Sometimes I think about all the money I spend traveling so far from home, when there is amazing places so close to me that I haven’t seen yet! This year (2020), I wanted to make more of an effort to explore my own backyard + neighboring areas. I have lived in Las Vegas my ENTIRE life and didn’t make it out to Death Valley until now… Yikes.
Being from Las Vegas, or even visiting Las Vegas, it is so easy to drive out and spend one day in Death Valley. Even though there are endless things to see and you can easily spend an entire weekend exploring the park, I will go over the best things to see in Death Valley in just one day.
Something I want to note that I did not realize when first planning my trip was that all these sights are extremely far apart. And not only are the driving distances far away from each other, but once you arrive at the parking lot, most sights you will need to hike/walk in addition to the driving. For this one day guide, I compiled a list of amazing sights that are very close together so you can maximize your time in the park. If you can budget an extra day (or two) in the park, I also have bonus ideas listed at the bottom of this guide.
In “My Perfect Itinerary” style (AKA, overly informative), I not only give you a Death Valley itinerary, but also facts about the park, commonly asked questions, bonus stops, where to stay, what to pack, key take-away’s to remember, AND a free map to save for later! WOW, what a score! Okay, let’s get started…
Psst… If you are planning a USA road trip, I have tons of guides that are around this area. Click here to check them out!
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Where is Death Valley National Park?
Death Valley National Park is located on the boarder of Nevada and California, only a 2 hour drive from Las Vegas. Not only is the park located in the middle of the desert, it’s elevation is -282, making it one of the hottest areas in the world.
To get to Death Valley National Park, you will need to fly into Las Vegas, which is the closest major airport to the park, and then drive an additional 2 hours to the park center. If you don’t feel comfortable driving, or simply don’t want to, there are many tour buses that will take you to some of the major viewpoints. Click here to browse tours to Death Valley.
Where to stay in Death Valley
Since Death Valley is a national park, the accommodations inside the park can be quite expensive. Even though they are expensive, I would still recommend staying inside the park to save you tons of driving time. What most people don’t realize about Death Valley is that everything in the park is extremely spread out (I got a rude awakening when I began to plan out all the sights ha!). If you are only spending one day in Death Valley, you will have to limit yourself to only a few things. If you stay the night in the park, you will be able to check far more things off the bucket list!
Here are the best accommodations depending on your budget:
$$$: Staying in the Furnace Creek area (Center of the park) at The Inn or The Ranch. Both of these hotels are surprisingly nice and will have restaurants, bars, golf, pools, etc. for you to keep yourself entertained. Keep in mind, that not only the hotel is expensive, but the restaurants are expensive as well!
$$: Staying in Pahrump, which is 1 hour outside of the park center. Pahrump is one of the closest towns to Death Valley and has many accommodation options depending on your budget. You can get a lot of bang for your buck here, plus you will have more affordable dining options throughout the city. Click here to view Pahrump Hotels.
$: Camping inside the park will easily be your most affordable option. The only thing I would say is to NOT camp during the summer months, because it can still range to over 100 degrees at night. I am not a camper, have no clue about camping and can provide ZERO advice LOL, but if you want to camp I would recommend reading this extremely useful guide!
What to pack for One Day in Death Valley
I never want to bore you with a never-ending packing guide, especially when you came here to read about what to see in Death Valley! In every guide, I recommend my top 3-5 things that are must-haves for this specific trip. So, here are my top picks for DV:
1. Portable Fan: If you are traveling to Death Valley in any season except for winter, I would HIGHLY recommend bringing a portable fan to hook up to your phone. The hikes in Death Valley are in the beating sun, and even if you travel in February (like me) you will still be extremely hot when walking around. This fan plugs right into your phone and will cool you off immensely when walking to/from the viewpoints. Click here to snag this phone fan!
2. Baby Wipes: When you mix hot / sweaty with dirt, it makes a HORRIBLE experience. If you are only spending one day in Death Valley, you want to keep yourself as comfortable as possible. Most of these hikes will have loose dirt on the hiking paths, and if you are sweating at all, your legs will get extremely dirty, FAST. I always keep a pack of baby wipes in my car to clean off my hands and/or cool myself off.
