Winter In Death Valley

Tips on where to shoot on your first visit to Death Valley National Park


Death Valley Cactus at Sunrise
Nikon D850, NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8 lens

Earlier in January I was out in Las Vegas to speak on the Nikon stage at the CES expo (watch my taped presentation from Day 3 here), so I figured I’d take advantage of my time out that way and head over to Death Valley for a couple days of photography. This was my first time visiting Death Valley National Park, and I spent my time exploring many of the park’s most scenic and photogenic spots, including the badlands at Zabriskie Point, the colorful canyons of Artists Palette, the flooded salt flats of Badwater Basin, and the amazing panoramic vista at Dante’s View. I did not make it to the famous sand dunes at Mesquite Flats since there had not been any wind in a while and the dunes were all tracked up with footprints, but it had rained a few days before I was there so I was able to take advantage of the flooding in Badwater Basin.

Sunset Reflection at Badwater Basin
Nikon D850, NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8 lens

Winter definitely seems like a good time to visit Death Valley, as it can get over 120° F in the summer! When I was there in January it was in the high 60s during the day, maybe topping 70 once, and in the 40s or so at night. Note that, like most popular national parks, it was pretty busy in the park, every parking area was very busy or full during the day. At sunrise or sunset you’ll likely be standing amongst dozens of other photographers at the popular spots.

Sunrise at the Zabriskie Point Badlands
Nikon D850, NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8 lens

Taking in the view of the badlands at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park was one of my favorite experiences in the park. The eroded shapes of the badlands are really interesting and I feel like I could photograph there all day long.

Zabriskie Point Badlands
Nikon D850, NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8 lens

I found my favorite compositions at Zabriskie using my 24-70 or 70-200 lenses, with my best shtos at 45mm or above, but it was also a lot of fun to zoom way in at 200mm and capture some more intimate details of the curvy badlands.

Zabriskie Point Badlands
Nikon D850, NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4 lens

Artist’s Drive was another of my favorite spots, and even in broad daylight the colorful canyons looked amazing, but I never made it back with my DSLR so all I have are iPhone shots like the one below.

iPhone shot at Artist’s Palette

There are lots of other spots to explore off the beaten path, or at least on a less beaten path. A short trail up a random hill lead me to a great view looking south over Death Valley.

Sunrise Over Death Valley
Nikon D850, NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8 lens

If you’re looking for lodging things can get a little tight as there’s not much lodging within Death Valley itself. There are a few campgrounds and lodging with rooms at Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells, but the rooms were all sold out during the weekend I was there and I didn’t have any camping gear with me, so I spent my nights at a motel in Beatty, Nevada, about an hour from Death Valley. Book ahead if you want to stay in the park on a busy weekend!

Happy shooting and don’t forget to bring lots of water!

Learn more about my photography and editing techniques at my website

Adam Woodworth is a landscape photographer, award-winning filmmaker and software engineer. He has had a love of photography for most of his life and one of his main focuses is landscape astrophotography. His earliest memory of gazing up in awe at the night sky was as a child in a canoe on a lake in Maine, fishing at night. The intensity of the star-filled sky in such a peaceful spot was a powerful experience, and now he enjoys sharing that experience through his photography. Follow him on Instagram as @awoodworthphoto.