The Ultimate Guide To Death Valley National Park
Hottest, Driest, and lowest National Park
Death Valley National Park, straddling the two states, California and Nevada, is the valley of all extremes!
Death Valley National Park’s Badwater Basin, lying 282 feet below the sea level, is the lowest point in the US. Also, due to consecutive drought and extreme summer temperatures, Death Valley is the hottest and driest point in the US, with a record temperature of 134° F recorded in July 1913, which is the highest temperature ever recorded in North America.
However, the lowest, driest, and the hottest National Park in the USA, is stunning and picturesque!
Death Valley got its name from European settlers, who stumbled upon the valley while searching for gold. The pioneers could not find a way out of the area for weeks. They were forced to eat many of their oxen by cooking them using the wood from their wagons. They were later rescued, but some died here in the valley, and that’s how Death Valley got its name.
Contrary to its name, “Death Valley,” it’s quite lively and beautiful, with colorful rocks, stunning rock formations, and vast salt flats!
Here is my ultimate guide to Death Valley National Park, featuring major attractions and things to do in Death Valley National Park, along with a suggested itinerary and recommendations on Death Valley National Park hotels and restaurants.
Getting To Death Valley National Park
The best way to get to Death Valley is by flying into Las Vegas and then driving to Death Valley National Park.
You could fly into one of the following International or Domestic Airports close to the Death Valley, rent a car at the airport, and then drive to the Death Valley National Park.
International Airports Near Death Valley: McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, NV (LAS), 110 miles from Death Valley, and about 2 hours drive.
Domestic/Local Airports Near Death Valley: There are a couple of regional airports very close to Death Valley National Park, including Furnace Creek Airport, Death Valley, CA (DTH), 11 miles from Death Valley, and Inyokern Airport, Inyokern, CA (IYK), 72 miles from Death Valley. However, it can be quite expensive to fly into these local airports than flying into McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, NV (LAS).
Death Valley is around 110 miles from Las Vegas and is about a two-hour drive. The drive is not very scenic, but there are a couple of fun things to do on your way to Death Valley National Park, including Area 51 Alien Travel Center, an Alien themed cafe, and the Rhyolite ghost town, where you will see remains of a gold-mining town from the 1900s.
Death Valley National Park is open 24 hours a day, daily throughout the year. There is an entry fee of $30 per vehicle, which is valid for seven days. You can pay the entry fee using a kiosk at the entrance, or if you find a long queue at the kiosk, make your way into the park and pay the fee at the visitor center.
Death Valley National Park Address: GPS Lat: 36.583697 Long: -117.044867
I highly recommend using the GPS coordinates for Death Valley National Park instead of a street address and filling up your gas tanks and water bottles before leaving Las Vegas.
If driving is not an option, you can still visit Death Valley using one of many tour companies in Las Vegas.
There are several tour companies in Las Vegas that offer Death Valley day tours using private vans, SUVs, and air-conditioned coaches. Some tour companies offer hotel pickup and dropoff service, and few even include boxed lunch and water.
The tours are well-narrated, well-paced, and do cover all major attractions in Death Valley. I have always driven to Death Valley from Las Vegas and don’t have the first-hand experience with these tours. However, I have researched and found a few great companies with excellent customer feedbacks, including Out West Adventure Tours, Detours American West, and Pink Adventure Tours.
Things To Do In Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is enormous, and there are endless things to see and do in Death Valley, including sightseeing, hiking, camping, stargazing, dune climbing, and even exploring several filming locations of the famous Star Wars movie series!
You can definitely cover the must-see places in Death Valley in a day, but if you have time, I definitely recommend spending a couple of days in Death Valley.
However, while planning your trip to Death Valley National Park, the hottest and driest point in the US, it’s essential to consider the time of the year you’re traveling and plan your activities and lodging accordingly.
What is the best time to visit Death Valley? Definitely not the summer months if you plan to hike or camp in Death Valley.
Summers in Death Valley: Summers are scorching hot in Death Valley, but you can still visit the must-see places in Death Valley by sticking to the paved roads, making brief stops at the main attractions in Death Valley, and then quickly returning to the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle. I will not recommend hiking and camping in death valley during the summer months.
Fall, Winter & Spring: Except Summer, Death Valley’s weather conditions are quite pleasant. Spring is the best time of the year to visit Death Valley and is also the busiest, as the Spring break and the spring wildflowers draw a lot of people to Death Valley. Winter, with cool daytime temperatures, is perfect for hiking the dunes and the beautiful valleys of Death Valley. Fall through Spring is the primary camping season in Death Valley, and I highly recommend making your camping and lodging reservations in advance.
