πŸ“Έ Death Valley Photography Guide: Top 15 Spots in Death Valley

Best photography spots in Death Valley + pictures to inspire you blog post cover.  Text overlaying an image of the Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park at sunrise, showing the incredible textures of the dunes and mountains in the distance.

Capturing incredible pictures of Death Valley National Park is as easy as being in the right places at the right times. Magical moments happen daily in the otherworldly landscapes of the Mojave Desert.

Despite its name, there is ample life, vibrant colors, and unspeakable beauty awaiting photographers in Death Valley.

I spent several days photographing Death Valley NP as the Chief Exploration Officer for the National Park Foundation in 2021. This photography guide is based on my personal experience and expertise as a landscape photographer.

In this photography guide, I will reveal the best destinations for taking pictures in the national park, as well as helpful photography tips and pictures to inspire your visit.

πŸŒ… Death Valley Photography Overview

First-time visitors to Death Valley National Park are often surprised by how diverse the landscapes truly are.

In fact, Death Valley is home to everything from striped hills to colorful rock clusters to sweeping sand dunes and salt flats.

Oh, and there is even a waterfall!

In a park as picturesque as DVNP, the best Death Valley photography spots are:

  1. Artist’s Point
  2. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
  3. Zabriskie Point
  4. Badwater Basin Salt Flats
  5. Mosaic Canyon
  6. Devil’s Cornfield
  7. Racetrack Playa
  8. Darwin Falls
  9. Devil’s Golfcourse
  10. Golden Canyon
  11. Salt Creek Trail
  12. Father Crowley Overlook (aka Star Wars Canyon)
  13. The Oasis: The Inn at Furnace Creek
  14. Harmony Borax Works
  15. Dante’s View

🏜 Best Places for Death Valley Photography

1. Artist’s Palette

Sophie poses for the camera in a striking white dress on the colorful hills of Artists Palette in Death Valley National Park.
Sophie posing for a photo at Artist’s Palette.

Artist’s Palette is a colorful display of rock and minerals that appear to have been stained by a rainbow. It is located along the Artist’s Drive scenic loop near Furnace Creek and is a favorite place for landscape and portrait photography alike.

The Artist’s Drive can be visited year-round without any special vehicle requirements, and can be viewed from the parking area with no hike required.

However, there is a trail leading up and into the Artist’s Palette if you wish to walk amongst the scenery or include a subject in your photographs.

If possible, try to arrange your visit for golden hour or late evening. This is when the sun will shine onto the palette and bring out the colors.

Complete Guide to Artist’s Palette & Artist’s Drive

2. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Abstract photographers particularly enjoy chasing the light and shadow of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The patterns, textures, and shapes of the Death Valley sand dunes are a natural work of art that beg to be photographed.

While you can technically shoot the dunes from the roadside and parking area, the best photos require some hiking. Near the entrance, heavy traffic will have chewed up the delicate symmetry of the dunes.

In fact, sunrise is the best time to photograph the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. This will have allowed the night winds a chance to reshape the landscape, as well as provide the most interesting light. Additionally, sunrise provides the coolest temperatures to explore.

3. Zabriskie Point

The striped earth at Zabriskie Point is a fascinating, otherworldly landscape like few others on the planet. Color striations band throughout carved rock to create a scene straight out of science fiction.

Most rangers at Death Valley National Park recommend photographing Zabriskie Point at sunrise. However, you should know that you will be facing west, away from the rising sun here. The benefit of morning photoshoots is the angular light creating deeper color and natural contrast.

With that said, sunset is also a fun time to photograph here if there are any promising clouds to catch the color burn. Even the evening blue hour is appealing to be able to capture more vibrant colors with the balanced ambient light.

4. Badwater Basin Salt Flats

Sunrise clouds over Badwater Basin Salt Flats in Death Valley NP.

The salt flats at Badwater Basin have become a favorite destination for astrophotographers. In fact, night photography in Death Valley NP has become increasingly popular as cameras and smartphones get better and better in low-light capability.

Avoiding the insane daytime temperatures is another good reason for night visits. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America and is often the hottest place in the country, accordingly.

In order to find the hexagonal salt formations, you need to walk out about 1/4 mile along the well-trod tail. Most photographers prefer to shoot with a wide-angle lens from about eye level to look down onto the patterns.

