Death Valley Overview

Death Valley National Park, straddling the border between California and Nevada of the United States, is a land of extremes and stark contrasts. Established as a national monument in 1933 and later designated as a national park in 1994, it covers an expansive area of about 13,650 square kilometers (about 5,270 square miles), making it the largest national park in the contiguous United States. Known for being the hottest, driest, and lowest national park, Death Valley offers a unique and compelling landscape that captivates the imagination of visitors from around the world.

The park’s terrain is incredibly diverse, ranging from below-sea-level salt flats to towering snow-capped mountains. Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level, contrasts dramatically with the nearby Telescope Peak, which rises to 11,043 feet (3,366 meters). This varied topography supports a surprising variety of ecosystems, from vast, arid deserts to lush oases and spring-fed pools, providing habitats for a wide range of plant and animal species adapted to the extreme conditions.

Death Valley is renowned for its otherworldly landscapes, including the rolling sand dunes of Mesquite Flat, the colorful mineral deposits of Artist’s Palette, and the mysterious moving rocks of the Racetrack Playa. The park’s geological features, such as the striking Ubehebe Crater, are testaments to its volcanic past and the powerful natural forces that have shaped the region over millions of years.

Despite its foreboding name, Death Valley National Park is a place of beauty and resilience, where life endures in the harshest conditions. It offers visitors the opportunity to explore its vast wilderness through hiking, camping, and scenic drives, providing a profound sense of solitude and connection to the natural world. The park’s history, including the challenges faced by early settlers and miners, adds a rich cultural layer to its natural splendor, making Death Valley a fascinating destination for adventure and discovery.

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Death Valley National Park Highlights

Desert Adaptability

Death Valley National Park, a land of extremes and stark beauty, is home to a surprising array of wildlife that has adapted to thrive in its harsh desert environment.

Despite the challenging conditions, from scorching temperatures to scarce water sources, these resilient species contribute to the complex ecosystem of the park, offering visitors a glimpse into the adaptability and diversity of life in one of the hottest places on Earth.

Coyote – Iconic desert wanderers, Coyotes are often seen at dawn or dusk, scavenging or hunting in the cooler hours across the park’s vast landscapes.

Bighorn Sheep – Masters of rugged terrain, Bighorn Sheep navigate the park’s rocky cliffs with ease, a symbol of wilderness and survival in the desert.

Chuckwalla – Large, herbivorous lizards, Chuckwallas are commonly found basking on rocks, their loose skin and stout bodies a unique sight among the park’s fauna.

Kit Fox – The smallest fox in North America, the nocturnal Kit Fox is adapted to the desert life, hunting small mammals and insects at night.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit – With their long ears and powerful hind legs, Black-tailed Jackrabbits are built for speed and cooling, a common sight in the park’s open areas.

Sidewinder – Named for their distinctive lateral movement, Sidewinders are highly adapted rattlesnakes, leaving unique tracks in the sandy soils of Death Valley.

Desert Tortoise – An emblem of the desert, the threatened Desert Tortoise spends much of its life underground, emerging in cooler weather to feed on vegetation.

Roadrunner – These fast and charismatic birds are known for their running speed, hunting skills, and the distinctive crest on their head, embodying the spirit of the desert.

Raven – Intelligent and adaptable, Ravens are a constant presence in the park, soaring above or investigating campgrounds, ever watchful for opportunities.

Tarantula – Often misunderstood, Tarantulas are gentle giants of the spider world, emerging in the cooler months to mate and hunt, fascinating for those lucky enough to spot them.

Death Valley National Park’s wildlife, from the sleek coyote to the elusive tarantula, showcases the extraordinary resilience of species adapted to one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet.

Engaging Death Valley

Embark on an unforgettable journey through Death Valley’s vast and diverse landscapes on one of its scenic drives. From the iconic Artist’s Drive, where vibrant mineral deposits paint the mountainsides with hues of pink, green, and purple, to the rugged beauty of Titus Canyon Road, winding through towering canyon walls and past ancient petroglyphs, each route offers a unique perspective on the park’s natural wonders.