3. GPS: People are not kidding when they say you have ZERO service in Death Valley National Park. To be quite honest, it’s kind of scary the thought of getting lost in the park because it is not a very busy place. If you get lost, you might need to wait a while to find someone to help you! I would highly recommend either bringing a GPS or downloading the sights on a Google Map. I give you a FREE map download I already created! If you want it emailed to you, just fill out your info on the from below. Click here for an affordable and well-rated GPS for your car.
4. Sun Block Packets: Ah, my favorite tip to provide!! These sunblock packets have traveled with me to almost every place I’ve been! Being only the size of a ketchup packet, you can re-apply sunblock so easily by sticking these in your purse or pocket. Click here to check them out!
The climate is similar to Las Vegas (which most people are also visiting Las Vegas when they come to Death Valley), so here is an extremely detailed guide on what the pack for Las Vegas!
Like this photo?! It was edited in ONE CLICK using my Vegas Pack Presets! Click here to check them out!
Death Valley Itinerary
Stop #1: Badwater Basin Salt Flats
- Distance from Furnace Creek: 20 minutes to the parking lot, 45 minutes to salt flat center
- Time to spend at location: 1 hour – 1.5 hours
Badwater Basin Salt Flats is easily the most popular thing to see in Death Valley, and for good reason! This large area of hexagon shaped salt makes for a perfect photo op. Once you arrive at the large parking area, you will be greeted with a viewing deck of the basin where you can read about the history and unique facts. To get to the unique texture of the salt flats, you will need to walk into the basin for about 30 minutes. If you are trying to reach this place for the great sunset lighting, don’t forget to budget the 30 minutes just to walk out like I did haha. 🙂
Other than it’s looks, Badwater Basin is a popular spot because it is the lowest point in North America (which also means the hottest!). Once you arrive, that uniform texture will make it look like someone went out their and formed the salt into honeycomb shapes! And if you’re anything like me and wonder how the heck that happened… The honeycomb or hexagon shaped salt formations are formed by the freezing and thawing process of water, creating that natural shape.
The walk from the parking lot to the middle of the salt flats is a long, sun-beating walk, but it is a flat and easy. Be prepared to have salt all over your shoes, which is where my recommendation for Baby Wipes will come in handy 🙂
Like how I edited these photos?! They were edited with my one-click presets!
Stop #2: Devil’s Golf Course
- Distance from Furnace Creek: 20 minutes to the viewing area
- Time to spend at location: 15 minutes
Devil’s Golf Course is a very short drive from Badwater Basin, only 15 minutes. “Only the devil could play golf here,” was how it got its name due to the extremely unique texture of this salt flat. My best way to describe it would be large popcorn sprinkled for miles! The salt formed in this way because of a large lake that filled the area that evaporated and left the large salt composites behind.
You only need 15 minutes or so at this location because the parking area is directly at the viewing area. You will not need to walk/hike into the salt fields to see the site. From Badwater Basin Road (the main highway), you will see a clearly marked sign for Devil’s Golf Course. From there, follow the bumpy dirt road all the way to the viewing point.
Stop #3: Artist’s Palette Drive
- Distance from Furnace Creek: 25 minutes to the viewpoint
- Time to spend at location: 15 minutes – 1 hour (depending if you want to hike or just see the viewpoint)
Artist’s Palette is probably my favorite area of the park because it is SO unique! There are only a few places in the world where you can see rainbow colored mountains and Death Valley is one of them.
Close to Badwater Basin and Devil’s Golf Course, you will see the entrance to Artist’s Palette called “Artist’s Drive.” This 9 mile loop will start and end on Badwater Rd and will have two lookout areas. The first, which is only a few miles into the drive, is not for Artist’s Palette. There will be a parking lot that leads to two hiking trails, which just gives you views of the area + Badwater Basin. If you are crunched on time, I would recommend skipping this portion!
The second viewpoint you will see the signs pointing you towards “Artist’s Palette Viewpoint.” This is where you will see all those beautiful colors you see in the pictures! You will get a wonderful view from the parking lot, but if you want a more in depth look, you are welcome to hike closer to the colors.
TIP: Drive very slowly through Artist’s Drive because there are many dips and sharp turns!
