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(Last Updated On: October 4, 2021)

Summary: Complete Guide to visiting Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette in Death Valley National Park in California, what to expect, Camera gear, Camping spots, What to Pack and more. *I use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases. Thanks for your support! 

Land Acknowledgement: Northern Paiute and Newe Land. Find what Native Land you are visiting by using the app Native Land! I encourage you to read the history and culture of the Indigenous people who’s land you are visiting!

Check to see the status of Park trails and campgrounds HERE. Depending on when you’re reading this, there may be a stay at home order still in place and National Parks respond according to the State’s Covid-19 status.

About Artist’s Palette in Death Valley

Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette is an experience you absolutely do not want to miss out on if you’re visiting Death Valley or even just passing through. Artist’s Drive is a curvy 9 mile one-way road that travels north to south on Badwater Road.

TIP: Allow for extra time as people tend to drive slow here to take it all in. Also, if you plan on getting a variety of photos – you’ll want to plan to pull off at every available pull-off on the road in since it is a one way drive.

I love that this place is ADA accessible and that you can see stunning views even just from your car.

NOTE: no vehicles over 25 feet are allowed on this one-way road.


If you want a short visual of our time at Artist’s Palette in Death Valley, check out the YouTube Video my partner Johnathon DeSoto created! Subscribe if you want to see the complete mini series as it comes out!

Artist’s Palette in Death Valley – For the Science Nerds Like Me

Until last year, I had no idea a place like this could exist. You better believe I had a million questions when I was there. Like, HOW are there vibrant multi-colored mountains in California? So here is some information that I found after visiting about this unique phenomenon.

Artist’s Palette formed during a time of severe volcanic explosions in the Death Valley area. The volcanic debris collected and then underwent many chemical changes over the years from oxidization and weather. Specifically, the Iron compounds began to oxidize and produce colors ranging from yellows, greens, pinks and purples. These colors are what we see exposed today at Artist’s Palette in Death Valley. Nature is neat.

That’s not the only unique thing about this area of Death Valley. The fault line and volcanic activity has caused crustal sinking. Essentially, the valley floor of Death Valley continues to tilt and sink with some areas being  -282.2′ below sea level. Try to wrap your head around that.

Getting to Artist’s Palette in Death Valley

As mentioned above, Artist’s Drive is a curvy PAVED 9 mile one-way road that travels north to south on Badwater Road.

  • Distance from Las Vegas: 2 hours
  • Distance from Los Angeles: 4.5 hours
  • From San Francisco: 8.5 hours


The National Park pass – America the Beautiful is required to spend time in Death Valley! Purchase online HERE.

Artist’s Palette Overlook Hike

The overlook is a .4 mile hike with 118 feet elevation gain. You do not need to hike to see these views, but this does allow you to get up close and personal with the vibrant soil.

The overlook itself is at the parking lot and is a paved lot with a restroom. The overlook is accessible for wheelchairs, however, the hiking portion is initially steep and has loose rocks. No dogs are allowed here.

A lot of people comment that the drive after this overlook is more scenic than the hike, so I recommend budgeting time for pictures after the overlook (unlike us). That is my only regret from this lovely place. The colorful mountains look like neopolitan ice cream as you drive by.

Photography Tips: Best Time to Visit Artist’s Palette in Death Valley

Time of Year

The Fall and Winter seasons are typically the most ideal times to visit Death Valley, but also the most heavily trafficked. The temperatures stay mild during the day (60-70 degrees F) and dip into the 30 degree F range at night.

I would discourage you from visiting Death Valley in the Summer time. First, because your vehicle may overheat leaving you stranded. Secondly, potentially the highest recorded temperature on Earth was taken here in August of 2020 at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. No. Thank. You.

Time of Day

We got to the Artist’s Palette overlook just as the sun was beginning to dip behind the mountains across the valley. Which, FYI, is much sooner than we had planned on as we were going off of what time sunset was listed as.

But golden hour light there was not ideal. It washed the cooler toned sand colors in a yellow hue and made it not nearly as photogenic (see photo below for reference). After the sun dipped fully behind the mountains we had soft, flat light to work with and this is where we produced our best photos (at least in our opinion!)

I’ve heard of people getting lucky and getting an overcast day in Death Valley. In that case, it could be really worth driving to check out Artist’s Palette to free up time to photograph sunset elsewhere. Also, I imagine there are a few less people there in the afternoon, than there were at sunset.

Other Photography Tips:


If you are shooting with a model, get creative with wardrobe. I personally really liked how white and light washed denim looked here (obviously, since all my pictures showcase that exact outfit). A vibrant jacket in a primary color would also really draw your eye to the model in this scene, as the environment has more pastel-like colors in the sand.


We primarily used our Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 Lens as this gave us options for portraits and wider landscape shots. See our entire Camera Gear set up in my blog: What’s in my Camera Bag

White Balance:

If you want to get the best, truest colors don’t use automatic white balance. Manually set your white balance using a white balance preset (Daylight, Shade, etc) or using a grey card.

ND Filter

If you are stuck in a situation where you are shooting in the daylight, use an ND filter to protect your highlights and colors. And remember to set your white balance with the ND on if you will be using it or correct this in post when editing in Adobe Lightroom or other softwares.

Where to Stay in Death Valley National Park

As mentioned above, check the Covid-19 status of California before planning a trip. As I am writing this blog post, there is currently a stay at home order in place, which means some or all of these places to stay are closed.


If you guys have read any of my blog posts before, you know I LOVE finding free camping on freecampsites.net. There are several options in Death Valley, but I’ll list just a few that are closest to the action!

Lodging Options

Wardrobe Inspiration for Artist’s Palette

Shop from what I personally love to wear and also some stylish items I WISH I had in my wardrobe.

Click to Shop

Pin for Later!

Find more things to do in Death Valley with my blogs:

Let me know if you have been to Death Valley before, or have added it to your bucketlist in the comments!

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  1. Shelley on January 11, 2021 at 9:12 am

    What a thorough guide! It’s so hard to believe that golden hour light was not ideal… I’d totally assume it would be. Thanks for the great tips for when I plan my Death Valley trip. I pinned & saved your blog!!

  2. Angela on January 11, 2021 at 9:29 pm

    This is such a detailed blog post. Can’t wait to use it next year!

  3. Krista on January 13, 2021 at 4:52 pm

    Such a great guide! I almost went to Death Valley last summer, but it was August (basically the hottest and worst time to go) but this gave me so much inspiration to go this year!

  4. Cristina on January 14, 2021 at 5:03 am

    Wow, I absolutely love your pictures! I have never been to Death Valley, but it has been on my list for a while. I hope I can visit it sometime soon 🙂

  5. Taylor on January 14, 2021 at 10:16 am

    Such a cool place! I don’t live too far from here but haven’t been to Death Valley since I was about 10 years old haha. Need to return!

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