5. Mosaic Canyon

The Mosaic Canyon derives its name from the embedded rock that lines the halls of this narrow, colorful canyon.

Abstract photographers enjoy this Death Valley destination in particular, but anyone with an interest in unusual natural artwork will be delighted by what they find on the short trail.

Whether you stop at a short stroll to browse the unique sight or endeavor to hike the entire 4-mile trail, Mosaic Canyon will be a pleasant surprise and a joy to photograph.

6. Devil’s Cornfield

A landscape photograph of Devil's Cornfield landmark in Death Valley National Park.

Just beyond the Mesquite Sand Dunes are the large, bulbous tufts of vegetation that make up the Devil’s Cornfield. Multiple trails exist for freedom of exploration, and photographers are limited only by their creativity.

It can be difficult to capture the size and scale of this unusual desert shrubbery in a photograph. An otherwise dull and sparse expansive patch of dirt becomes something truly unique with the inclusion of the bushes of the Devil’s Cornfield.

7. Racetrack Playa

The sailing stone of Racetrack Playa with a trail behind it.

For a long time, not even scientists could explain what caused the phenomenon at Racetrack Playa known as “the sailing stones.” Massive boulders too heavy to lift, let alone be carried by the wind, would somehow roll themselves around the salt flats, leaving long trails in their wake.

It was only in 2014 that the mystery was solved! This strange happening occurs as a result of rain creating a shallow, temporary lake, followed by freezing night temperatures. As the ice slowly thaws, the rocks begin to roll slowly but surely.

Reaching this destination is no easy task! The drive is over 83-miles, with 27 of those miles over unmaintained roads littered with sharp rocks known for creating flat tires. 4WD is recommended, but not technically required.

8. Darwin Falls

Long exposure photography from Death Valley's only waterfall, Darwin Falls.

It is hard to believe that Death Valley National Park could be home to a waterfall! And yet, in one of the driest and hottest places on earth, Darwin Falls remains tucked away in a lush oasis on the western outskirts.

It is one of the only permanent sources of water in all of Death Valley.

While Darwin Falls may not be the most magnificent waterfall in terms of size or aesthetics, the beauty of this place is in the context. It is in seeing the incredible impact that a little water can have in such a harsh and unforgiving place.

9. Devil’s Golf course

Photography of early morning sunlight on the Devil's Golf Course landmark of Death Valley.
Early morning light ignites the scenery at the Devil’s Golf Course.

The Devil’s Golf Course is a strange field of salt deposits that are similar in appearance to a cooled lava flow.

This wide expanse stretches out to the distant Panamint Mountain range which completes the frame.

Sunrise provides the best light for bringing out the texture in the foreground, but the evening golden hour is beautiful as well for capturing the setting sun behind the mountains.

10. Golden Canyon

Among the list of the best canyons in the US is the incredible Golden Canyon of Death Valley. This short stroll winds through an aptly-named golden wall canyon.

Some sections even seem to sparkle like glitter in the sunlight!

The trail is a 4.3-mile loop that begins and ends off Badwater Road. However, the first mile is the most impressive so you have the option of just doing a short there-and-back to experience Golden Canyon.

11. Salt Creek Trail

A picture of Salt Creek winding through the Death Valley desert.

Salt is the reason for many of the unusual landscapes you will discover in Death Valley.

One of the more interesting you can hike is the Salt Creek Trail following a saline-dense creek that snakes its way through the arid desert.

A variety of earth tones provide plenty of color to your Death Valley pictures. This is also one of the lesser-traveled trails, allowing photographers to capture something truly unique!

12. Father Crowley Viewpoint (Star Wars Canyon)

The view from Father Crowley Viewpoint, also known as Star Wars Canyon.

The vista from Father Crowley viewpoint provides an impressive overview of Rainbow Canyon.

The canyon has been nicknamed “Star Wars Canyon” due to its colorful appearance resembling that of the planet Tatooine from Star Wars.

In past years it was a popular place to photograph US Air Force and Navy training fighter jets soaring over the canyon. However, a fatal accident in 2019  temporarily put an end to training flights through the canyon. 

While there is little room for exploration and creativity, what you see from the top is sure to impress.