Stop #4: Golden Canyon Hike OR Natural Bridge Hike
Both of these hikes are along Badwater Rd, making it very close to the other sights on this list. I personally opted in for Golden Canyon, but Natural Bridge looks equally amazing! I think mixing up your stops with a hike is a great way to stretch your legs in comparison to the other stops, which are more of a viewpoint than a hike. Plus, these hikes are scenic not just at the viewpoint, but the entire journey!
If you like hikes that are beautiful for the entire hike and not just the viewpoint, you NEED to visit Bryce Canyon to hike their Navajo Loop Trail!
- Distance from Furnace Creek: 7 minutes to the parking lot
- Time to spend at location: 1 hour – 3 hours (depending on which hike you choose)
Golden Canyon is an extremely popular hike that gives you many options to have a shorter or longer hike. There will be a large parking area along Badwater Rd, but I would recommend getting there early to beat the tour buses!
There will be three options for your hike, and the trails will be clearly marked throughout the hike.
- To Red Cathedral – 2.8 miles round trip
- Zabriskie Point – 3.4 miles round trip
- Gower Gulch Loop – 4.5 miles round trip
- Distance from Furnace Creek: 25 minutes to the parking lot
- Time to spend at location: 30 – 45 Minutes
Natural Bridge is a significantly shorter hike in comparison to the Golden Canyon options, so it is great for people who are crunched on time OR want to squeeze in a bonus stop (see below for extra ideas!). The hike to the natural bridge is only 15-20 minutes into the flat and easy trail. You will see a rock bridge that is formed between the canyon walls, where you can walk underneath the bridge or hike up and around it. I would recommend this hike if you want a quick and easy hike just to stretch your legs!
If you like Natural Bridges, Bryce Canyon has a really amazing one! Click here to see all the things you can do in Bryce Canyon in just one day!
TIP: Don’t miss the turn off like I did and save all these stops to a Google Map! Or better yet, just use the one I already made with all these stops on it – just fill out your information below the “Bonus Stops” section and I can email it over! 🙂
Stop #5: Zabriskie Point
- Distance from Furnace Creek: 9 minutes to the parking lot
- Time to spend at location: 20-30 Minutes
Ahh, the best for last!! Zabriskie point is that famous viewpoint that you see in all the pictures and blog posts! The rolling badlands that stretch out for miles is what you can expect from this popular viewpoint.
This is the only stop on this list that is NOT on Badwater Rd, but is on the main highway that you take to exit and enter the park. That is why I recommend ending with this stop, because you will be heading out of the park anyways.
Once you arrive at the large parking lot, there will be a short and steep hike to the top viewing area. You will be able to read the informative signs, walk around on the safe & paved walking path, or get adventurous and hike into the rolling badlands.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: This area supposedly lights up beautifully at sunset & sunrise! For an even better shot (because, it’s hard to take a BAD shot at Zabriskie point!), try to get to this location around golden hours.
Hey, like how I edited this photo?! Click here to learn how to edit like I do!
BONUS Death Valley Highlights:
If you want to spend more than one day in Death Valley, here are some bonus stops I would recommend!
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: There are many sand dunes within Death Valley National Park, but Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the easiest to access. From Furnace Creek (the main area with hotels & restaurants), it will be about 30 minutes to the parking lot. From there, you will need to hike through the dunes about 20 minutes to get to the picturesque area with no footprints! Click here for more information on Death Valley’s sand dunes!
- Dante’s View: One of the highest points in the park that will give you an expansive view of the valley and Badwater Basin Salt Flats! To get to Dante’s View, you will need to drive roughly 40 minutes from the Furnace Creek area and then budget roughly 30 minutes to explore the two viewpoints. Click here for more information on Dante’s View!
- Ubehebe Crater: One of the farthest points on this list is Ubehebe Crater, over 1 hour from Furnace Creek Area. If you want to visit Scotty’s Castle (the next bullet-point), I would recommend linking them together since they are close. Once you arrive at the crater, you will need to hike up to the rim where you can either walk along the rim or hike into the crater. The hike is easy on the way into the crater, but what goes down must come up! There is no shade at this location, so make sure you go early in the morning or during the winter months. Click here for more information on Ubehebe Crater!
