As the largest national park in the Lower 48, Death Valley has a lot to offer. Eerie rock formations and ever-expanding salt flats feel other-worldly. Make the most of your visit with this Death Valley itinerary designed to bring you the most beautiful scenes in Death Valley.
Taking a Death Valley Road Trip – long or short – is definitely a beautiful experience. Don’t let the name fool you – this place has plenty of life. In fact, it’s real name is “Tumpisa” or “land of the red paint rock.”
I’ve been all over the country, and Death Valley truly surprised me. It’s vast, dramatic landscape brings a beauty that’s hard to describe. Even photos don’t really do the place justice.
About this Mega-Epic Death Valley Itinerary
Okay, so as a full-time outdoor writer, I’ve become an expert at making the most of your time outdoors. This stunning Death Valley itinerary features:
- Info on when to visit Death Valley National Park
- How many days to spend exploring the park
- Accessing the park and how to plan a Death Valley road trip
- A comprehensive Death Valley itinerary featuring one day in Death Valley and additional days.
- Camping and places to stay
- Tips for visiting Death Valley
- Additional planning resources
When to Visit Death Valley
One of the great things about Death Valley is the ability to visit the park year-round and still be able to see (most) main attractions.
Remember, Furnace Creek – inside the park – is the HOTTEST place in the country. I’m talking melt-your-skin-off 130-degree temps. SCORCHER.
Therefore it’s best to visit Death Valley between October and April. Fall sees less crowds. Winter is best for camping and hiking. While spring is busy with wildflower viewers.
Summer is possible, but come prepared! Lots of sunscreen, long-sleeve UPF clothing, plenty of water and electrolytes, and a robust vehicle with aircon.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Death Valley?
There are several unique ways to go on a Death Valley road trip, however most Death Valley itineraries are a maximum of 3 days.
If you only have one day in Death Valley, you can easily see many of the big highlights.
Since some of the other must-see attractions are so spread out, two days is a perfect amount of time to spend in Death Valley.
For those that don’t want to feel rushed – or have a particular interest in mining history – three days is perfect.
Going on a Death Valley Road Trip
Alright, so if you’ve looked on a map, you’ll see that Death Valley is kind of…out there. In fact, it feels like the middle of nowhere. This certainly adds to the mistique of the park.
There are two main ways to go on a Death Valley road trip. Head from the east or west side of the park.
From Las Vegas
Death Valley is one of the best day trips from Las Vegas. If you’re arriving from Las Vegas, the easiest way to access Death Valley is to head east on US 95, then head south State Road 160.
You’ll pass through Pahrump, a small town that’s perfect for mid-priced lodging (and cheap gas). Fill up on gas here before heading out on your Death Valley itinerary.
From Los Angeles
The fastest way to get to Death Valley from LA is to head past Barstow on I-15 and swing northeast around the park. You’ll pass Death Valley Junction – an odd ghost town.
Alternatively, you can access the park from the west side via Panamint Springs. This is your best option if you want to create a Death Valley road trip that includes stops like Alabama Hills, the Sequoia National Forest and other awesome places in California.
Death Valley Itinerary Day 1
First, stop at one of the pay stations near Furnace Creek (or others). It’s $30 for 7 days in the park. Other fee stations include:
- Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station
- Grapevine Ranger Station
- Ryan Kiosk
- Zabriskie Point
- Hell’s Gate
- Campgrounds in the park
See the Drama of Death Valley at Dante’s View
Your first stop takes you to 5,476 feet above sea level. Dante’s View is hands-down one of the best things to see in Death Valley.
This mega-stunning viewpoint shows you just how vast (and tall) Death Valley really is. The elevation difference between the highest point – Telescope Peak – and the lowest point – Badwater Basin – is over 11,000 feet.
If you can make it here for sunset, ah-mazing! If not, the views are still stellar all day.
Pro tip: Bring a jacket, it’s actually chilly up here!
Distance from Furnace Creek: 24 miles, 40 minutes
Scope Out the Sand Flats at Badwater Basin
After you’ve soaked up the most of the panorama at Dante’s View, you’re going down. Way down.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the US at -282 feet below the sea. The salt leeches from below the ground and creates stunning crystal formations. With the salt comes the moisture. The ground is surprisingly wet just below the salt crust. There are even lakes here.
Take your time and explore, but be aware of the heat. This stop is best at the beginning of the day before the crowds show up and the sun becomes too oppressive.
