eyes. It was definitely worth the early wake up call for the soft morning light. I do recommend getting there early enough for a parking spot! I imagine sunset would be beautiful as well. Like Artist’s Palette this spot is more of a roadside stop than a hike, however there are longer hikes that start from this parking area such as Golden Canyon.
5. Natural Bridge Canyon
Natural Bridge Canyon was our last stop in Death Valley. I’m a sucker for a natural arch or bridge and like the waterfall, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the park had one (I’m sure there’s other ones I don’t know about). We brought breakfast with us and ate it at the bridge, and had the trail to ourselves until we were almost back to the car! If you hike beyond the bridge, the canyon slots up and you will see several dry falls. The whole trail is less than 2 miles roundtrip.
All in all, we spent about 24 hours in the park and were able to hit all five of these spots easily. There were definitely more spots we wanted to visit but just didn’t have enough time, like the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, Sidewinder Canyon, Rhyolite “ghost town”, and more. We drove by Badwater Basin and didn’t stop, but there were lots of people walking around the salt flats! There’s also some canyoneering routes in the park that we’d like to try out the next time we’re around. Death Valley may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we loved it and definitely hope we can make it back again!
As aways, please practice Leave No Trace and leave this beautiful place better than you found it!