Laura Hughes – Parks Project

Laura Hughes

Photographer Laura Hughes and her boyfriend Shane Eubank took a trip to Death Valley and shared their top 10 favorite spots to hit while visiting the national park!

1. Favorite place to camp off the beaten path: Panamint Springs Valley, Lake Hill Road

There are ample opportunities to set up camp at an established campground in Death Valley NP. What makes this park even more unique are the handful of backcountry camping spots you can take advantage of as well. Lake Hill Road in the Panamint Springs Valley is one such location, and it’s a prime choice for backcountry camping because it is less traversed than other areas of the park. This road is easy to traverse in a high-clearance vehicle and is close enough to nearby refill stations in case you need more water. Best of all-- it is completely free (just remember to leave no trace). Fill your cooler, set up camp, and enjoy having a piece of the park all to yourself for a night or two!

2. Best day hike Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon is an out and back trail with a lot of crowd-pleasing appeal for its winding polished marble slot canyon features. This trail winds through steep canyon walls, with a handful of opportunities for short vertical climbs up over stunning rock face and through boulder jams. Both playful and challenging!


 3. Most amazing geology: Badwater Basin + Devil's Golf Course

Badwater Basin is a geological staple of Death Valley NP, and it also sets records on a much larger scale. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation in North America. Because of Death Valley’s incredibly hot and dry climate, you won’t typically find folks taking a dip there, but it is still a must-see at the park due to the incredible amounts of salt that line the dried basin bottom on an average day. Devil’s Golf Course, right down the road from Badwater, is another look at the basin that you won’t see just anywhere (although it’s nearly as salty). Going in the early morning or at sunset is highly recommended, as this part of the park gets massively hot midday.


4. Best adventure trek: Jeep drive to Racetrack

Many of the roads at Death Valley NP are driveable in any vehicle, but there are a good handful that require 4-wheel drive and off-road tires. If you don’t have either readily available and want to see the sights, the park has made it easy to rent a Jeep for the day. After doing it myself I can say it was incredibly worth it! We took the backroads for a full day-- up rocky roads and through forests of Joshua trees-- with our sights on another iconic geological spot called The Racetrack, a playa bed in the northwestern portion of the park. The destination and the journey were both very memorable and completely different from what we typically do at National Parks.


5. The choose-your-own-adventure hike: Golden Canyon

Golden Canyon is a highly-frequented trail at the park, and for good reason! Not only is this trail full of beautiful rock formations that make for incredible views all during your trek, but you can opt to make your hike longer by taking Gower Gulch to Zabriske Point. If you’re just looking for a short day hike, the traditional trail at Golden Canyon is all you need. Regardless of which path you take, you’re in for amazing canyon exploring and a solid hike!

6. Best kept secret: Desolation Canyon

Just down the road from popular Golden Canyon is the lesser known Desolation Canyon. The turnoff to Desolation is a little challenging to see, but if you’re looking for it you will find it-- and likely be one of a few cars in the parking lot. Desolation Canyon boasts colorful rocks and shares many of the same qualities as Golden Canyon, but with fewer crowds.

7. Tallest vista: Dante's view

Dante’s View showcases a stunning view of Death Valley proper, particularly Badwater Basin. To get there, you’ll drive up steep, winding roads to a parking lot that will take your breath away. With 360 degree views of the park, it’s a stop worth making!

8. Most challenging day hike: Dante's Ridge

Dante’s Ridge hike is one of those trails that is literally uphill both ways-- but so are the views! This trail begins at Dante’s View and only goes up from there. As you traverse the ridge, you’ll encounter steep climbs, descents, and a few stark changes of rock and flora. With miles of views along the ridgeline, the reward is found along the entire route. If you’re feeling especially brave you can climb to the top of the highest ridge on the trail, but it’s not for everybody. Bring some snacks and water-- this is a full day trek!

9. Where to go for a dip: Fiddler's Campground

Death Valley is incredibly hot and dry, so nothing sounds better after a day of exploring than shaking the dust off and hopping into some cool water. In a park bereft of full lakes and river beds, the pool at Fiddler’s Campground is a refreshing way to unwind. Due to its amenities, you’ll want to book your stay in advance. It’s definitely something to look forward to!


10. Most beautiful sunrise location: Zabriske Point

One of the most photographed points in Death Valley NP is Zabriske Point, and for good reason. This breathtaking landscape looks magical at any time of day, but sunrise is one of the best times to take it all in. You can access Zabriske from the Golden Canyon trail, but for quick access in the early morning light, there is an easy, winding hill that is paved for foot traffic. Park, walk, and make sure you have a warm drink in hand because you’ll want to sit and enjoy for a while.


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