There are toilets here too, so take advantage if you need the facilities.
Pro tip: This place sucks the life out of you quickly. Salt pans dry out your skin and reflect the sun’s rays. Bring sunscreen, wear proper footwear, and don’t wander too far if it’s hot.
Distance from Dante’s View: 41 miles, 1 hour.
Hike the Natural Bridge
This short trail is only 2 miles round-trip and is an easy hike if the temperatures are cooler.
You’ll spot a stunning natural bridge and see just how uniquely strange the rock is here. It’s almost as if it will crumble at any moment, but at the same time, the clay-like soil is very unforgiving.
If you’ve seen the best of the American Southwest, this is a ho-hum hike (scope out Golden Canyon instead). However, if you’ve never seen a natural bridge before, it certainly has a wow-factor!
Pro Tip: If you’re visiting during the warmer months (April through October) hike the Natural Bridge after Dante’s View. Then head to the Devil’s Golf course for a delicious lunch. Afterwards, peep Badwater basin before continuing with the rest of this Death Valley itinerary.
Distance from Badwater Basin: 5 miles, 10 minutes
Pack a Picnic Lunch at the Devil’s Golf Course
For a whacky and weird lunch spot, take the dirt road to the Devil’s Golf Course. Signs on Badwater Road guide the way (you’ll pass it if you’re coming from Dante’s View to Badwater).
Here you’ll be able to see just how much upheavel and movement the floods, salt, and water cause. Sometimes salt formations form that look like golf balls (or eggs) which is where the spot got it’s name.
Plan for a picnic lunch in your vehicle (if it’s hot) or pop the trunk and sit facing this strange landscape. Don’t forget to pack out all of your trash.
Pro tip: The terrain here is unforgiving. It’s easy to trip and fall so take care.
Distance from Natural Bridge Trailhead: 12 miles, 17 minutes
Drive to the Painted Hills of Artist’s Pallet
One of the highlights of one day in Death Valley has to be Artist’s Drive. These gorgeous hills appear to be brushed by an artist with their vibrant greens, purples, and yellows.
The colors come from various minerals and elements in the rock. Half way through the drive you’ll reach Artist’s Pallet. This pull out gets you up close and personal to these stunning hillsides.
You can walk around and explore a little to really admire the view. Also, this is a great spot for a toilet break.
The one-way loop drive through these stunning hills is a must-do on any Death Valley itinerary. Honestly, I thought it was a highlight of the park. Take your time and use the little dirt pullouts to explore this area further (and without crowds).
Pro Tip: The colors are at their brightest when the sun is at its highest. Visit during the middle of the day for the best color.
Distance from Devil’s Golf Course: 10 miles, 20 minutes
Catch a Sunset at Zabriskie Point
By this point, you may be tuckered out (or the sun may be heading to bed). If you’ve got time, check out the “More Options” section for nearby attractions to add to your Death Valley itinerary.
If not, then round out your day with a sunset at Zabriskie Point. Watch as the sun lowers over the horizon and the golden hills come to life with playful shadows. This easy overlook has benches and a few nearby hills to explore.
Distance from Artist’s Drive: 13 miles, 22 minutes
If you’re only spending one day in Death Valley then now is the time to head back. Or, you can opt to stay until the sky grows dark and check out the stars!
Stargazing in Death Valley
Death Valley National Park lies in one of the few Dark Sky Territories left in the US. This means that there is no light polution to obstruct your nightime view.
One of the most amazing parts of any multi-day Death Valley itinerary is stargazing. A few of the most incredible spots to see the stars is:
- Zabriskie Point
- Dante’s View
- Harmony Borax Works
- Badwater Basin
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
More Options for One Day in Death Valley
If you’re quick to see the sights, you can scope out these additional nearby attractions in this section of Death Valley National Park:
- Twenty Mule Team Canyon: Short scenic drive with short hiking opportunities. Near Zabriskie Point.
- Golden Canyon: 4.4-mile scenic loop hike (Gower Gulch) great for sunset. Near Artist’s Drive. Could do instead of Natural Bridge.
- Furnace Creek Visitor Center: Learn about the unique history and geology of this magical location. Closed in 2020.
Where to Stay in Death Valley
There are not too many options when it comes to where to stay in Death Valley. In fact, there are only a couple of (expensive) lodging options inside the park.
