Adventure awaits: Desert vistas, below sea level elevations at Death Valley National Park

While the name may conjure images of scorched earth, dehydration, and skeleton bones, Death Valley National Park is a breathtaking park full of photo-worthy adventure moments. With elevations ranging from 282 feet below sea level to 11,049 feet above and an astounding variety of mammal, bird and reptile species, this 3.4 million acre park never fails to impress.

Take a long weekend or rise and shine with the roosters to make the 5 ½ drive from San Diego to the National Park located west of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and northwest of Las Vegas.

No. 1 Tip: Do NOT go to Death Valley in the summer. Temperatures can soar to 120 degrees (in the shade), and the park lives up to its name. Check the temperatures daily to look for cooler weekends throughout the spring, fall and winter.

What to do

A desert paradise for both hikers and drivers, the park is loaded with scenic high points. If you’re one who likes clear direction, rent a self-guided ranger tour loaded with 80 GPS spots for your adventure from the Furnace Creek visitor’s center.

Badwater Basin: Take Badwater Road to see Devil’s Golf Course, with spiky salt crystals, then hop on Badwater Salty Flats trail for an otherworldly hike 282 feet below sea level, near the lowest point in America.

Zabriskie Point: Located in the Furnace Creek area of the park, it’s one of the most famous stopping points for photo ops, including memorable sunrises and sunsets.

Dante’s Peak: Like Zabriskie Point, this area is camera worthy. You have two options here. Hike the eight-mile roundtrip trail for magnificent vistas of Badwater Basin and across the valley, or drive there.

Artist’s Drive: Drive the nine-mile journey on Highway 190 for stunning views of blue, green and red volcanic ashfalls.

Where to stay

Camping: There are a variety of camping options located throughout the park. Both official National Park and private campgrounds take reservations and are available at varying times of the year, so advance planning is a necessity. If you like the “first come-first served” option, head to Mesquite Spring, Emigrant or Wild Rose campgrounds, open year round. Reservations for National Park sites can be made according to date regulations at Private sites like the Fiddler’s Campground offer a range of activities including bocce ball, volleyball, tennis and basketball.

Lodging: If camping isn’t your game, and you require a leisurely shower and comfy bed, head to The Inn at Death Valley, Panamint Springs Resort, The Ranch at Death Valley, or Stovepipe Wells Village, all conveniently located within the park and open year round. 

Where to eat + drink

Badwater Saloon: Put on your cowboy boots and head into this western-themed locale, known for its prickly-pear margaritas and comfort food. Located in Stovepipe Wells area, hungry cowboys and cowgirls can munch on pulled pork quesadillas and chili burgers, shoot pool and try the house Death Valley Brew.

51880 California Highway 190, Death Valley, 760.786.2387

Timbisha Shoshone Village: While in the Furnace Creek area, stop off for frybread tacos and shaved ice to cool down and fill the tummy.

900 Indian Village Dr., Death Valley National Park, 760.258.7858

Panamint Springs Resort Restaurant & Bar: Craft beer fans will be in sudsy heaven at this locale with 150 selections, including local Indian Wells Brewing Co. Eats include custom pizza, burgers and steaks.

40440 California Highway 190, Darwin,

Amargosa Cafe: For a farm-to-table experience, head to this “ghost town” restaurant with locally grown produce and housemade ingredients. Dishes include the Frittata with free-range eggs, zucchini, feta and herbs, and the Avocado with roasted red pepper, cucumber and coleslaw on housemade focaccia.

California Highway 127 and State Line Road, Death Valley Junction,

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