13. The Oasis (Inn at Furnace Creek)

Panoramic photograph showing the tropical palm trees of the Oasis at Furnace Creek.

Seeing the photos of the Oasis of Death Valley, it is pretty clear why this is such a popular spot for photography in the national park.

In the heart of a stark, desolate desert landscape lies a densely-saturated region of lush, tropical palm trees.

The juxtaposition of the thriving vegetation and dry desert makes for an eye-grabbing photo any time of day!

14. Harmony Borax Works

A photo showing the remnants of the twenty-mule team and buildings that used to work at Harmony Borax.

Discover and capture the remnants of a time forgotten at the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley.

In the late 1800s, twenty-mule team wagons were responsible for bringing borax from Death Valley to the Mojave over a 165-mile journey. This expedition is responsible for much of the popularity of what is now Death Valley National Park.

You can read all about the incredible history on the official park website for the Harmony Borax Works.

15. Dante’s View

Another popular viewpoint for large sweeping vistas is Dante’s View.

Reaching these heights requires no hiking, but a long drive along a windy mountain road and, for most, a considerable detour.

πŸ“· Death Valley Pictures of Sunrise

The most magical time to be in Death Valley is at sunrise. Nearly every location benefits from the angular light and golden tones, and the cooler temperatures will usually be welcome in Death Valley!

The best place in Death Valley National Park to photograph sunrise is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The light and shadow play accentuates the natural symmetry of the dunes while bathing the sand in dreamy golden light. In addition, the sun will rise directly in line with the mountains nearby which adds some sky interest for high-key Death Valley pictures.

Another favorite option for sunrise in Death Valley is the Devil’s Golf Course. You will want to wait until the light has cleared the Panamint Mountains, at which point the Martian landscape comes to life!

Colorful patterns adorn the hills near Zabriskie Point in this sunrise photo from Death Valley.
Facing east toward the vibrant sunrise sky from Zabriskie Point.

Finally, Zabriskie Point is the most popular place for sunrise photography in the park. While the view is westerly-facing, meaning you will not actually have the sun in your frame, the light it shines onto the scenery creates a splendid scene. Personally, this photographer prefers Zabriskie Point at sunset or even in the blue hours!

β˜€οΈ Death Valley Pictures of Sunset

Sunset is a surprisingly challenging time for photographing Death Valley NP. In most places, the sun will actually set behind one of several mountains (as it is indeed a valley). However, the evening golden hour is beautiful throughout the park and if you are fortunate enough to get cloud color, the sunset can be special as well.

The best places to photograph sunset in Death Valley are Artist’s Palette and the Artist’s Drive, and Zabriskie Point.

🌡 Guides to Death Valley & Nearby Destinations

Zebra Slot Canyon photography.
Be sure to check out our ultimate guide to Utah’s Best Slot Canyons if you are traveling east from Death Valley.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

If Death Valley is just one stop on your photography tour, you may want to visit some of our other regional guides!

The following may be useful when planning your journey around the great American Southwest.

Nearby California Destinations Guides

Mammoth Lakes (3 hour drive from Death Valley)

A girl bathes in a hot spring near Mammoth Lakes.
Sophie bathes in sunlight from one of the many natural hot springs in Mammoth Lakes.

Yosemite National Park (4-6 hour drive from Death Valley, varying seasonally)

Sunrise photo from nearby Yosemite National Park.
Be sure to visit our Yosemite National Park photography guide if you are traveling north!

Southern California (3-4 hour drive from Death Valley)

Southwest Guides

Night photography from Red Rock Canyon.
Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas is a must-see, located only 2 hours away from Death Valley.

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Death Valley Photography

Photographer Adam Marland holds a tripod over his shoulder in this photograph from the Death Valley sand dunes.
Taking a break on a sunrise hike through the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes of Death Valley.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

Despite its name, Death Valley is full of life! Photographing the intriguing landscapes you will discover here is sure to be a memory that lasts a lifetime.

We hope you have found this photography guide useful in planning your visit. Please feel free to leave a comment or to email us if you have read anything that needs corrections or further clarification.

πŸ“Œ Enjoyed this guide to the best places for Death Valley pictures? Pin it! πŸ™‚

Photo of author
Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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