- Stovepipe Wells Hotel
- The Inn at Furnace Creek
- The Ranch at Furnace Creek
- Panamint Springs Resort
For lodging outside the park, check out the towns of Beatty, Nevada in the north or Pahrump towards the south end of the park. Both towns offer mid-range lodging that’s cheaper than staying inside Death Valley.
Death Valley Camping
If you’re keen to camp in the desert, then reserve a spot (or use a first-come-first-served campground) inside Death Valley National Park. Camping is closed during the summer months. You’ll find 9 campgrounds in the park:
- Furnace Creek: Reservations. Open year-round (summer not recommended).
- Sunset at Furnace Creek: first-come-first-served
- Texas Spring at Furnace Creek: first-come-first-served
- Stovepipe Wells: first-come-first-served
- Mesquite Spring: first-come-first-served
- Emigrant: first-come-first-served. Tent only.
- Wildrose: first-come-first-served
- Thorndike: first-come-first-served. 4WD required.
- Mahogany Flat: first-come-first-served. 4WD required.
Death Valley Road Trip Day 2
Risse and shine! It’s time for day 2 of this Death Valley itinerary. Today you’ll be exploring the northern end of the park. With plenty of beautiful sites and mining history, there’s a lot to see.
Wonder About the Stones at the Racetrack Playa
Start your day early and head toward one of Death Valley’s more remote attractions, Racetrack Playa. It’s a bumpy ride, but worth it to check out this unique place.
The first thing you’ll notice are the rocks that seem to 1) come from nowhere and 2) move. Yup. That’s right. These rocks travel (you can tell from the depression of mud behind them).
Scientists are still stumped by this phenomena. Please don’t move the rocks, or step on their unique trails across the badlands.
Pro Tip: This place is far out of the way. You’ll need a 4×4 vehicle to make this bumpy journey.
Distance from Furnace Creek: 83 miles, 3 hours
Hike the Ubehebe Crater
After you’ve solved the mystery of the traveling rocks, head to the Ubehebe Crater. The drive through the badlands is quite pleseant and there’s plenty to see at this massive crater.
Opt to walk down and back out of the crater (remember you’ll be going uphill in the heat on the way back). Alternatively you can circumnavigate the crater and check out the views nearby. Option 2 is my favorite, since you’ll have the best views.
Pro Tip: This is a great lunch spot too!
Distance from Racetrack Playa: 27 miles, 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Scour the Mesquite Sand Dunes
After a filling lunch, it’s time to see the most beautiful sand dunes in Death Valley. The Mesquite Sand Dunes are one of four dunes in the park, and the easiest to access.
Climb the dunes and sled down (a popular activity) or relax and soak in the views. The Mesquite Sand Dunes deliver some of the most incredible views in the park.
It’s easy to spend a few hours here, so take your time to explore or come back later in the evening.
Distance from Ubehebe Crater: 45 miles, 1 hour.
Additional Activities for Day 2 of this Death Valley Itinerary
If you’re a fast visitor or you’ve got extra days in your Death Valley Itinerary, these northern attracations are woth a look:
- Stovepipe Wells: Old town and mining community
- Harmony Borax Works: Mining operation.
- Grotto Canyon Hike: A technical, scrambly, 2-mile hike that offers a little shade and a lot of challenges
- Telescope Peak Trail: A challenging 14-mile hike that lets you see both the highest (Mt Whitney, 14,505 feet) and lowest (Badwater Basin (-282 feet) in the contiguous US.
- Aguereberry Point: A stunning viewpoint that requires a 4×4 vehicle. The views are better than Dante’s.
Tips for Visiting Death Valley
Before you head out on a Death Valley road trip, keep these tips in mind:
- The park is HUGE! Driving distances are vast and gas is hard to come by. Fuel up before you come in and take your time – the drives are wonderful.
- Bring plenty of water, shade, and salty snacks. There really aren’t any fascilities in the park (unless you want to grossly over-pay) so come prepared.
- Start early and head out in the evenings. If you’re hear during the hot months, definitely avoid the heat of the day, it’s oppressive.
- Cell service is mostly non-existant. Download offline maps with Google Maps before you head out, or pick up a National Geographic map of the area.
Come see one of the most unique places in America with this Death Valley itinerary. You’ll hit the highlights and feel like you’ve really gotten a flavor for the park.
Honestly, this place truly wowed me, and I’ve seen some amazing places. It’s worth it to at least spend one day in Death Valley to see what all the excitement is about.
Additional Death Valley Road Trip Resources
Planning a trip to Death Valley? Here are a few handy resources for nearby attractions: