Death Valley National Park is one of the most unique parks in America’s National Park system and holds a number of extreme records. Not only is it the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, it is the driest National Park, and also contains the lowest point in North America. If that wasn’t enough, it also happens to be the hottest place on earth! These extremes make a road trip to Death Valley National Park an unforgettable experience.
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Is Death Valley National Park Worth Visiting?
Yes! Death Valley National Park is absolutely worth visiting. You may think that a large desert national park is not overly interesting, but you would be amazed at the diversity there is to explore in Death Valley National Park. From salt flats to rugged mountains, and everything in between including sand dunes, eroded sandstone hills, and extremely colorful rock formations, Death Valley National Park pretty much has it all. Nature in Death Valley is so unique, you’d be forgiven if you thought you were on Mars or some other planet!
Is One Day Enough for Death Valley?
As the largest national park in the lower 48 states, to truly explore and experience Death Valley National Park, you would need much longer than one day. However, most of the top attractions are located along the main paved road through the park, making them very accessible for a daytrip to Death Valley. If you are happy to pack in a full sunrise to sunset one day in Death Valley itinerary, you can absolutely experience the park and see the unforgettable top attractions.
In order to have a successful one day in Death Valley itinerary, expect to spend at least one night at Death Valley, or nearby, to maximize the time you spend in the park. We’ve listed some of our favorite hotels and airbnb’s near Death Valley at the end of this blog post to help you get started.
Directions to Death Valley
Death Valley is located in southeastern California, and is popular to access from either Las Vegas, Nevada or from slightly further in Los Angeles, California. A one day in Death Valley itinerary is entirely possible, but Death Valley is also easily combined with a longer road trip to some of the other amazing destinations in the Southwest United States. The main highway through Death Valley is Highway 190, which you will arrive on from either direction.
Los Angeles to Death Valley
From Los Angeles International Airport, the directions to Death Valley have a couple alternate route, but it is about 250 miles (400 km) which will take at least 4.5 hours. Google Maps is your friend as the route that works best for you will be highly dependent on L.A. area traffic. If you are coming from the Los Angeles area, you would want to aim to get much closer to Death Valley and spend the night there before entering the park, as the full driving time from Los Angeles would not leave you with enough time to complete the ultimate one day in Death Valley itinerary.
If you do not have your own car to complete the trip, check out RentalCars.com for some of the cheapest rates on rental cars from Los Angeles International Airport. You can book with your favorite rental car company, or try out a new one for your trip to Death Valley.
Las Vegas to Death Valley
Las Vegas is the most popular starting point for visiting Death Valley as the drive from McCarran International Airport is about 140 miles (225 km) and will take about 2.5 hours. As Las Vegas is significantly closer to Death Valley than Los Angeles, it is possible to do a daytrip to Death Valley while staying in Las Vegas, just be aware that it would be a very long day and you might not see everything in our ultimate one day in Death Valley itinerary. We recommend that you spend a night either in Death Valley or nearby, to take full advantage of 24 hours in Death Valley.
If you do not have your own car to complete the trip from Las Vegas, check out RentalCars.com for some of the cheapest rates on rental cars. For a one day in Death Valley itinerary you only need a standard car to explore Death Valley. There are some rough dirt roads to explore if you have more time, but all of the main tourist sights are easily accessible by a standard car.
Ultimate One Day in Death Valley Itinerary
If you only have time for a one day in Death Valley itinerary, then you better make it a full day! We’ve arranged the below Death Valley attractions in an East to West order, however they can just as easily be completed in either direction depending on where you are starting your trip. Either direction is great as you have magical places for sunrise and sunset at the beginning and end of the one day in Death Valley itinerary.
