Will and I spent 14 days exploring (some of) Death Valley National Park’s 3.4 million acres.
Our first visit occurred in February when we took a spur of the moment road trip in our Prius; so believe me when I say you don’t need 4-Wheel-Drive (4WD) for these parts of the park.
I wasn’t expecting to like Death Valley as much as I did because I’m not much of a desert person (desserts, on the other hand…), but the landscape and life inside the park were captivating.
Fun Fact: Death Valley’s Furnace Creek holds the world record for the highest reliably recorded temperature on earth– 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
UPDATE: Since publishing this post, we have created a Complete Guide to Death Valley National Park. Make sure to check it out, it covers absolutely everything you need to know before visiting the park.
Top 10 Places in Death Valley (without 4WD)
Spot #1: Mesquite Dunes
These are the easiest dunes to get to, and naturally, the most crowded. There’s a large parking lot provided and getting to the dunes wasn’t too challenging. Also, these dunes might seem familiar to Star Wars fans. 😉
Spot #2: The Elusive Mud Cracks
Successful finders of these mud cracks seem to be very territorial about this spot. Out of respect, I won’t broadcast the exact location here.
But I will say this — the adventure is so worthwhile! We spent four days scouring photos for clues and researching the map. I can’t tell you how happy we were to finally find them!
Tip: The mud cracks are located very close to one of the most iconic areas in Death Valley National Park (the spot is included on this list).
Spot #3: Darwin Falls
I can’t recommend this short and adventurous hike enough, make sure you bring your camera – you won’t believe how lush it is! This is a great hike to do on a hot day because this area is shaded and stays cool.
The road to the parking lot is very bumpy, so allow extra time for that.
Spot #4: Zabriskie Point (for sunrise & stars)
You can’t miss catching a sunrise at Zabriskie Point. This spot gets crowded quickly so I recommend coming early. This seems to be on every photographer’s wish list, you should have seen the crowd!
If you’re more of a night owl and catching sunrises doesn’t pique your interest, star gazing at Zabriskie Point is absolutely spectacular to.
Spot #5: Natural Bridge Canyon
This is a fairly easy, quick 15-minute, uphill hike. A lot of people don’t know this, but Will and I LOVE easy hikes! I think some people assume we’re die-hard hikers, but in reality, we often look for kid friendly hikes – ha!
Spot #6: Mosaic Canyon
This is technically a 4-mile hike, but Will and I only hiked one mile in because we were mostly interested in the narrows portion, where we had to squuuueze through smooth marble walls to continue onward.
Spot #7: Badwater Basin
Welcome to the lowest point in the United States – 282 feet below sea level! This area is absolutely unreal; it’s a honeycomb-shaped sea of pure salt crystals. You follow a little boardwalk down to the salt flats where you’re allowed to walk around.
Don’t step on the salt crystal formations though, as hard as it is to believe, these flats are home to pickle-weed, aquatic insects and the Badwater snail.
Fun fact: Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States and lies merely 85 miles Northwest of Badwater Basin. Which means that the highest and lowest points in the lower 48 states are only 85 miles apart!
Spot #8: Artist’s Drive
A scenic 9-mile drive that displays an array of colorful hues of the Amargosa Range’s sedimentary hills. In my opinion, sunset is the best time to visit – the hills come alive with unbelievable colors!
Spot #9: Little Ubehebe Crater
Pronounced (YOO-bee-HEE-bee). The terrain in this are is fascinating! We stopped here to hike to Little Ubehebe Crater on our way to the Racetrack Playa. The hike down to Ubehebe Crater seems easy enough but the hike back up seems intense! However, the hike to Little Ubehebe was a lot more manageable – sign me up! 🙂
#10: Wildlife Spotting
The park is brimming with wildlife! The most memorable experience for me was walking through a field, looking for rattlesnakes, and being startled by a jackrabbit in a nearby bush; we were so close to each other!
There are lizards EVERYWHERE in this park! I never knew this about lizards, but when they feel threatened, they puff their chests and do “push ups.” It absolutely cracked me up!
BONUS: The Night Sky!
Death Valley is known for having the darkest skies for star gazing and the display is truly breathtaking. Will and I were so entertained counting shooting stars; sooooo many wishes to be made. 😉
- 17+ Best Things to Do in Death Valley National Park
- The 10 Best Hikes in Death Valley National Park
- Exploring Eureka Sand Dunes
- Visiting Death Valley With 4WD
I hope you enjoyed this quick list of the top 10 places in Death Valley National Park without 4WD.
Until next time,
Awesome tips! Thanks. Definitely looking for non 4WD options. This will be very helpful. Beautiful photos as well!
Antonina Pattiz says
Thank you so much, Ben!
Hi – we’re heading to Death Valley NP over Thanksgiving week. Where can I find the Mud Cracks? We will be staying at Panamint Springs and only have a 2WD so hoping this place is somewhere attainable for us 🙂
Julie Colwell says
We just returned from our first trip to Death Valley. Your recommendations were super helpful. Thank you!
Antonina Pattiz says
You are so kind to reach out and let me know – your comment made my day! Glad you found this info helpful, Death Valley is something else!
Anastasia Youngash says
Hello! We are visiting Death Valley tomorrow and are so excited!!! Your blog and tips have been incredibly helpful. Can you let us in on how to get to the elusive mud cracks?? Look absolutely amazing!
Paula M Robinson says
Beautiful pictures and a great blog.
It’s February and we would like to go to the park in mid-Feb this year- is this a good time? Warm clothes?
We have a 42foot RV and pull an SUV but not 4WD so I would follow your non-4WD route. We would get an RV park and drive. How many days do we need to see the park? # 4 5?
And I need to know where the mud flats are- we can’t miss those.
Antonina Pattiz says
We visited in February during our first visit — the temperatures were great. Bring a light jacket for the daytime and warmer jacket for the evening hours. I suggest 4 days minimum because the park is SO LARGE! Driving between spots can take up to 2-3 hours, so plan to spend a decent amount of time in the car.
Hope you enjoy your trip!!