The most visited national park in the United States is Death Valley National Park. The park is located on a desert valley floor and has been described as “the hottest place on Earth” by some people.
With an average temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, and below freezing point in winter, it’s no surprise that this destination caters more to tourists who want to avoid the heat than those looking for snow sports.
However, with a day trip from Las Vegas or Los Angeles, you can visit one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes I’ve seen!
This itinerary will give you everything you need to know about visiting Death Valley National Park for one day.
Itinerary For Visiting Death Valley’s Highlights In One Day
To see all of the highlights of Death Valley in just one day you are probably going to have to set that alarm clock quite early depending on where you are coming from.
We travelled to Death Valley from Las Vegas, which is roughly a two hour drive (shorter depending on your speed and if you stop along the way).
We booked a great tour with Get Your Guide that included a pick up at our hotel in Las Vegas at 8am, meaning we reached our first spot in the park by around 10am.
Arriving at this time of day gave us plenty of time to see the highlights, but if you want to see the sunrise over one of the main viewpoints in this itinerary, or have more time for hiking, then you will need to leave a little earlier.
First up is Dante’s View which takes in sweeping views of Death Valley and its surrounding peaks – it’s an impressive sight to behold!
The view from Dante’s View is one of the best in Death Valley. The Black Mountains form Death Valley’s eastern border and this overlook offers an up-close, all-encompassing view as well as an overall perspective of the valley floor.
It’s a drive you won’t want to miss! Dante’s View lies at the end of an exciting 13 mile dirt road that starts off by going along Greenwater Valley.
It quickly climbs sharply from 3,000 feet up to 5,450 in elevation and passes right through Ryan Boron Mining Complex on its way there; quite different than what is around it which consists mostly of untouched natural scenery.
Once you reach Dante’s View, you can park and walk a few steps to enjoy stunning vistas out over the valley. From here a short and easy path climbs to the actual summit (Dante’s Peak), which has even better views.
Nearby Coffin Peak which offers an alternative perspective and lands off to the south and east, is also reachable, the path is a little longer but still relatively easy off trail hike.
20 Mule Team Canyon
After visiting Dante’s View and getting an incredible view over the park, it’s time to go down in elevation and the next stop on the one day itinerary is 20 Mule Team Canyon.
Death Valley National Park is well known for its mining past, and 20 Mule Team Canyon is named after the 20 mule teams and wagons that once carried tons of borax through this unforgiving landscape.
The canyon was my favorite stop in Death Valley as it is often overlooked in favor of more famous points in the park. This meant that we had this area entirely to ourselves and our guide took us up to a viewpoint that offered the most spectacular views.
The hike up to these viewpoints is steep and narrow with very soft and moving gravel so be sure to wear appropriate hiking shoes or boots!
If hiking is your thing then the scenic drive through the canyon offers plenty of hiking potential for anyone looking to explore the richly colored badlands of The Black Mountains, where miners were prospecting over 100 years ago!
If you can tear yourself away from the views at 20 Mule Team Canyon, then the next stop on your Death Valley day tour is nearby Zabriskie Point.
The picturesque views from Zabriskie Point are some of the most photographed in Death Valley National Park.
Named after Christian Zabriskie, a prominent figure during the heyday of Pacific Coast Borax Company, this point offers an elevated vista to marvel at these badlands below. The yellow and brown striped hills have been shaped by powerful force water that carved out the hills and gullies.
The most distinct feature seen from Zabriskie Point is Manly Beacon, it’s named after one of the first 49ers (the gold rush pioneers) to visit this area, it rises up at an elevation of 823 ft (251 m).
One of the reasons Zabriskie is perhaps one of the most popular viewpoints is its easy accessibility. It is a short ¼ mile (400 m) walk from the car park on a paved uphill trail.
You can stop at the top or you can get adventurous and wander out onto those ridges to experience this masterpiece up close!
Lunch At 1849 Restaurant
After a morning exploring Dante’s View, 20 Mule Team Canyon and Zabriskie Point head to the 1849 restaurant at The Oasis At Death Valley.
Here you can enjoy a lunch in the restaurant or sit outside on one of the benches to eat your own sandwiches / packed lunch. There is also a small shop here where you can pick up snacks and souvenirs.
Devil’s Golf Course
After lunch, drive onwards to The Devil’s Golf Course is a large salt pan on the floor of Death Valley. As you approach on the bumpy road out to this spot, you will notice that the surface consists mainly of huge rock formations, these are in fact large halite salt crystal formations.
This area of the park was named after a line in the 1934 National Park Service guide book to Death Valley which stated that “Only the devil could play golf here”!
The next spot on your day tour of Death Valley National Park is Badwater Basin. This area is stunning any time of day, so you could adjust your itinerary to visit in the early morning for sunrise or evening for sunset.