Death Valley National Park has an entrance fee of $30, which gives you access for one week. Alternatively, they also accept the American the Beautiful Annual National Park pass. If you plan on visiting multiple National Parks in the next 12 months, the $80 annual pass is well worth it. Death Valley National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
Optional: Dante’s Viewpoint
Why would we start our one day in Death Valley itinerary with an optional location? Well, Dante’s viewpoint is beautiful, but it requires about 1 hour of additional driving (roundtrip) off of the main road. If time is of the essence, this would be the first item we would leave off the itinerary. Plus, it doesn’t help that the next destination, Zabriskie Point, is so photogenic and a perfect sunrise location.
Dante’s View is the highest viewpoint in Death Valley and provides endless views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Badwater Basin salt flats. The viewpoint is located at 5,476 feet (1,669 m) in elevation, but in reality the dropoff down to Badwater Basin is even greater as the Death Valley salt flats are the lowest point in North America.
As the highest point on this one day in Death Valley itinerary, it is also the coolest due to its high elevation, a welcome respite from the heat during the hotter months. There are a number of short trails to explore, each with a unique view of the surrounding mountains and valley.
Location on Google Maps: Dante’s Viewpoint
Facilities: Washrooms are available at the parking lot.
What to Bring: Nothing too special here.
Helpful Tips: The road up to Dante’s viewpoint is very twisty and gains a lot of elevation. If you are driving an RV or slower and heavier vehicle, keep this in mind, especially during the summer heat.
The viewpoint at Zabriskie Point is possibly the most impressive in Death Valley. The viewpoint is surrounded by eroded sandstone rock, reminiscent of badlands. Zabriskie Point is great to visit anytime of the day as it is beautiful at both sunrise and sunset, but it is also beautiful midday as the sun brings out the colors of the rock.
A great short hike to explore in this area is the Badlands Loop trail. It’s an easy 2.5 mile (4 km) loop that leads you through the unbelievable badlands geography for different views of the eroded rocks.
Location on Google Maps: Zabriskie Point
Facilities: Washrooms are available at the parking lot.
What to Bring: Your hiking shoes. Zabriskie Points offers some great short hiking trails, which could be fit into a one day in Death Valley itinerary.
Helpful Tips: It’s hard to take a bad photo at Zabriskie Point, but arriving for sunrise or sunset during the golden hours is magical, and highly recommended.
Badwater Basin Salt Flats
The Death Valley salt flats at Badwater Basin are one of the most popular places to visit as here you can stand at the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. The salt flats here stretch out for miles and gives the area the appearance of being covered in a light dusting of snow with their white color.
The salt flats in Death Valley were formed over thousands of years by water and rain eroding minerals from the surrounding rocks. As Badwater Basin is the lowest point, the minerals all settled here, and the water evaporated in the intense sun. During periods of intense rainfall, which is unusual but not super rare for Death Valley, the Badwater Basin salt flats can fill with water creating a salty lake, before the water again evaporates and leaves beautiful patterns of minerals behind. Depending on the time of year that you visit, and recent rainful, the Badwater Basin salt flats can look quite different.
When you arrive at the main Badwater Basin parking lot, there are some signs highlighting the features of the Death Valley salt flats, and if you look up at the hill behind you there is a marker on the mountainside indicating where the sea level elevation is.
The Death Valley salt flats are great to explore on your own as they are so vast you can easily find a slice of the salt flats all to yourself. It’s a great place to take some creative photos and enjoy the fresh, salty air. While out on the salt flats keep in mind how far you have walked out onto them, the parking lot might seem pretty close, but distances are deceiving in an area as vast as this and it can take a lot longer to get back than you might think.
Location on Google Maps: Badwater Basin
Facilities: Washrooms are available at the parking lot.
What to Bring: Proper shoes are key here, and nothing that will be ruined getting covered in salt.
Helpful Tips: The white Death Valley salt flats can be blindingly bright in the midday sun, making sunglasses essential. You are free to venture wherever you like on the salt flats, but it can get wet or muddy off the main pathway.
Devil’s Golf Course
Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley is one of the shorter stops in this one day in Death Valley itinerary, but it is also very unique and unlike anything else around. The unusual name comes from the delicate white crystals that form here, which resemble golf balls. People discovered these golf ball like formations, and exclaimed that “only the devil could play golf” here, as the rest of the surface is full of jagged salt formations that are rough and sharp.
