Despite its name, Death Valley is full of life. From brightly colored wildflowers that blanket the sandy, rolling hills after rainstorms to lush wetlands teeming with pupfish and birds, this below-sea-level basin in the northern region of the California Deserts features natural wonders unlike anywhere else on Earth. Salt flats stretch for miles. Sand dunes rise in pillowy waves. Waterfalls cascade down deep rocky crevices. It’s the driest, hottest and lowest spot in North America. It’s a land of extremes. And it’s extremely surreal.
Hiking in Death Valley National Park is the best way to explore the area’s diverse landscape, and though summers can be a bit warm, spring and fall offer perfect weather for off-the-beaten-path adventures.
Walk beneath a natural bridge and fantastical rock formations. Stand inside a massive volcanic crater. Run your fingers along the smooth sides of green and turquoise marble canyons. Stroll through Rhyolite Ghost Town, where silent remnants of Death Valley’s gold mining days still stand. Or hike to Darwin Falls and chill beneath the spring-fed waterfall that flows from a gorge and feeds an oasis of green willows and sweet birdsong.
Whether you’re planning to spend three hours or three days in Death Valley, always be prepared for extremes in elevation and temperature with ample water, sunscreen, and other hiking supplies—and have your camera ready for those sunbathed, sand-swept vistas.