When you think of Death Valley National Park, you are probably envisioning Badwater Basin. It’s extremely dry and one of the hottest places in the world.

So that’s why we decided to visit in January! We experienced highs in the 70s, well below the 110+ degree heat you can expect in the summer months. The record temperature in Death Valley is a blistering 134 degrees!

We attended an excellent ranger talk at Badwater. Check out this program or any ranger talk at your next national park. They are consistently fun, informative, and great for all ages.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America
Badwater got its name from a traveler literally writing “bad water” on a map. The water here is too salty to drink.
Salt flats at Badwater Basin

There is so much more to the park than Badwater though.

Dantes View provides a great visual overview of Death Valley. It’s from this vantage point that you get to appreciate the magnitude of the park. The mountain ranges on either side of the valley were larger and more dramatic than we expected. (There is a road from the valley floor, so you don’t have to hike up 5500 feet to see this vista.)

Dantes View

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the largest dunes in Death Valley. Dunes only form in a couple areas of the park where the mountains slow the wind, stopping the sand from blowing farther. Most of the park has loose gravelly sandy soil instead of the beach-like sand found here. There are no trails as the sand is constantly moving and shifting. We very much enjoyed wandering the dunes.

Evening light on the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
We packed a picnic and ate dinner on the dunes as the sun faded.

Artist’s Palette on the Artist’s Drive came highly recommended to us by an 8 year old at the Death Valley visitor center. He told us Artist’s Palette was his favorite place because it looked like scoops of ice cream. He wasn’t wrong.

Artists Palette

Zabriskie Point is a popular spot, and for good reason. A very short paved path leads up to the viewpoint, which offers stunning views of the surrounding badlands carved by erosion.

It’s hard to imagine creatures living in such a dry barren landscape, yet they do. On our way back, with the sun well below the horizon, we were treated to a dozen or so bats swooping and feeding on insects.

Zabriskie Point
The soft rock, without vegetation, is easily carved by Death Valley’s rare but heavy downpours.

Devils Golf Course looks like an alien world. A labyrinth of salt mounds extends far into the distance. We tried to spend 30 minutes to an hour at each viewpoint in the park to fully appreciate it. Sometimes, as in this case, we got the area completely to ourselves. Our period of quiet solitude in this bizarre landscape was quite memorable.

Devils Golf Course with Telescope Peak in the distance

We spent our nights at the Furnace Creek campground. It is centrally located for visiting all the places we’ve mentioned in this post. The campsites are close together, but a few of them, like our walk-in site #126, feature great shade. And most importantly in the desert, the campground has potable water!

Furnace Creek campsite #126
A few desert gold flowers were blooming during our visit in late January.

In our next post, we’ll share photos and stories from some day hikes and less visited parts of Death Valley National Park.


  1. What a fascinating landscape to explore. Those dunes are beautiful. And those salt mounds… they through off all sense of proportion, making a human look like a gnat in a barnyard (the mounds look like cow patties that have been trumped all over by a herd of cattle!). How neat to have it to yourselves.


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