Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the United States. It is also one of the largest with over 3 million acres. Unlike smaller national parks, points of interests are sometimes located dozens of miles apart. Yet, it features unique land formations worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.
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Driving around Death Valley reminded me of how small and vulnerable we are as human beings and how much we depend on modern-day amenities. In many parts of the park, there is no cell service, no water, no plants, and sometimes no people. It is unbelievable to imagine that ancient civilizations managed to survive in such a barren landscape.
PRO TRAVEL TIPthere is virtually no cell service in the park, so download all offline maps ahead of time. if you happen to forget, take advantage of the cell signal at dante’s view before driving back down.
Where is Death Valley and how to get there?
Death Valley National Park is located in eastern California along the Nevada border. It is quite remote and located approximately 2 hours from Las Vegas, NV and 4 hours from Los Angeles, CA. There are few amenities available near the park, so make sure to plan your visit and book accomodations ahead of time.
When to visit?
Late fall, winter, and early spring are the best times to visit Death Valley National Park. Temperatures during the summer months are unbearably hot. After all, the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 56.7 °C/ 134.1 °F at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913. We visited on Thanksgiving Day and thought the weather was perfect. The short days do make it challenging to cover all the highlights in the park, so I recommend arriving early. The perfect time to visit would late February for similar temperatures, longer days, and lower crowds.
See also: 15 Best National Parks to Visit in the Winter
How long to stay?
This itinerary is for one full day in Death Valley National Park. When we visited, the northern end of the park was still closed due to devastating flood damage. As of February 2023, the road to Ubehebe Crater has reopened, but the dirt road to Racetrack Playa remains closed with no timeline for reopening. Click here for current road conditions in the park.
When the entirety of the park is open, I recommend spending a minimum of 2-3 days to cover everything. However, with the current closures, it is possible to hit all the main highlights in one full day. Read on to find out how!
How much does it cost?
Death Valley National Park has a an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, $15 per person, and $25 per motorcycle. However, if you plan on visiting more than two national parks in the next 12 months, I highly encourage you to get an America the Beautiful Pass or National Park Pass. This pass costs only $80 per year and is valid until the end of the 12th month. For example, if you purchase a pass on April 1st of 2023, it will be valid until April 30th 2024.
This pass also allows you to visit all sites managed by the National Park Service such as national historic sites, monuments, preserves… Certain state parks such as Sedona’s Red Rock State Park even allow you to use your national park pass in place of their state park pass. It is seriously one of the best travel deals out there. We purchase a national park pass every single year and have visited almost a dozen state and national parks with it this past year.
Other passes exist for seniors, military members, those with a disability, and more. For more information on Interagency passes and where to purchase them, click here.
Where to stay and eat?
I recommend staying near the park to minimize driving time. The park is truly huge! I like to cram it all in, but I can tell you you will need every hour of sunlight you can get. If you are staying 2+ hours away, I recommend getting an early start and arriving no later than 10am.
Here are all the lodging available within the park’s boundaries:
- The Inn at The Oasis at Death Valley is a luxury resort complete with fine dining options, a golf course, and spring-fed pool. The Ranch is an agglomeration of private bungalows near the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. It is complete with restaurants, shopping, and a gas station.
- Stovepipe Wells Village features a hotel, camping spots with hookups, a convenient store and gas station.
- Panamint Springs Resort features 14 rustic western motel rooms, over 50 campsites, a restaurant, convenient store and gas station.
If you are staying in the park, consider experiencing Death Valley at night. The park is a Dark Sky certified national park and offers some of the best stargazing in the country. Click here for more information.
Accommodations east of the park:
- Beatty, NV (45 minutes from Furnace Creek Visitor Center)
- Shoshone, CA (1 hour from Furnace Creek Visitor Center)
- Pahrump, NV (1.5 hour from Furnace Creek Visitor Center)
- Las Vegas, NV (2.5 hours from Furnace Creek Visitor Center)
Accommodations west of the park:
- Lone Pine, CA (1h45 from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center)
- Ridgecrest, CA (2.5 hours from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center)
PRO TRAVEL TIPS1) though gas is available in the park, i highly recommend fueling up beforehand as gas in the park is very expensive, even more so than elsewhere in california. 2) 67% of Nevada is owned by the bureau of land management, including territories located near death valley national park. if you are traveling in a camper or sleeping in your car, you may be able to stay on blm land for free. note that there are no electricity or water hookups on blm land. click here for more information.
What to do?
There is lots to do in Death Valley National Park, so I compiled a list of all the best spots to hit for the perfect visit. These locations are listed in order with the assumption that you’ll enter from Amargosa Valley on the eastern side of the park and exit through Panamint Springs on the western side. This is one of the most efficient ways to visit Death Valley limiting backtracking and saving you hours of driving time.
If you enter the park through Panamint Springs, simply start at the bottom of the list and work your way up. If you enter through Amargosa Valley and exit through Shoshone, work your way to Sand Dunes and back before heading toward Badwater Basin. Make sure you download offline maps and use the brochure map you’ll receive upon entering the park to orient yourself in Death Valley.