To help you efficiently plan your trip to Death Valley and keeping in mind the extreme temperatures in Death Valley, I have organized the things to do in Death Valley into multiple sections.
If you’re traveling in the Summer months, refer to the section Must-See in Death Valley, but if you’re going outside the Summer months, you can include activities from the article’s hiking and camping sections.
Must-See in Death Valley
Below I have listed the main points of interest in Death Valley, and whether you’re visiting for a day or a couple of days, these are the must-see in Death Valley National Park.
Even if you’re planning to visit the Death Valley in the scorching summer months, these are the places you can see by making brief stops and quickly returning to the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle.
Badwater Basin: Standing at 282 feet below the sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. Badwater Basin’s massive and unique salt flats with polygonal salt formations make it a must-see in Death Valley National Park. In colder months, you can take a short hike that leads you to some unique salt formations, but in Summer months, it’s better to enjoy the views from the observation deck near the parking lot at Badwater Basin.
Devils Golf Course: Shaped by extreme temperatures and wind, Devils Golf Course is a salt flat with strange and irregular salt spires, a golf course meant only for the Devil! To add to the fun, if you listen carefully, you will hear noises like tiny pops produced by the several salt crystals on the ground, bursting apart as they expand and contract due to the heat. There’s a short dirt road that leads to the parking lot at the Devils Golf Course. You can see the salt spires right from the parking lot or take a short hike, but be cautious as the salt towers are very irregular, sharp, and fragile.
Artists Drive: This is an awe-inspiring scenic drive through colorful and picturesque desert hills! It’s a one-way, nine-mile drive with well-paved roads that will take you through several multi-colored hills formed by the oxidation of the minerals on the surface of the cliffs. Along the drive, you will come across the Artists Palette viewpoint, which is the most colorful section of the entire drive. I highly recommend stopping at the Artists Palette viewpoint and, if time and weather permits, even taking a short hike to see the colors up close.
Zabriskie Point: Offering panoramic views of beautiful patterns of the golden-colored badlands, Zabriskie Point is one of the most popular and photographed sections of the Death Valley National Park. There’s a short hike up a paved hill from the parking lot that leads to the viewing platform at Zabriskie Point. The location was named after the Pacific Coast Borax Company’s vice-president, Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, who managed its mining operations in Death Valley.
Hiking In Death Valley
There are so many natural wonders in Death Valley, but not all are accessible by car. Hiking is the only way to get to some of these surreal places, but I don’t recommend hiking in Death Valley during summer.
There are several hiking trails in Death Valley, and to help you select the best hike for your trip to Death Valley, below, I have listed the most popular hikes in Death Valley and categorized them by difficulty level.
Easy Hiking Trails In Death Valley
Harmony Borax Works / 20-Mule Teams: This is the shortest and most comfortable hiking trail in Death Valley National Park. The loop begins at the parking lot at Harmony Borax Works, located 1 mile north of Furnace Creek on Hwy 190. On this trail, you will see the remains of the Harmony Borax plat and learn about the famous 20-mule team that hauled massive wagons filled with borax from the Harmony plant to the Mojave train station. It’s a paved loop, around 0.4 miles, and takes about 30 minutes roundtrip.
Badwater Salt Flat: This trail begins at the Badwater Basin parking lot and gives you access to the massive salt flats and the opportunity to see unique polygonal salt formations. Even though there’re no set limits to hike the Badwater Salt Flats, a 0.5-mile hike into the salt flat is enough to see some unique salt formations. Badwater Salt Flat is an easy one-mile hike and takes around 30 minutes roundtrip.
Natural Bridge: The access to the Natural Bridge trailhead is via a 13.5-miles long dirt road beginning at the Badwater road. The road to the trailhead is quite rocky, but most cars can easily make it, but from the trailhead to the Natural Bridge, it’s an easy one-mile hike that takes about 50 minutes roundtrip.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: There are quite a few sand dunes in Death Valley, and out of all, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is the most picturesque and the only one that can be categorized as an easy hike. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes trailhead begins at the parking lot at Stovepipe Wells Village, located 24 miles west of Furnace Creek. There is no paved or formal trail at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. You climb and walk on the sand dunes at your own pace. It’s a one-mile, one-way hike to the dunes’ summit, making it a 2-miles round trip that takes about an hour and a half.