Traverse the winding roads of Dante’s View or the expansive vistas of Twenty Mule Team Canyon, and witness the stark beauty and geological marvels that define Death Valley.

With opportunities for wildlife viewing, photography, and exploration along the way, a scenic drive through Death Valley National Park promises an unforgettable adventure through one of America’s most iconic landscapes.

Death Valley offers diverse hiking opportunities amidst its otherworldly landscapes. There are numerous trails catering to various skill levels and interests, ranging from short interpretive walks to challenging backcountry treks. Visitors can explore iconic locations like Badwater Basin, Golden Canyon, and Dante’s View, each offering unique perspectives of the park’s geology and scenery.

In total, Death Valley National Park boasts over 150 designated hiking trails, covering more than 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) of diverse terrain. These trails wind through canyons, over sand dunes, and across salt flats, allowing hikers to experience the park’s rugged beauty up close.

Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll to enjoy the sunrise or a multi-day adventure through remote wilderness areas, Death Valley has hiking options to suit every preference and ability level.

Death Valley National Park Trails

Badwater Salt Flat Trail

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: 1 mile round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: This flat trail leads hikers across the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The vast salt flats create a unique, otherworldly landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s an easy walk suitable for all ages, offering a unique perspective on Death Valley’s extreme environment.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Trail

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: Up to 2 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain, but walking in sand increases effort

Description: The trail through the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is not marked, allowing hikers to explore freely. The dunes offer picturesque views, especially at sunrise or sunset when the light casts dramatic shadows. This is an excellent opportunity for photography and experiencing the serene beauty of the sand dunes.

Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 500 feet (152 meters)

Description: This popular hike takes visitors through the colorful and eroded badlands of Golden Canyon, ending at the stunning Red Cathedral. The trail provides close-up views of the unique geological formations and layers. The hike is moderately challenging but rewards with breathtaking vistas and the striking contrast of colors.

Mosaic Canyon Trail

Rating: Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet (305 meters)

Description: Mosaic Canyon offers a fascinating hike through narrow marble canyons polished smooth by water. The trail features interesting geological formations, including the namesake mosaic-like rock patterns created by embedded fragments of rock. This moderately strenuous hike is a showcase of Death Valley’s geological diversity.

Dante's View Trail

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: 1 mile round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: Dante’s View provides one of the most spectacular panoramic views in Death Valley National Park. Overlooking the vast salt flats of Badwater Basin, this trail offers a breathtaking perspective from over 5,000 feet above the valley floor. The paved path is accessible and easy, suitable for all visitors seeking to experience the majesty of Death Valley from above.


1. What is the hottest desert in the world?

The lowest point in the United States is Badwater Basin, located within Death Valley National Park in California. It sits at an elevation of 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level.

Badwater Basin is a vast salt flat that stretches for miles, surrounded by towering mountain ranges, including the Panamint Range to the west and the Black Mountains to the east.

Despite its inhospitable conditions, it attracts visitors who come to witness its unique landscape and extreme temperatures, particularly during the summer months when temperatures can soar above 120°F (49°C).

2. What is the hottest location in the United States?

The hottest location in the United States is indeed Death Valley, particularly the Furnace Creek area. Death Valley holds the record for the highest reliably reported air temperature on Earth, which reached 134°F (56.7°C) on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek Ranch.

The valley’s extreme heat is attributed to its low elevation, below sea level, coupled with its arid climate and lack of vegetation.

While other locations may occasionally experience higher temperatures during heatwaves, Death Valley consistently ranks among the hottest places on Earth.

Its extreme temperatures and harsh environment make it a unique and challenging destination for visitors seeking to experience one of nature’s most extreme environments.

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  • National Park Service, Death Valley,, retrieved April 2024.
  • UNESCO, Mojave and Colorado Desert Reserves,, retrieved April 2024.