- Dante’s View
- Zabriskie Point
- Golden Canyon Trail
- Artist’s Palette
- Devil’s Golf Course
- Badwater Basin
- Furnace Creek Visitor Center
- Harmony Borax Interpretive Trail
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
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Dante’s View is perched 5,575 ft (1,699 m) above Badwater Basin. With towering views of the salt flats below and the snowy Black Mountains in the background, it was the best view we caught in Death Valley. The turnoff for Dante’s View is located right past the information center and will take you down Dante’s Road for 14 miles/ 23 km. Note that vehicles longer than 25 ft/ 7.7 m cannot complete the final portion of the climb to Dante’s View.
When we reached the parking lot of the breathtaking overlook, we heard the wind howling and decided to bundle up before exiting our car. Dante’s View is completely exposed and can get extremely cold and windy during the winter months, so make sure to come prepared with layers. It’s important to note as well that Dante’s View is one of the only areas with cell service in the park, so take advantage of it while you can.
Zabriskie Point is a favorite of photographers for both sunrise and sunset. It was named after Christian Zabriskie, a man who worked in Death Valley during its borax-mining days. The main formation that spikes up above the golden waves of Zabriskie Point is Manly Beacon.
Golden Canyon Trail
This 2 mi/ 3.2 km trail will take you through a beautiful vibrant yellow canyon to the amphitheater of Red Cathedral. This hike is easy to moderate and features 3 feet of rock scrambling.
Artist’s Palette is arguably the most Instagrammable location in Death Valley National Park. The colorful rock display is located along Artist’s Drive, a one-way 9 mi/ 14.4 km scenic loop along Badwater Road. The pink, purple, and turquoise splashes among the rocks are the result of volcanic deposits.
Artist’s Palette is partially visible from the road and was in full sun when we arrived late in the day. There are other pull outs along the scenic loop, but if you have little time, skip them and save your time for Artist’s Palette. Make sure to take a short stroll among its colorful hills to admire their vibrant pigmentation.
Devil’s Golf Course
Devil’s Golf Course is located at the end of a 1.5 mi/ 2.4 km dirt road right off Badwater Road. It is referred to as the Devil’s Golf Course because only a devil would want to play golf on such rugged terrain.
Though the dirt roads in the park are well maintained and are suitable for sedans, I recommend driving a vehicle with higher clearance if possible. We drove my Huyndai Veloster through the entire park, but we did have to drive very slowly.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 ft/ 86 m below sea level and is well known for its geometric salt pans. However, know that you will need to walk about 2 miles one way to reach the picturesque polygons you may have seen online. I was not prepared for this and was quite disappointed to pass trampled salt pans for over 1.5 mile.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center
We often stop at the visitor center to grab some souvenirs and check out the exhibit. We were very impressed by the interactive displays of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. If you are traveling with children, this is a great place for them to play and learn with hands-on displays. The exhibits feature lots of information regarding the people who lived in Death Valley over the centuries as well as the plants and wildlife that inhabit the park. The Visitor Center’s opening hours are 8am-5pm daily.
Harmony Borax Interpretive Trail
Borax was mined in Death Valley from 1883 to 1888. Harmony Borax Works is what made Furnace Creek Ranch popular and has become an integral part of Death Valley history.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
After driving around the rugged, jagged rock formations of Death Valley, you may be surprised to come across a vast expanse of brown sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells Village. These dunes are the perfect playground for children and adults alike. If you’re lucky enough, you may even catch a glimpse of the famous Death Valley cracked mud at the entrance of the dunes.
We walked for about 30 minutes and climbed a few dunes to get a better view. To come across undisturbed dunes, you will probably need to walk at least one hour, maybe less, maybe more depending on the crowds. This may seem like a long time, but hiking in the sand takes much longer and is much more exerting than hiking on flat ground. Do NOT go hiking into the dunes on hot days. We were there on Thanksgiving Day and found the sand dunes to be the hottest location in the park.
With one more day
One day isn’t enough to see all Death Valley has to offer. If you are lucky enough to have an extra day to spend in the park, consider renting an off-road vehicle and driving to Ubehebe Crater and down Racetrack Valley Road. This rough, unpaved road will lead you to Racetrack Playa and its mysterious moving rocks. On the way to Ubehebe Crater, stop by Scotty’s Castle, and if it’s your thing, bring a teakettle along to add your contribution to Teakettle Junction. The drive to Racetrack Playa and back takes nearly 6 hours, so be prepared to spend the day on a slow, rough, and dusty drive.
With two more days
Three days is the perfect amount of time to hit all of the highlights in Death Valley National Park. After following this itinerary for day 1 and going off-roading on day 2, I recommend exploring Mosaic Canyon on day 3 and making your way to Panamint Springs where you can hike to Death Valley’s only waterfall – Darwin Falls. The trailhead is remote and located on a dirt road that is not always passable for sedans, so make sure to seek advice from park rangers before you visit. The 2 mi/ 3.2 km hike to Darwin Falls is rated as moderate and unmarked. After you finish the hike, check out Father Crowley Vista Point before exiting the park.
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