Ubehebe Crater Loop: The trail leading to the enormous volcanic crater, Ubehebe Crater, is moderately strenuous with a few steep climbs and open edges. However, the views of the crater from the rim awe-inspiring! The Ubehebe Crater trailhead is located 8-miles west of Death Valley Ranch / Scotty’s Castle in the Grapevine Mountains of northern Death Valley. The hike to the Ubehebe Crater is 1.5-miles long and takes about an hour roundtrip.
Darwin Falls: I know it’s difficult to believe, but it’s true, there’s a waterfall in the driest and hottest place in the US! The hike to Darwin Falls from the trailhead is not very difficult and is around 2 miles long and takes about two hours roundtrip. However, the drive to the trailhead, located at Darwin Falls Road, 1.2 miles west of Panamint Springs, is unpaved and requires a vehicle with all-wheel drive with high clearance.
Golden Canyon: This trail leads to the gorgeous golden colored hills in Golden Canyon. The Golden Canyon trailhead is located on Badwater Road, and the hike to the Golden Canyon and back is 2 miles roundtrip. But, I highly recommend adding another 1-mile roundtrip to your hike, and going till the Red Cathedral, a beautiful rock formation appears to be painted in red.
Badlands Loop: Starting at the Zabriskie Point, this trail allows you to explore picturesque maze-like patterns of the badlands. The Badland loop is 2.7 miles roundtrip and takes around two hours, but you can go beyond and visit the Gower Gulch, Manly Beacon, and Red Cathedral to your hike. You will find the route details in the National Park Service’s Trail Map.
Panamint Dunes: This trail leads you to the Panamint Dunes, where you will see four different dunes. However, it’s a challenging hike through uneven, unmarked, and sandy route. The hike is 8 miles roundtrip and takes about 5 hours. The trailhead is located at Lake Hill road, 4.5 miles east of Panamint Springs. The road to the trailhead is unpaved and rocky and requires vehicles with high clearance.
Telescope Peak: The panoramic views of Death Valley from Telescope Peak is unparalleled. However, this is the longest and most strenuous hiking trail in Death Valley, 14 miles roundtrip, and takes about 7 hours. Telescope Peak trailhead is located at the Mahogany Flat Campground on Emigrant Canyon Road. I would highly recommend carrying a map, compass, and handheld GPS for this hike. You will find more details about the Telescope Peak trail on the National Park Service Website.
Visting The Racetrack in Death Valley
The Racetrack in Death Valley is awe-inspiring and one of my favorite sights in Death Valley National Park! However, it’s remotely located and accessible only via a very rough, unpaved, and rocky road.
The drive to the Racetrack from Furnace Creek takes about 3.5 hours one way and is really a rough drive. I don’t recommend going to The Racetrack in Death Valley if you’re visiting just for a day.
You must have an all-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance and excellent tires to get to the Racetrack Playa. The road to the Racetrack begins near the Ubehebe Crater and is 27 miles from there.
Once there, the views at the Racetrack are phenomenal! The vista point at the Grandstand parking area offers a grand view of the Racetrack. The Racetrack in Death Valley is actually a playa, a dried lake bed, left behind after the lake’s water evaporated due to extreme temperatures.
The Mysterious Moving Rocks are the main attractions at the Racetrack in Death Valley! These rocks move by themself on the playa, leaving trails on the lake bed as records of their movement.
The best place to see the Moving Rocks is a couple of miles south of the Grandstand parking area. Seeing these magical Moving Rocks is really rewarding, but there’s no magic involved; the rocks move due to slippery surface and strong winds.
Several scenes from the famous movie series Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope and Episode VI – Return of the Jedi were filmed in Death Valley National Park a few decades ago when commercial filming was allowed in Death Valley.
Many Star Wars fans come to Death Valley to see the filming locations used in the movie.
The Star Wars movie scenes were filmed in several locations in Death Valley, including Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Artists Drive, Artists Palette, Twenty Mule Team Canyon, and more. You can find details about each Star Wars filming location in Death Valley along with photos from the actual movie on this website.
Death Valley National Park’s location, distant from the city’s light pollution, and its effort to reduce light pollution throughout the park, has earned it the status of International Dark Sky Park.
Best time to go to Death Valley for stargazing: Death Valley is an excellent place for stargazing throughout the year. However, I highly recommend avoiding any outdoor activities in Death Valley during the Summer months. The best time for stargazing in Death Valley is in winter, especially during the New Moon phase when the Moon is hardly visible.
Best Places for Stargazing in Death Valley: The Ubehebe Crater, Harmony Borax Works, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Badwater Basin are the best places to stargaze in Death Valley National Park. The dark skies, less light pollution, and unobstructed views make these points an excellent choice for stargazing in Death Valley.