Be careful when out exploring at Devil’s Golf Course. The salt formations really are jagged and sharp; it is not somewhere you would want to fall down. If you listen closely when the weather is really hot you might even hear the salt popping and cracking beneath you.
Location on Google Maps: Devil’s Golf Course
Facilities: No facilities.
What to Bring: Nothing special needed here, but proper shoes are advised if venturing out onto the jagged salt.
Helpful Tips: You can walk out on the salt to find the elusive white crystal balls of salt, just be warned that falling on the jagged salt would not be fun.
This area really does have to seen to be believed. The Artists Palette area surprises with beautiful multi-colored eroded rock hills. You might be wondering how on earth colors like this can be real, and in fact they look so unreal that they have stepped in as other-worldly locations in Star Wars and other films.
The main area of Artists Palette is accessed along the one-way 9.7 mile (15.6 km) Artists Drive. You will have beautiful viewpoints and views as you make your way along Artists Drive, but the piece de resistance is undoubtedly Artists Palette.
The unique colors in the rocks are formed through the oxidation of natural metal deposits in the rock. The shades of green, blue, pink, and purple, can change each time you visit Artists Palette. Over time as rainfall and more erosion occurs, the colors and rock formations change.
The area is beautiful to view from the parking lot as you can take everything in, however it is well worth exploring some of the small hills and valleys here to get up close and personal with the uniquely colored rocks.
Location on Google Maps: Artist’s Palette
Facilities: Washrooms at the parking lot.
What to Bring: Your camera! You definitely want to capture the beautifully colored rocks.
Helpful Tips: Don’t be afraid to get out and explore, there are so many unique colors and viewpoints at this location, that you could easily spend a half day here!
Furnace Creek Village
While not a Death Valley attraction in and of itself, you will drive past Furnace Creek getting to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Furnace Creek is the largest settlement and village in the park. If you need gas, food, or water, this is the place to get it. You can also ask the park rangers any questions you might have at the visitors center.
Location on Google Maps: Furnace Creek Village
Facilities: Restaurant, Convenience Store, Gas Station, Washrooms, and Visitor’s Center
What to Bring: Your wallet to pick up some souvenirs, or much needed water or gas!
Helpful Tips: If you can, plan to bring in water and snacks from outside the park to save money, but this is one of your very few choices to stock up if you forget.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the most accessible and most popular sand dunes in Death Valley, but there are actually four other main sand dunes areas in the park. The sand dunes are constantly shifting, making each visit to them unique. Most people think that with Death Valley being a desert that it would be covered in sand dunes, but in reality less than 1% of the area of the park is actually sand dunes.
This is another place on the one day in Death Valley itinerary where walking distances are deceiving. If you want to walk out to the highest dune (it’s 100 feet or 30 m high), it’s actually 30 to 60 minutes of walking as you slip and slide over each of the smaller sand dunes in between the parking lot and the highest dune. If you are looking for pictures of pristine sand dunes you will have to make the trek out to some of the farther dunes though as the sand dunes closest to the parking lot are mostly all covered in footprints.
Location on Google Maps: Mesquite Flats
Facilities: Washrooms are available at the large parking lot.
What to Bring: Proper shoes are recommended as there are scorpions, spiders, and snakes in the area.
Helpful Tips: The sand dunes are beautiful and a very popular stop, so plan to arrive early for sunrise or sunset, the most popular times to visit. Bring sunscreen and water with you as walking on the dunes is exhausting!
Death Valley Itinerary for Multiple Days
If you have more time available to explore Death Valley National Park, there are other unique and exciting sights scattered throughout the park to explore.
One of the most famous ‘off the beaten track’ sights is called Racetrack Playa. Here there are large rocks scattered across a dry lakebed that leave trails marked in the earth as they move. It was a mystery for many years as to how these massive rocks moved, and left their trails in the ground.
