Of all the otherworldly landscapes that await you in Death Valley, Artists Palette might just be the most beautiful of all. This geological wonder is a colorful display of rock located halfway around the scenic Artists Drive detour on the way to Badwater Basin.
This short guide will explain everything you need to know about driving the Artists Drive scenic road, including the best times, photography tips, and photographic inspiration for capturing the incredible scenery you will discover.
Before you begin, you may want to open our Death Valley Photography Guide in another browser, showcasing the best locations in the national park for taking pictures.
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Artists Drive Video Tour: A Cruise to Artists Palette
The video below shows clips from our cruise through the Artists Drive to Artists Palette at sunset.
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What is the Death Valley Artists Palette
In layman’s terms, the “Artists Palette” in Death Valley NP is a colorful array of red, pink, orange, purple, yellow, green, and magenta rocks that are nestled into a mountainous landscape.
Scientifically speaking, what you are seeing is an “alluvial fan,” which is an accumulation of sediment shaped liked shallow cones. The fan is fed by a deep canyon that has carved its way into the Black Mountains. The colors you see are created by a variety of metals becoming oxidized.
Historically speaking, you are witnessing the awesome, volcanic power of nature. The majority of what is now Death Valley owes its unique beauty to a period of violent eruptions that once rocked the region, and to the resulting chemical and thermal reactions.
How to get to Artists Palette in Death Valley
The entrance point to the Artists Drive scenic detour is located about 10 miles from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center along Badwater Road. Be warned that this is a one-way, 9-mile loop. This means that if you enter, you have to drive the entire loop!
The Artists Drive is not recommended for vehicles over 25ft. (7.6m) due to narrow, winding parts and large dips along the road.
You will arrive at the actual Artists Palette lookout about halfway through the drive, where you will find a parking lot with a vault toilet and a short trail that leads into the landscape. The Artists Drive Scenic Loop ends about 4 miles up the road from where you started. From here, you can drive the remaining 6 miles back to Furnace Creek or continue on toward Badwater Basin.
Artists Drive Map
Below is a map of the Artists Drive with driving directions to Artists Palette. Click here or on the map below to open it in a new tab.
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What to Expect at Artists Palette
The Artists Palette is an unexpected, incredible display of colorful rock nuzzled into the Black Mountains.
To visit the lookout, you will first need to find the 9-mile, one way loop known as Artists Drive Scenic Loop. The entire road is paved, but can get incredibly narrow and is very windy. Accordingly, no vehicles over 25ft or that are towing are allowed on the Artists Drive.
Upon reaching the Artists Palette overlook, you’ll be met with a dazzling array of vibrant rocks ranging in color from red to orange, yellow, pink, blue, and green along with views of the impressive Black Mountains and white salt flats. There are no maintained trails, however, in addition to the main parking lot there are a number of pull-offs, from which you can explore this otherworldly landscape by foot.
When to visit Artists Palette, Death Valley
Without question, the best time to visit Artists Palette in Death Valley is during the evening hours that lead into golden hour. The sun will be setting toward the west, providing fantastic light and shadow play all along the drive. In addition, Death Valley can be incredibly hot so avoiding the daytime hours is often a good idea.
The afternoon is also an ok time to do the Artists Drive loop. At this time of day, the scenery benefits from overhead lighting, though it is also the hottest time of day!
Sunrise and the early morning is actually the worst time to visit Artists Palette. This is because the sun will be directly behind the mountains, leaving the scenery in shadow. As it rises up, the colors will become bleached by the harsh direct lighting.
How Long for Artists Palette in Death Valley
If possible, allow at least an hour to complete the Artists Drive loop. Following that, head immediately for Zabriskie Point for sunset.
If your itinerary does not allow for an evening visit, afternoon is fine. Anytime that the sun is overhead will provide light and color. The colors will not be as vibrant as golden hour, but they will be much better than in the morning.
From sunrise until the sun gets high overhead, the side of the mountain where Artists Palette resides will be in shadow, dulling the natural colors and making photos a struggle as you will be shooting directly into the sun.
Artists Drive & Artists Palette FAQS
How far is the drive to Artists Palette?
The official overlook is located 4.5 miles from the entrance to Artists Drive, which is a 9-mile, one-way loop road.
How long is the Artists Drive road?
The Artists Drive road is 9 miles of scenic, paved road. It will exit 4 miles north from where it started along Badwater Road. No towing or vehicles over 25 feet are permitted.
How long do you need to see Artists Palette?
The drive itself could be completed in 30 minutes or less, but you should allow at least an hour for stops (longer if you take a lot of photos!).
How was Artists Palette formed?
The colors in the palette are the result of volcanic activity. Chemical and thermal reactions with various metals create most of the rainbow coloration you will find.
When is the best time to see Artists Palette?
Evening golden hour is the best time to visit, which is when the angular light of the setting sun brings out the colors in the landscape.
Where is Artists Palette located?
You will find the natural wonder known as Artists Palette in Death Valley National Park along the Artists Drive off of Badwater Road, just outside of Furnace Creek.
How long is the hike to Artists Palette?
You can clearly see Artists Palette from the parking lot with no hike required. There are no maintained trails, however those interested can walk a few hundred feet to get a closer look or to photograph themselves amongst the rocks.
What else is there to see on Artists Drive?
Most of the Artists Drive Scenic Loop is beautiful and features various pull-offs along the way. However, there is only one paved parking lot at Artists Palette and there are no maintained trails.
Do you need 4WD for Artists Drive?
No, the entire road is paved and in good repair. Your vehicle must be shorter than 25 feet, however.
Things to See Near Death Valley
If your visit to Death Valley National Park is part of a larger road trip, you may be interested in some of our other regional travel guides. Browse below and make sure you do not miss out on any must-see destinations nearby!
- 50 Most Incredible Canyons in the Southwest
- Utah’s Best Slot Canyons
- Ultimate Los Angeles Bucket List (California)
- Joshua Tree National Park Photography Guide (California)
- Why You NEED to Visit St. George (Utah)
- Snow Canyon State Park: Utah’s Hidden Gem! (Utah)
- Ultimate Guide to Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas (Nevada)
- The Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive Itinerary (Nevada)
- Grand Canyon Photography Guide (Arizona)
- How to See Grand Canyon in One Day (Arizona)
Final Thoughts on Artist’s Palette & Artist’s Drive
Zabriskie Point and Artists Palette / Artists Drive are, in our minds, the best things to photograph in Death Valley NP. As beautiful as many of the landscapes are, the colorful and textured displays you will find in these locations are like something from another planet!
We hope you have enjoyed this photography and travel guide, and are always looking to improve it! If you find any inaccuracies, updates, or misinformation, please let us know in the comments below! Likewise, we always enjoy waking up to a positive comment as well if you found this helpful.
If Death Valley is just one stop along a larger road trip, be sure to browse some of these other regionally relevant guides before you go!
- Los Angeles Bucket List
- Joshua Tree National Park Photography Guide
- Grand Canyon National Park Photography Guide
- Grand Canyon North Rim
- One Day in Grand Canyon Itinerary
Additionally, we have a collection of guides to the Mammoth Lakes region just north of Death Valley and highly recommend a visit if your itinerary moves north:
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