Equipment to Bring for Stargazing: I highly recommend carrying a handy star gazing guide/map that would help you locate stars and other planets in the night sky. I also take my Gosky Titan Binoculars for stargazing. They are compact, easy to carry, and yet quite powerful and can be used for general sightseeing, wildlife & bird watching. The few other things you would need for your comfort and safety are a portable outdoor rug and a flashlight.
Please use light sparingly to minimize light pollution, and it will also help your eyes quickly adjust to the night sky.
Please note that some of the items I have recommended above are affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission if you purchase an item using my link, at no extra cost to you.
The primary camping season in Death Valley starts in October and lasts through April.
Summers are scorching hot in Death Valley, with extreme temperatures even at nights, so Fall through Spring is the best time to camp in Death Valley and is also the busiest.
Campgrounds in Death Valley: There are several campgrounds in Death Valley, including Furnace Creek, Sunset, Texas Spring, Stovepipe Wells, Mesquite Spring, Emigrant, Wildrose, Thorndike, and Mahogany Flat. Furnace Creek is the most popular and is the only one that accepts reservations; all other campgrounds are first-come, first-serve.
Furnace Creek campground reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance by calling 1-877-444-6777 or online at Recreation.gov. You can find more details about Death Valley campgrounds on the National Park Service’s website.
Death Valley is an excellent place to camp but requires thorough planning and preparation. You can use my Ultimate Camping Checklist when prepping for your camping trips.
Lodging & Dining In Death Valley
If you’re not planning to camp in Death Valley or are going to Death Valley during the Summer months, there are a few great lodging options in Death valley, including a couple of hotels and a resort. However, I highly recommend planning and making your Death Valley lodging reservations in advance.
There are lodging options available outside the park, but I highly recommend staying within Death Valley to avoid driving long distances.
The Inn at Death Valley: This is a luxurious resort located in the heart of Death Valley, with a beautiful landscape and well-decorated guestrooms. The resort has some exceptional amenities, including a pool, sauna, massage, and some great dining options. This is my favorite place to stay in Death Valley! You can find more details and book online on their website – The Inn at Death Valley.
The Ranch at Death Valley: This is an excellent hotel with some great amenities, including a pool, golf course, playgrounds, jeep rental, tours, restaurant, and more. You can find more details and book online on their website – The Ranch at Death Valley.
Stovepipe Wells Village: This is a decent rustic hotel in Death Valley with a restaurant, general store, a pool, and offers incredible views of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The rooms rates are very reasonable and can be booked online on their website – Stovepipe Wells Village.
Panamint Springs Resort: This is a small rustic resort located in Panamint Valley in Death Valley National Park. They offer several exciting lodging options, including tent cabins, historic rooms, bunk cabins, miners cottages, and family cottages. They have an onsite restaurant, a gas station, and a general store. You can find more details and book online on their website – Panamint Springs.
There are some great dining options at the resorts and hotels in Death Valley National Park, including cafes, buffets, and formal dining rooms. Most of them serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but you can find the exact details, timings, and explore the menu on their websites listed below.
Death Valley Day Trip Itinerary
With so many things to do in Death Valley, it becomes quite challenging to decide what to do and what not to do on your trip to Death Valley National Park.
To help you decide and plan your trip, I have compiled a sample day trip itinerary for Death Valley National Park.
Keeping in mind that many people visit Death Valley just for a day and try to see as much as possible, I have created a day trip itinerary. However, if you’re staying longer, you can add other activities to the itinerary.
I highly recommend getting an early start and reaching Death Valley in the morning hours.
8:00 AM – Leave from Las Vegas
10:00 AM – Reach Death Valley and directly head to the Badwater Basin. Explore Badwater Basin, and weather permitting, take a short hike (0.5 miles, 30 minutes round trip) into the salt flats to see some unique polygonal salt formations.
12:00 Noon – Head to the Devils Golf Course. Here you can admire the salt spires right from the parking lot.
1:00 PM – Next, enter the Artists Drive, a scenic one-way, nine-mile drive. Stop at Artists Palette viewpoint, which is the most colorful section of the entire drive.
2:30 PM – Head to the Zabriskie Point, take a short hike up a paved hill from the parking to see beautiful patterns of the golden-colored badlands.
4:00 PM – Depart from Death Valley National Park
Other California Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Death Valley National Park, and I hope this will help you plan your perfect trip to the Death Valley National Park.
Happy feeding your soul!
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