There are SO many amazing places to visit in Death Valley it’s really hard just pick 5, so we didn’t, we picked 6! Death Valley has widely varying landscapes depending on what area of the park you’re visiting, so it really depends on if you want to see desert or mountains, or even spring (yes there’s water in Death Valley!).
Our “Must See” list covers the quintessential items that you really should see if this is your first visit. It includes many of the things that Death Valley is famous for and some of the most visually impactful landscapes in this area. There are a few attractions that are often included on other “Must See” lists that I didn’t include here… and that’s because I didn’t think they were as impressive, sorry. So, if you really want to see the best of the best and little of everything, this is the list for you.
BUT, some of these places are only accessible with a 4 wheel drive vehicle (part of why they’re so awesome). So if you don’t have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, then I would switch those out with Badwater Basin, Dante’s View, and possible The Artist’s Drive. Badwater Basin is pretty and almost made the list, but I found these others to be more impressive. The Artist’s Drive seems to be a staple on everyone else’s lists, but I didn’t think the colors popped all that much and thought most of it was just “ok”. Anyway, onto the good stuff!
#1 Zabriskie Point
Wow! Wow! Wow! Look at that view! This is the most impressive view in all of Death Valley, and for good reason – it’s breathtaking. The point provides you an amazing view of the valley and the badlands below. There are hiking trails available if you want to explore the area, or you can just take it in from the top of the point. This is a VERY popular tourist spot. It’s easily accessible via paved roads and is pretty crowded, but absolutely worth it.
#2 Devil’s Golf Course
I was much more impressed with this than I thought I would be. I had seen pictures and basically thought it would just be a field of odd rocks, but these rocks are really crystalized salt formations. It’s incredible weird and oddly beautiful and very unique to Death Valley. I don’t think there’s really anything else on the planet like it. It reminded me a lot of walking through the lava fields in Iceland. I was also surprised at how hard these formations are and that you can literally just walk right out on top of them. It a VERY popular spot, accessible via paved roads, and expect to see tourists there.
#3 Eureka Sand Dunes
There are several different sand dunes in Death Valley, the most famous being the Mesquite Sand Dunes… I’m not sure why, but those are the most popular. They’re in the center of the park and accessible via a paved road, which is probably why they more often get called out as a “must see”. Well, the Eureka Sand Dunes are way better! They’re MUCH bigger and much more remote. They’re located in the north western part of the park and are only accessible via a dirt road (4×4 needed). At the Eureka Sand Dunes, you’ll often have them all to yourselves and will have lots of opportunities for hiking and climbing. Whereas, at the Mesquite, there are so many tourists, they look like ants crawling around in sugar. So if you can make it to the Eureka Sand Dunes, they would definitely be better, but the Mesquite can still fill your “sand dune quota” if necessary.
#4 Mosaic Canyon
A great sampling of the well known slot canyons in Death Valley. This canyon is really beautiful with smooth white canyon walls that twist in a very unique ‘s’ formation through the beginning of the canyon. The orange and red colors of the rocks further in are also very vibrant and beautiful. It’s a very “Death Valley thing to do”, and even tho it’s popular and often crowded, I think it’s worth seeing. Also, once you get a little ways into the canyon (past the curvy ‘s’ part), most of the tourists have taken their photos and turned around, so it gets much quieter the further in you go. Accessible via a short dirt road off of a paved road, there are often many sedans that make the trip ok.
#5 Ubehebe Crater
This is a really impressive crater! The thing that really makes it stand out are the colors in the levels of earth inside the crater. Most of the topsoil is dark almost black and inside the crater are wonderful reds and oranges. There’s a loop trail that allows you to hike the rim of the crater, or you can go for a hike down to the bottom inside. This is also a very popular Death Valley attraction and is accessible via paved road, but it’s much further north than many of the other attractions (the last thing accessible with a paved road), and as such, gets a little less foot traffic than some of the other popular ones.
#6 Last Chance Mountain Range via Death Valley Road
I don’t understand why this isn’t on more people’s lists! It is stunning! Especially compared to the other well-known scenic drive of The Artist’s Drive, which pales in comparison. I’m specifically referring to the drive along Death Valley/ Big Pine road that goes through the mountains. This is a dirt road and not sedan friendly. It stretched from Crankshaft Crossing to the northern entrance of the park and it’s just breathtaking. The rocks in the mountains go through so many interesting formations and colors from reds to purples to grays, including going past an old sulfur mine. There’s also an amazing viewpoint looking over the valley from the top of this pass. This road then leads out of the valley into Joshua Tree Flat, through the Inyo forest, and into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The entire drive is just beautiful. If you have the vehicle to do it, this is absolutely a “must see”, and it’s very desolate with no crowds or tourists.
And that’s my list! Anything you think I should add or remove? Tell me in the comments!