National Parks Tips

Best hikes in Death Valley National Park

hiker standing on sand dune in Death Valley
Photo of Death Valley Sand Dunes

10 of the Best Hikes in Death Valley

Death Valley has a large variety of hikes to offer to its many visitors. You can hike into the canyons, above the peaks to view into the badlands, on the sand dunes, or even to the dry basins. The hikes on this list vary by distance, elevation and can be completed in a few hours. Keep in mind that the estimated time is based on hiking two miles an hour, but with the heat and lack of shade that can be increased considerably! Each person will hike their own hike and their own pace so use the estimates as just a ballpark number as your experience may differ completely!

Badwater Basin

Bad Water Basin – Photo by Tanya Nevidoma

Distance: 0.1 miles to 5 Miles Round-trip
Elevation: 9 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 15 minutes to 2 hours

Trail Description: If you want to visit an alien landscape on your trip in Death Valley, Badwater Basin is it. This is one of the main attractions of Death Valley as its the lowest point in North America offering an out of this world look at the infamous salt flats. The name comes from the immense amount of salt deposits making any water that builds up undrinkable or bad water. There isn’t necessarily a hike or hiking trail, but rather a walk. You can walk as little or as far out as you want. The salt flats stretch on for miles and the salt deposits vary in different areas.

Keep in mind: There is absolutely no shade out on the Badwater Basin salt flats. It will likely be incredibly hot and very dry during the day, so be sure to bring enough water and cover from the beating sun. We recommend going as early as possible when temperatures are slightly cooler. Avoid going here midday as you will probably feel like you are being baked by the sun. This place is located about 17 miles away from Furnace Creek, so plan in the time to drive there when planning your visit!

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – Photo by Stefan Widua

Distance: 0.1 2.8 Miles Round Trip
Elevation: 208 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 10 mintes to 1.5 hours

Trail Description: Some of the best views of Death Valley where the dunes meet the mountains in the back. Wander on these cascading golden sand dunes which will teleport you to another world. These sand dunes stretch on for miles and miles and offer breath taking views of Death Valley. While there is no actual trail to hike, you can explore for as long as you like. Although these sand dunes are not the tallest in the park, these are the most readily accessible for visitors to the park.

Keep in mind: The best time to visit these dunes is during sunrise or sunset as the weather will be much better and the colors will be just magical. Imagine the golden dunes cast pink with the mountains in the distance, it will be a view you’ll never forget.

Zabriskie Point

Distance: 0.4 Miles Round trip
Elevation: 52 Feet
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 10-30 minutes

Trail Description: If you want the view point of Death Valley, this is it. Just a short 0.4 mile walk from the parking lot, Zabriskie Point offers the best panoramas of the area. Everywhere you look you will be in awe as the golden badland canyons stretch on for miles and miles. You’ll be able to see the wind and element carved hills in the distance and will be a sight you’ll remember from your visit to Death Valley.

Keep in mind: There is no sun cover at all for Zabriskie Point and the sun will be beaming midday. The best time to visit these would be during sunrise or sunset to get a cascade of wonderful colors as the dessert begins to wake up or begin its nightly slumber.

Panamint Dunes

Panamint Dunes – Photo by Hari Nandakumar

Distance: 7 Miles Round Trip
Elevation: 544 Feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 2.5 hours

Trail Description: The Panamint Dunes are harder to reach and remote compared to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which means you’ll see less people and feel like your on a Star Wars planet with just your group. This unmarked trail is 7 miles round trip as you work your way through the sand until you reach the pinnacle Panamint Dunes.

Keep in mind: This trail is completely out in the open like most trails in Death Valley, but the hike is worth it as you’ll be able to enjoy the sounds of the dessert and view these epic golden yellow dunes. The best time to hike this is early morning as the weather will be cooler or in the late evening for a night time hike.

Death Valley Natural Bridge Road

Distance: 4.3 Miles
Elevation: 1000 Feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 3 hours

Trail Description: The Death Valley Natural Bridge Road will take you on a journey to see the geological evolution of one of the canyons in the park. The hike starts off with a gradual incline where you’ll eventually be surrounded by towering canyon walls. You’ll be able to see the naturally carved bridge as you make your way forward. The way back out is just a gentle decline to return to the trailhead.

Keep in mind: The hike in is a gradual incline of about 1000 feet on a gravel path. Once you reach the end of the trail its just an easy decline as you make your way out. You’ll eventually hit a deadend where you cannot climb or hike any further.