In 2014, scientists determined that the trails left by the rocks moving were formed when the dry lakebed filled with water after an intense rainstorm. Overnight the water would freeze, and winds would push the rocks along the ice, where they would leave their trails in the soft muddy ground below.
Getting here does require multiple hours of driving and rough gravel roads where rock punctures are very common. Plan ahead so that you can drive a 4×4 truck or SUV out here.
Another location that is less-frequented by tourists due to its location are the historical charcoal kilns. Built over 140 years ago to provide energy to nearby silver mines, these well-preserved kilns are a glimpse into the unique history of Death Valley National Park. Each kiln stands 25 feet (7.6 m) tall.
The Ubehebe Crater is incredible to behold. It’s massive size at over 600 feet (183 m) deep and over 2,600 feet (792 m) wide showcases the incredible power of nature. Believed to have been formed over 2,100 years ago from a volcanic eruption, the crater today also showcases incredible rock colors over thousands of years of erosion.
Best Time to Visit Death Valley National Park
Death Valley can be explored year-round but each season has unique features or challenges which may change when you plan your one day in Death Valley itinerary.
Winter in Death Valley
During the winter months, Death Valley temperatures can be rather cool, and can easily drop below freezing overnight, or for a few days. As long as you come prepared with some warm clothes, the temperatures are unlikely to be extreme and can easily be managed. The benefits of traveling Death Valley in the winter months is that there are significantly fewer other visitors.
Spring in Death Valley
The spring months in Death Valley bring one of the most significant transformations in the park. The park comes alive with colorful wildflowers dotting the landscape. The hills and valleys of the park can be full of flowers in colors of yellow, purple, pink, or white. If you are interested in visiting Death Valley to catch some wildflowers, the National Park Service maintains a website with wildflower bloom predictions and further information on the many types of flowers that can be found in the park.
Summer in Death Valley
This is the most difficult time to visit Death Valley as the intense heat can easily become unbearable, and downright dangerous. It is possible to visit during this time, however you have to be extremely diligent in starting your day at or before sunrise, and seeking shade once it begins to get to hot. You’ll likely be driven into air-conditioned comfort for the afternoon, before re-emerging for sunset. If you don’t mind heat, and are happy to manage your schedule around the sun, don’t be dissuaded from visiting during Summer to experience Death Valley at it’s extremes.
Summer in Death Valley is no joke, we’ve put together some of our favorite items to help keep you cool if you decide to travel to Death Valley in Summer, or really any time of year!
Fall in Death Valley
Another popular time to visit Death Valley, and for good reason. The extreme heat of the summer months has subsided, and cooler temperatures make a lot of the hikes in Death Valley more realistic. You can’t go wrong with planning your trip to Death Valley in the fall months.
Why is Death Valley So Dangerous?
The primary reason that Death Valley is synonymous with danger is due to the extreme temperatures that can be experienced here. In the Summer of 2020 and 2021, Death Valley recorded a staggering temperature of 130 F (54 C). This is the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth. It’s not something that we experienced during our daytrip to Death Valley, but temperatures that high are said to instantly take your breath away.
The extreme heat and dry geography, means that exposure to the elements in the heat of the summer can very quickly become life threatening. The main reason that people can be in danger is if they spend too much time in the sun and heat without adequate water supply.
Interestingly, Death Valley can also become dangerously cold in the winter and be subject to flash flooding. It is not uncommon for winter temperatures to dip below freezing.
Let’s also not forget about the plethora of scorpions, snakes, and spiders that call the park home.
With all that in mind, Death Valley is a wonderful place to explore, in fact the main cause of death in Death Valley National Park is from single car accidents. The roads are twisty and winding and the views breathtaking – just make sure to focus on the road when driving and pull over to enjoy the view and snap that photo for memories of your one day in Death Valley itinerary.
