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. In this photography guide, you will discover the best destinations for taking pictures in the national park, as well as helpful photography tips and pictures to inspire you.
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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:
- Artist’s Point
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
- Zabriskie Point
- Badwater Basin Salt Flats
- Mosaic Canyon
- Devil’s Cornfield
- Racetrack Playa
- Darwin Falls
- Devil’s Golfcourse
- Golden Canyon
- Salt Creek Trail
- Father Crowley Overlook (aka Star Wars Canyon)
- The Oasis: The Inn at Furnace Creek
- Harmony Borax Works
- Dante’s View
Best Places for Death Valley Photography
1. 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.
For more tips, read the
Complete Guide to Artist’s Palette & Artist’s Drive in Death Valley
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 vista from Father Crowley viewpoint is 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)
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
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.
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!
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!
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
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)
- Mammoth Lakes Ultimate Guide: Discover the many Hot Springs of Mammoth Lakes.
- Travertine Hot Springs Complete Guide
- Buckeye Hot Springs Guide: The best natural hot spring in California!
Yosemite National Park (4-6 hour drive from Death Valley, varying seasonally)
- The Perfect Yosemite Itinerary: How to spend 1-3 days in the park.
- Yosemite Sunrise: All the best places to photograph sunrise in the park.
- How to See Yosemite NP in One Day
- Yosemite Photography Guide: The best times, locations, and subjects to photograph.
- Yosemite Firefall Ultimate Guide: How and when to see this natural miracle.
Southern California (3-4 hour drive from Death Valley)
- The Ultimate LA Bucket List
- Joshua Tree Photography: The best times and photo spots in the national park.
- The Best Canyons in the US
- Best Things to Do in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas (2 hour drive)
- Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive (2 hour drive)
- Discover the Incredible Snow Canyon in Utah (3.5 hour drive)
- All the Best Things to Do in St George, Utah (3.5 hour drive)
- The Complete Guide to the Slot Canyons of Utah
- Grand Canyon Photography Guide (6 hour drive)
- Grand Canyon One Day Itinerary (6 hour drive)
Final Thoughts on Death Valley Photography
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.