After hiking to Telescope Peak the previous day – the highest point at 11,049 ft (3,368m) above sea level – today’s a relatively easy day before I drive back to Las Vegas. I’ve picked three short hikes that take in some of the varied landscapes of the park:
- Zabriskie Point where the Badlands Loop goes through gulches and along ridges, and provides a close view of some of the rock formations of Death Valley
- Dante’s View, one of the highest points you can get to by car where two short walks provide sweeping views from the lowest to the highest points in Death Valley
- Badwater, the lowest point of the US for a hike across the salt flats.
Starting at Beatty, outside the park, I start fairly early as the morning light is best for photography of the salt pans. There’s nice morning light and no traffic as the dead-straight road (Highway 374) heads for the Grapevine Mountains.
Visibility is still a bit obscured by smoke from fires burning in California.
It’s a surprisingly hilly place – there are multiple mountain ranges between the vast plains; Death Valley itself is bounded by the Panamint Mountains on one side and Amargosa Range on the other.
Directly ahead of Highway 190 is the Amargosa Range runs which along most of the eastern side of California’s Death Valley, separating it from Nevada’s Amargosa Desert. Its highest peak at 8,738 feet (2,663 m) is Grapevine Peak.
Zabriskie Point and Badlands Loop
My first stop is Zabriskie Point, which is at the foothills of the Amargosa Range. There’s a very short walk to a popular lookout here, which provides a vantage point over the desolate landscape.
Looking west, across Death Valley, is the Panamint Range in the background. The jagged peak in the middle is Manly Peak, located half inside Death Valley National Park, and half inside the Manly Peak Wilderness area.
To really experience the desert landscape, there’s two short, circular hikes that start here: the Golden Canyon Loop and the Badlands Loop. I’m taking the shorter (2.7 miles / 4.3km) Badlands Loop, which gives you a great feeling for the dramatic landscape.
The hike heads down a narrow gully carved by infrequent (but heavy) rain to Zabriskie Point Junction, and then heads south-west through a much broader gully.
The track descends to the lowest point of the Badlands Loop, before returning a ridge that provides stunning views towards the Panamint mountains.
As the trail loops back to the trailhead, you can Zabriskie Point in the distance (top right of the photo below).
From Zabriskie Point (which is now starting to get a bit busier), I take a last photo of the panoramic views.
The next stop, a bit further along Highway 190, is Dante’s View. While not as high as Telescope Peak, it provides one of the best views over the white salts flats and most of the 110-mile long Death Valley. Getting there is half the fun, with Dante’s View Road rising steeply up from Highway 190 to the viewpoint.
The views from the parking are pretty impressive, even without walking anywhere… but a couple of short trails provide even better vantage points. To the south-west of the car park, a trail leads down the ridge.
From the end of the ridge, you can see right down the length of Death Valley, from the salt flats of Badwater at 282 feet (86m) below sea level up to the Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley National Park at 3,366 feet (1800m) above sea level.
At the northern of the car park, another trail heads up the ridge, continuing another four miles up to Mt Perry.
It’s worth following this trail for a short distance for the views of the Badwater salt flats and the Panamint Ranges (although the outlook is about the same as from the southern end of the carpark).
From Dante’s View I need to back-track a little, heading back up past Zabriskie Point toward Furnace Creek, and then down Badwater Road. One of the main roads through Death Valley, Badwater Road follows the foothills of the Margarosa Mountains. The first section is almost dead straight and seems to go forever… many of Death Valley’s attractions are along this road, including Badwater.
One of the most popular attractions in Death Valley, Badwater is the lowest place in the USA, at 282 feet (86m) below sea level. The lowest point is a few miles to the west and varies in position, depending on rainfall and evaporation patterns. (Badwater Basin was thought to be the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere until the relatively recent discovery of Laguna del Carbón in Argentina, which is 344 feet / 105m below sea level.)
A spring-fed pool is locaated near the carpark – but the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin means the water is undrinkable. Badwater Basin is thouigh to be named after an early explorer’s horse refused to drink the water here.
A long, white salty “finger” stretches out from the end of the boardwalk, providing access onto the salt flat, and it’s possible to cross the entire basin. From the salt flat there are view of the Amargosa Range on one side (the location of Dante’s View where I’ve just come from) and the Panamint Mountains some distamce away on the other side.
After my Badwater Basin hike across the salt pan, I continue down Badwater Road. It winds around the edge of the salt flats and the foothills of the Black Mountains for a while, before becoming dead straight again. Towards the end of the Black Mountain range, the road bears east and crosses the mountains at Jubilee Pass, before leaving Death Valley National Park.
I think I’ll be back – there are many more walks I’d like to do, and while I’ve always associated Death Valley with the enormous salt pans, there’s a huge diversity of landscapes.
Where to stay in Death Valley
The closest accommodation to Death Valley National Park is at Furnace Creek, near the Furnace Creek Visitor Centre. The Ranch at Death Valley is more affordable and offers a range of rooms, while the Inn at Death Valley has upmarket villas.
The nearest town is Beatty, which is just outside the park and has a wide range of accommodation.
|Location||Death Valley is 4-5 hour drive from Los Angeles, and just over two hours from Las Vegas. The Park Visitor Centre is at Furnace Creek.|
|Maps||National Geographic Death Valley (1:165K)|