- Scotty’s Castle: Exactly what it sounds like, an abandoned castle on the northern end of Death Valley National Park! You are able to walk the grounds for free and if you want to learn more about the history of the castle, you can opt in for one of their many tours. Scotty, the owner of the castle, is buried on the hill overlooking the castle. There is popular hike that will take you to his grave where you can see the view of the castle and the valley. Click here for more information on Scotty’s Castle!
- Charcoal Kilns: Located 1.5 hours from Furnace Creek area you can see ten, 25-foot abandoned kilns. These were created in 1877 and have withstood the test of time and look as if they were just built! Click here for more information on Wildrose Charcoal Kilns!
Take Away Tips
- Save the locations on a Google Map because there is actually NO service, people are not lying! I had a scare thinking I got lost because I didn’t take my own advice and save the stops to my Google Maps. You can use my Google Maps with ALL the stops (even the bonus stops) by filling out your info above!
- Start early to beat the tour buses and beat the heat! Tour buses will go to all the big sites that have a large parking area (Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Golden Canyon, etc.), so you will want to make sure you are going early enough to snag a parking space. Plus, Death Valley has minimal shade and is extremely hot in most seasons, so starting early will make your trip far more enjoyable.
- Bring wine & snacks for your hotel room! Like I mentioned above, staying the night in a national park is not cheap. Not only are the rooms expensive, but the dining options are minimal and extremely expensive. I would recommend bringing some wine + snacks for your room if you are staying the night. If you are just exploring the park on a day trip, I would still bring waters and a picnic lunch for the daytime.
- Get gas in Pahrump or near The Ranch Hotel! There is only one gas pump in Death Valley, and you guessed it, it is expensive! Definitely fill up your gas tank in Pahrump before entering the park and then fill it up again once you reach Pahrump when you leave. This will save you a good amount of money, promise!
- Remember to budget the correct amount of time at each spot! These spots are not only far apart in driving distance, but when you park, you will likely have to walk or hike to the actual viewpoint. I listed my recommended time at each location based on how long I spent at each spot, but of course you may want to spend more/less time than I did!
Death Valley Q&A’s:
Why is Death Valley so Dangerous?
The scorching heat, poisonous animals, sudden flash floods due to deep canyons, and getting lost on the many back-country trails to name a few. However, if you are aware of these issues and stay safe by avoiding peak times of the day to begin a hike, drink plenty of water, check the weather before entering a canyon, and being aware of your surroundings before sitting down to avoid animals, these issues are mostly avoidable.
Why is it called Death Valley?
Death Valley got it’s name by a group of pioneers who got lost in the valley and assumed this valley would be the cause of their Death. While most of them did end up surviving, the term, “Death Valley,” stuck for years to follow.
What is the best time to go to Death Valley?
The best time to go to Death Valley would be early spring to see the wildflowers bloom or late fall for excellent weather. However, the most popular season to travel is in the height of the summer. Why? Because most people like to say they concurred the hottest place in North America!
How much does it cost to enter Death Valley?
It costs $30.00 for a 7-day vehicle pass, $25.00 for a 7-day motorcycle pass, $15.00 for a 7-day foot/bike pass, and $55.00 for an annual pass. You can purchase these passes at the visitor center, which is a pullout on the main highway to enter the park.
What is the closest city to Death Valley?
The two closest cities are Lone Pine if you are coming from California or Pahrump if you are coming from Las Vegas. There are affordable hotel options in both of these cities and are only an hour drive from the park.
How far is Death Valley from a major airport?
The closest airport to Death Valley is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which is roughly a 2-hour drive away. That is why doing a Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip is so popular!
Okay, that’s a wrap! Where you plan to spend one day in Death Valley or an entire week, there is obviously plenty of popular sites to keep you busy! I hope you find this guide overwhelmingly useful, but if you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to comment below so I can answer them.
Hope you have a wonderful time in Death Valley, it surely is one of the most unique places in the USA! If you want more guides to read, here are a few I think you will just LOVE:
- One Day in Bryce Canyon
- Big Sur Road Trip
- 15 Best Day Trips from Las Vegas
- 40 FREE things to do in Las Vegas
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