Desolation Canyon

Desolation Canyon – Photo by Marco Bicca

Distance: 3.6 Miles
Elevation: 700 Feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 2.5 hours

Trail Description: The Desolation Canyon hike will lead you to awesome views at the top which are the closest to artist drive. Shaped by flowing water, this hike features the colorful canyon walls that begin to tower over you the further in you go. This hike offers a few adventurous obstacles, but once those are cleared the views of Artist’s Drive are worth the effort!

Keep in mind: There is an 8 foot wall about a mile into the hike that you have to scramble and climb over. After this first obstacle there is a shorter 6 foot wall that you also must climb over. Be very careful climbing up and climbing down.

Ubehe Crater

Distance: 1.5 Miles
Elevation: 500 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 1 hour

Trail Description: The Ubehe Crater is a 600 foot deep crater that was created from a mixture of steam and gas explosions as magma pierced through the earth and hit ground-level water. This hike will take you to a Mars like environment where you hike along the rim of the Ubehe Crater and visit Little Hebe. The descent down will drop you down about 600 feet.

Keep in mind: There are some slippery parts as you hike along the rim and the hike down into the crater is much easier, but you pay the price and on the way back up you have to ascend about 600 feet. Be very cautious as you hike along the rim and down into the crater.

All Day Hikes:

Telescope Peak Trail

Telescope Peak – Photo by Garrett Patz

Distance: 14 miles Round trip
Elevation: 3,323 feet
Difficulty: Very Strenuous
Estimated time: 8 hours

Trail Description: This trail will take you to panoramic views of Death Valley down below and on a cloud free day you’ll be able to see Mt.Whitney in the distance. Its possible to see the highest point in the lower 48 states of Mt. Whitney and the lowest point in North America with the bad water salt flats. This trail has minimal sun cover and a steady climb to the peak. This trail is broken down into three sections, the first steep incline, followed by a meadow, and the final ascent past the bristlecone pines. You’ll pass by bristlecone pine trees until you finally reach a narrow ridge just before the peak.

Keep in mind: This trail starts at Mahogany Flat campground, but you likely need a 4×4 vehicle to reach this campsite as the road there is very rough. There is also very minimal sun cover and the high elevation may leave you gasping for air each step you take.

Darwin Falls Trail via Old Toll Road

Distance: 1.9 Miles Round trip
Elevation: 226 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated time: 2.5 hours

Trail description: This trail leads to a nice desert oasis with a small waterfall. The hike starts off on a dry trail, but the closer you get the falls the more green and lucious the vegetation becomes.

Keep in mind: The road to the trail head is also rough for a two wheel drive car. It is highly recommended to have a 4×4 vehicle to make your way to the trailhead. This trail has very minimal sun cover until the very end. This trail is also not very well marked, so keep note as you are trekking along.

Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral

Distance: 2.9 Miles Round trip
Elevation: 574feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated time: 2 hours

Trail Description: Golden canyon trail will lead you to towering golden yellow canyon walls. There are no tree covers, but depending on the time of day you hike the canyon walls could provide a bit of shade, but don’t count on it! The end of the trail features the beautiful Red Cathedral rock formations and are well worth the trip.

Keep in mind: There is no sun cover and the hike here is very dusty. The canyon is unforgiving and temperatures can reach above 110+ degrees. There are some slight scrambles to reach the end of the trail.

One Day in Death Valley

If you only have just one day in Death Valley we highly recommend you visit the visitor center, Badwater Basin, Artists Drive, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Zabriskie Point. Visiting this points will give you a quick overview and great experience of Death Valley.

Two Days in Death Valley

If you have just a quick weekend in Death Valley then we recommend you visiting the above as day one and for your second day hike the Panamint Dunes, Ubehe Crater, and Death Valley Natural Bridge Road. By visiting all of these hikes you will get a wide variety of experiences and views in Death Valley.

Relevant Questions Section(s)

Where can I hike in Death Valley?

You can technically hike all over Death Valley, however there are numerous well marked trails that will lead you to amazing landscapes and geological features that have been carved over many lifetimes. Most hikes have dedicated parking lots and trails.

What is the most attractive area in Death Valley?

With such a wide range of geological features there isn’t just one attractive area within Death Valley. Death Valley encompasses a large area and will require long drives between each view point, so work your way from the visitor center and visit other hikes and viewpoints.

What should I not miss in Death Valley?

With so many amazing sights to see, the top five places you should not miss in Death Valley would be Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Artists Drive, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and the Ubehe Crater.

How many days do you need in Death Valley?

Since Death Valley is located in a remote area we highly recommend you reserve at least a weekend in Death Valley. Due to the high temperatures, you likely won’t be outside for too long as the heat will likely dictate the specific time you go on your hikes.