Tell someone you’re traveling to Death Valley and you’re bound to get arched eyebrows and questionable looks.
“Death Valley – is that really a place people visit?” some may say.
“Is Death Valley … safe?” others may ask.
Well, the straight answer is YES! Death Valley is the largest US National Park (outside of Alaska) with over 1,000 miles of dirt and paved roads ripe for exploration. But this 5,200-mile national park is so much more than just safe or a place to visit. It’s home to some of the most unusual natural wonders in this country, including many that go unseen due to rugged terrain and extreme isolation.
Death Valley is, without a doubt, a photographer’s dream – and here are 6 must-see destinations to prove it!
1. GOLDEN CANYON
The Golden Canyon hike takes you out about two miles through dusty yellow rocks and otherworldly canyon walls until you reach a sheer, red-rock cliff called the Red Cathedral. You can continue hiking after you reach the cathedral, but the hike can get more intense after this point!
2. BADWATER BASIN SALT FLATS
Like a scene straight from a desert horror flick, these crystallized salt flats create a seemingly endless hexagonal pattern out into the horizon. This area is located at the lowest elevation in North America – 282 feet below sea leval – and covers nearly 200 square miles.
I can only imagine how easy it’d be to get lost through this maze of endless salt clusters (hence the desert horror flick).
3. MESQUITE FLAT SAND DUNES
The curved Mesquite Flat dunes with rippled, golden sand trails may look like the Sahara Desert, but they’re actually smack dab in the center of Death Valley. The dunes reach up to 100 feet, and are best viewed – as pretty much anything is – during sunrise or sunset. If time allows, go on a sunny day to get the contrasts that show the dunes’ sharp features.
4. ARTIST’S DRIVE
This 9-mile paved Artist’s drive dazzles with a purple, teal, red, pink and yellow mountain mosaic. While the rocks turned these colors through oxidation of different metals, I’ll stick with the fantasy side, and say this is most definitely Mother Nature’s Ice Cream Shop.
5. ZABRISKIE POINT
Sunrise chasers, suit up: Zabriskie Point is the best spot in Death Valley. Photographers pour into this Death Valley overlook, which offers 360-views as the sun floods over a ripple of mountains and rocks. Bring your tripod, because this is an especially great place to capture timelapse footage.
6. DEATH VALLEY AT NIGHT
Death Valley is the perfect place for stargazers! With an “International Dark Sky Park” certification, aka a land possessing an exceptionally clear and high quality view of stars, Death Valley is a world famous location for practicing nighttime photography.
Unfortunately, the moon was full and skies were cloudy during our time there, so instead of practicing our star photography, we spent the evening testing out light photography (when you use your DSLR’s long shutter speed, a tripod and a flashlight to “paint” words or pictures). After at least two hours, we had a few shots turn out pretty well!
Not for the faint of heart (or those without 4WD), Titus Canyon is one of the most beautiful drives you can take in Death Valley – but you have to work for it. This 27-mile, rough dirt road takes you through the Grapevine mountain range and into Titus Canyon, where you’re actually driving between two canyon walls. Avoid rainy days because flash floods can get pretty intense, and dedicate at least two hours to this scenic, slightly terrifying drive. (Did I mention it’s rough?)
If you’re planning to visit Death Valley, there are a few things you should know ahead of time:
- Rental cars are the way to go, but make sure you check out the insurance policies ahead of time. Some cars won’t let you off-road, which makes Titus Canyon a no-go.
- Don’t go in the summer. It’s DEATH Valley for a reason, with soaring high temperatures and miserable heat for at least 3 months.
- Always pack extra water and food – just in case.
- Furnace Creek Ranch is probably the best, most affordable place to stay. It’s centrally located and has some good bar/ food options.
- Be sure to check for road closures – they shut down roads for weather conditions frequently.
Share tips for photo worthy trips through other US National Parks in the comments section! Read next > 5 Days on the Pacific Coast Highway