Rolling foothills in vibrant hues of pinks, reds, yellows, golds, greens, and purples? It doesn’t sound real, but it is and it’s part of the magnificent and varied landscape of Death Valley National Park. The natural phenomenon known as Artist’s Palette sits along a nine mile, one-way, paved road called Artist’s Drive that twists, turns, and dips like a rollercoaster.
The drive travels south-to-north off Badwater Road, beginning closer to the salt flats and end closer to Furnace Creek, so it’s best to visit on the way back toward Furnace Creek and CA-190 in the late afternoon when the colors are most vibrant.
We began our day hiking the Golden Canyon Trail because it’s most beautiful when the canyon is lit up by the morning sun. We visited Devil’s Golf Course and the Badwater Basin Salt Flats next before it got too hot, and then hiked the Natural Bridge Canyon Trail before heading to Artist’s Palette. We then finished out our day with a drive through Twenty Mule Team Canyon and watching the sunset at Dante’s View. It’s was a pretty wonderous day!
The start of Artist’s Drive is clearly marked and begins with wide, sweeping turns that approach the foothills of the Black Mountains.
The first major turnoff on Artist’s Drive offers a short uphill trail to a panoramic, scenic overlook with expansive views of Badwater Basin and the valley floor. From the side of the road, the short trail looks quick and easy, but it is actually much steeper than it looks!
After a break and some water, we hopped back in the car and continued following Artist’s Drive, which at times felt like a rollercoaster! The road has winding turns, deep dips, and steep climbs that take you past vibrant, colorful sedimentary and volcanic rock on one side and majestic views of the Badwater Salt Flat on the other.
About halfway through the drive, we reached another turnout with colorful, paint-splotched mountains just beyond it. You might think that this is Artist’s Palette, park your vehicle, get out, and wander toward the mountainside in awe as we did — and while the walk would be worth it, the actual Artist’s Palette is just ahead, around the next turn. You can’t mistake it because there are always tons of people milling about taking photos.
Artist’s Drive is famous for a rock formation called Artist’s Palette, a multicolored stretch of hillside, covered in hues of pink, red, yellow, gold, green, and even purple. This must-see attraction in Death Valley National Park is a gorgeous landscape where the hills resemble the splotches of an Artist’s Palette.
Artist’s Palette was created by the erosion of volcanic ash and mineral-rich deposits by time, rain, heat, and flash floods. The erosion exposed buried deposits of iron, mica, and manganese which oxidized in the bone-dry air. The reds, pinks, and yellows were created by iron, the greens came from the mica, and the purples stem from the manganese.
You can see the entire Artist’s Palette formation from the parking lot without hiking, or you can venture out into the wash below and walk right up to the vibrant swatches of color for a closer look. We chose to enjoy the view from the parking area because we’d already hiked Golden Canyon, Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater Basin Salt Flats, and Natural Bridge Canyon, and that’s after multiple days of hiking all over the park!
We drove the Artist’s Drive and visited Artist’s Palette in the mid-afternoon, and while it was beautiful, the colors weren’t quite as vibrant as I had hoped they would be because of the sun. Sunrise is too early because the bright morning light washes out the color and sunset is too late because of the shadows. So the best time of day to visit is the late afternoon, just before the golden hour, when the colors are richest.
Star Wars At Artist’s Palette
We were so excited to discover that after going over budget in Tunisia, remaining scenes from Star Wars were filmed in Death Valley — and some of those right off Artist’s Drive!
- The shot of the Jawas carrying R2D2 towards the sandcrawler. This scene faces south, so to find this spot you’ll need to look behind you and find the three hills that you can see clearly in the movie. It is close to where you enter the road, around the first corner.
- Scenes of R2D2 rolling in the distance before getting captured by the Jawas. Pull into the parking area for Artist’s Palette. Next to the parking area is a dry wash, often called Artoo’s Canyon, that was used. It’s easy to find as long as you keep the restroom to your left.
Know Before You Go
- Artist’s Drive is a scenic drive located off Badwater Road almost 10 miles/15 minutes south of Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park, California, 92328.
- The beautiful, nine mile, one-way road follows the multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary foothills of the Black Mountains. Vehicles over 25 feet long are prohibited.
- Artist’s Drive travels south-to-north, so it’s the perfect thing to do on your way back to Furnace Creek after visiting Golden Canyon, Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater Basin, and Natural Bridge Canyon.
- The remarkable Artist’s Palette formation is visible from the parking lot and requires no hiking.
- Vault toilets are located in the Artist’s Palette parking area.