Best Place to Stay Near Death Valley National Park
Death Valley has few accommodation options within the park, and just a few more in the surrounding towns. Camping is a great option if you have the right equipment. We’ve compiled some of our favorite hotels on either side of Death Valley National Park to stay at while on your one day in Death Valley itinerary.
Hotels Near Death Valley Towards the West and Los Angeles
When driving from Los Angeles to Death Valley, we recommend staying somewhere closer to Death Valley before entering the park. The closest accommodation just outside the park is the Panamint Springs Resort, which has quaint cabins and rooms available. Alternatively you could stay within the western edges of the national park at the small hotel in Stovepipe Wells.
Hotels Near Death Valley Towards the East and Las Vegas
While it is possible to stay at a hotel in Las Vegas and make the drive out and back for a one day in Death Valley itinerary, the preferred way is to spend at least one night closer to Death Valley in order to maximize your time spent in the park. Within the national park, there are actually two hotels, the Ranch at Death Valley is located within the village of Furnace Creek and features a huge outdoor pool. If you are feeling luxurious, the Inn at Death Valley is a beautiful oasis in the desert with luxury rooms and amenities. Both of these hotels are near the main sights on the eastern end of the park.
Camping in Death Valley National Park
If you have the equipment, camping in Death Valley National Park is a great way to stay close to all of the action and attractions. There are a number of established campsites spread throughout the park with bathrooms which are mostly located near the main attractions above. If you are more adventurous and have more time, Death Valley also offers backcountry camping, however this can be harder to access and is not recommended if you only have time for a one day in Death Valley itinerary.
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for the Ultimate One Day in Death Valley Itinerary
See our top recommendations to get the most out of a one day in Death Valley itinerary. You’ll notice a theme here; to get the most out of 24 hours in Death Valley you will need to plan ahead!
1. Research the Weather and Plan Ahead
The weather in Death Valley can be extreme, and if you’re not prepared it could easily ruin your one day in Death Valley itinerary. It’s entirely possible to visit Death Valley any time of the year, but if you are visiting in summer or winter you should be highly prepared with the appropriate clothing, food and water. If visiting during the popular shoulder seasons of spring and fall, the weather is a little bit more forgiving, and with more people in the park more restaurants are open, and there is always safety in numbers if the weather does get a bit extreme.
2. Plan Out Your Itinerary Ahead
Lucky for you we just gave you a massive head start on your one day in Death Valley itinerary based on everything above. However, be aware that while in Death Valley it is unlikely that you will have any phone service. Have any key directions or things you want to do written down or printed out beforehand. You can pick up maps of the park at the Ranger Station which are helpful in navigating around.
3. Fill Your Car with Fuel Before You Enter Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is a huge national park, which means that driving distances are on the longer side. Add the additional drive time from Los Angeles or Las Vegas from your hotel, and you’ll be using a fair amount of fuel. There are not many places to get fuel near Death Valley, so be sure to fill up well before you reach Death Valley National Park, and keep an eye on the fuel gauge.
While there are a handful of fuel stations in or near the park, you’ll want to avoid using them if you can as the prices are not cheap. When we visited in January 2021, the price per gallon was about $1 more in Death Valley than outside, or about 30% more than you’re used to paying.
4. Check Sunrise Times Ahead of Time
If you only have time for a one day in Death Valley itinerary, you certainly don’t want to miss sunrise. Research beforehand what time sunrise is, and plan the start of your day accordingly. Zabriskie Point is the most popular place for sunrise, which is also conveniently the first main attraction you will reach when arriving from the East (Las Vegas). Alternatively, if you are coming from the West (Los Angeles), sunrise at the Mesquite Flat sand dunes is also spectacular.
5. Stay on the Trails
It should go without saying, but please stay on the hiking trails, and on all designated roadways and parking lots. The fragile desert environment can take decades to heal from human intervention. As Death Valley becomes more and more popular, do your part to protect nature for future visitors to experience.
Have You Been to Death Valley National Park?
Let us know in the comments below how you enjoyed visiting Death Valley National Park!
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