Death Valley, CA
Zabriskie Point - Death Valley provides some of the most remarkable shapes, colors, and hues you can find in the American Southwest. Zabriskie Point is no exception. For this reason, sunrise at Zabriskie Point is one of the most popular photographic spots in Death Valley. This iconic spot is a must when visiting Death Valley, as it is easy to get to and requires only a short walk to witness a truly amazing sunrise.
The areas around Zabriskie Point looks like you are on another planet, with maze-like ridges painted with yellows, chocolate browns, pinks, greens, and blues. To top it off, there is a shark fin triangular-shaped point known as Manly Beacon in the center. It is a great place for both wide-angle vistas and compression abstracts.
Trail Difficulty (1 - 2.5 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 1 - 2.5 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). There are several places to shoot Zabriskie Point. Most tourist stand at the visitors’ viewing area. For this location, this is a simple 150yd. walk from the parking lot and is rated as a 1.
For the shot above, I chose to hike up the ridge to the right of the visitors’ viewing area. This hike is more difficult - up a narrow and rocky ridge for about a 1/4 mile. The hike can be a bit dicey in places and you can easily tumble if not careful. I would rate the hike up the ridge as a 2.5
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
Click on GPS coordinates above for a Google map to the location.
GPS Decimal degree (DD) format: 36.425639, -116.816528
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click on image to enlarge
CLICK HERE to get driving directions to the Zabriskie Point parking lot.
The closest community is Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park. From Furnace Creek, drive 4.6 miles on CA-190 to the Zabriskie Point parking lot (on your right).
To get to the location of the shot above, take the gravel trail on the right of the paved path to the visitors’ viewing area. This trail will take you along a brown ridge on the right of the Zabriskie Point. The hike to the location of the shot above is about a ¼ mile with an altitude gain of about 150ft. This trail is a bit dicey in places and you can easily tumble if not careful. Once up on the ridge, there are lots of different compositions - just find the spot that is best for you.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
Zabriskie Point is best shot at pre-sunrise and sunrise.
The colors in the 30 minutes or so before sunrise are more pronounced with greater detail and void of the stark contrasting shadows.
When doing a sunrise shot, try to capture the image in the first few moments after the sun first touches the shark like triangular-shaped point known as Manly Beacon. Soon after that, the shot is washed out until the valley is fully illuminated.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
This location can be photographed year round, but I like to shoot Zabriskie’s point in winter months if possible because of the direction of the rising sun. In non-winter months, the rising sun illuminates the back mountains and sides of Zabriskie’s point before Manly Beacon. This lighting is not as appealing. Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.
You may also consider using the Photographer's Ephemeris to find a date with a full moon to shoot this location.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
You can use lenses from 16-135mm. Most photographers come to Zabriskie Point with a wide-angle vista shot in mind. I find the standard lenses and short telephotos can produce some great compression abstracts. The above shot was taken with a 50mm lens.
There are no permits required.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of the shot above is west @ 230° to 260°.
Special Nuances of Shot
From the brown ridge on the right of the visitors’ viewpoint you are much higher than other places at Zabriskie Point, and the shapes and compositions are completely different. Shooting toward Manly Beacon and the badlands will be the obvious scene most photographers will try to capture. However, swinging back to the left allows you to capture some very interesting abstracts with a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes.
If you are going to shoot at sunrise, be very conscious of when the sun comes up (as mentioned, the colors just before sunrise are magical), but within a few seconds after the sun hits the shark like triangular-shaped point known as Manly Beacon, the dynamic range becomes extreme.
Alternative photographic opportunities for Zabriskie Point - there can be some very interested abstracts found just to the left of the main tourist viewing area. These areas are just off of the paved trail to the main tourist viewing area. I have found the best time to shoot these abstracts is before sunrise or after sunset when there are no direct light on them.
Special Equipment Needed
Other than a tripod and potentially a polarizer, no other special equipment is needed. This may be a place to use your panorama equipment if you have some.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
Sunrise at Zabriskie Point is the most popular photographic spot in Death Valley. There will be lots of tourists and photographers there at sunrise almost every day. If you shoot from the mound in front of the visitors’ viewing area, you need to get there at least 45 minutes before sunrise to get one of the 5-7 spots. If you shoot along the ridge, there are fewer photographers, but the trail can still get crowded.
I use Verizon, and the cell service at Zabriskie Point was limited. There is cell service once you get back to the main highway or when you get to the Furnace Creek area.
Death Valley is one of the most remote places in the southwest. However, there are a couple of nice communities not far from Zabriskie Point, which have good camping and lodging. Furnace Creek is a nice full community with lots of rooms/cabins, campground, swimming pool, showers, tennis court, and a golf course – just 4.5 miles north of Zabriskie Point. The Oasis at Death Valley is a more upscale resort just 1 mile south of Furnace Creek . There are also several good campgrounds/RV parks around the Furnace Creek area.
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
The Inn at Furnace Creek
328 Greenland Blvd, Death Valley, CA
The Oasis at Death Valley
Furnace Creek, CA
As you can image, fine dining establishments in Death Valley are limited. However, there are several places to eat and a nice watering hole or two in the Furnace Creek area. There is one restaurant at the Inn at Furnace Creek, two restaurants at The Ranch at Furnace Creek, and one at Beatty Junction. The Corkscrew Saloon at The Ranch at Furnace Creek is a nice place to relax and enjoy a cold refreshment and pizza.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Furnace Creek Inn Dining Room
Hwy 190 Death Valley, CA
I have been told there is a coin-operated laundry at the Furnace Creek Ranch, but I have never found it.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest major airport to Zabriskie Point is McCarran International Airport (LAS) is in Las Vegas, NV, which is 120 miles south, and east.
Area Guides and Workshops
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise and moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.
NOTE: The Photographer's Ephemeris uses the Decimal Degree (DD) format for GPS coordinates to access their locations. The Decimal Degree (DD) coordinates can be found in the GPS section above.