This large salt flat has the lowest elevation in North America, at – 282 feet (-86 m) below sea level. The best way to explore this amazing location during the peak of summer is to stay in your vehicle and enjoy a nice view from inside it.
If you’re visiting during cooler months, take a walk (around 1 mile) out onto the salt flat for some beautiful views of these massive polygon salt formations that Death Valley is so famous for.
The area got its name when travelers passing through the area were desperate for a drink. They saw fresh water in the distance that seemed to be beckoning them closer with its refreshing coolness. But when they arrived at Badwater Creek, their mule was unwilling to drink from this salty oasis!
And so began another legend about these treacherous lands where Death Valley meets Mammoth Mountain and the area was given the name “Badwater” literally because it was made up of bad water.
Artists Drive and Artists Palette
The final stop on your one day adventure through Death Valley is Artists Drive and Artists Palette.
Artists Palette is a vibrant, colorful landscape, a rainbow of colors that starts with red and orange at sunset then moves through yellow, blue, pink, and green as shadows lengthen across its hillsides in the evening.
The area is rich in iron oxides and chlorite compounds which create an ever-changing “rainbow” effect across the landscape.
The scenic drive through Artists Drive winds through hillsides carved out by water’s erosive power on one side and views of the white salt flats on the other.
Once you reach the famous Artists Palette you can park and take an easy walk down over the mountains or through the canyons.
Either way you won’t be disappointed with the views and the colors in this area!
Other Points Of Interest You Can Stop At
That wraps up the 7 stop itinerary for a day in Death Valley National Park. You can adjust the order depending on what you want to see early morning and later in the day.
If you have more time for your trip to Death Valley here are some other stops to include in your itinerary.
You can also use the maps on the NPS service to plan out your route to maximise what you can see and minimise driving.
- Ubehebe Crater, which is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across that has been eroded by wind, water, and sand.
- The Racetrack, where you’ll find rocks that have seemingly moved across the dry lakebed leaving trails in their wake!
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a beautifully unique landscape and is the largest sand dune in America!
- Salt Creek, a sprawling freshwater lake, where freshwater converted to saltwater over 10 thousand years ago when Death Valley became an arid desert.
- Furnace Creek Visitor Center, which is a great place to learn more about the natural history of this amazing park.
Death Valley Day Tour
If visiting Death Valley in a day sounds like the perfect way to explore this stunning national park then I highly recommend booking a tour with Get Your Guide. We visited Death Valley on the Death Valley Full Day Tour From Las Vegas.
- Experienced, fun, and knowledgeable guides
- Lunch included at Furnace Creek
- Water provided throughout the day
- US $239 per person (or you can book a private tour when booking 5 spots)
- Pick up from your hotel in Las Vegas (or anywhere 3 miles from the strip)
- Free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance
What To Bring With You
- You will need to bring plenty of water. I recommend packing a cooler with large water containers that you can refill your water bottle from. If you book the above tour, they will bring a large cooler filled with cold water for you.
- In the sun, the temperature can feel hotter than it is- 75°F feels more like 85°F.
- Bring high factor sunscreen and make sure to reapply throughout the day.
- Your cameras and any photography equipment.
- There are many roadside restrooms in Death Valley but these lack running water, so bring along some hand sanitizer or wet wipes and your own tissue paper.
- A paper map. There is no cell service in most areas of the park so you don’t want to rely on being able to bring up a map on your phone. You can also download an offline map of the area in Google Maps before you go.
- Comfortable and sturdy walking shoes or boots.
- A hat and something to cover your shoulders.
Things To Know Before You Go
- The entrance fee to the park is $25 for one vehicle for 7 days. Or you can use the America The Beautiful National Parks Pass which is $80 for the year.
- Drones are not permitted in Death Valley National Park, so leave yours at home
- Death Valley has plenty of ups and downs when you are driving and this can confuse hybrid vehicles’ range estimates. The drive from Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs is 26 miles on the map, but the 5,000-foot climb can consume gasoline quickly that the estimated range can dwindle quickly. Make sure you have a full tank when arriving at the park and you can also visit Panamint Springs gas station.
- Your cell phone probably won’t work here so don’t depend on it.
- GPS can be unreliable in the park so it is important to also bring a paper map of the area.
- Pets are allowed in the park but they must be on leashes at all times, and they are not allowed on any trails.
The Best Time Of Year To Visit Death Valley National Park
Spring is the most popular time to visit as it is a little cooler and there is a possibility of wildflowers.
We visited in May and it was 115 degrees with 30 mph wind (which is unusual), and while the temperature was bearable, I would recommend going earlier in the year to be more comfortable.
The best time to visit is generally thought to be spring or autumn.
Staying In Death Valley National Park
I have shared that you can see the highlights of Death Valley in just one day, but if you do want longer to experience the park then there are options to stay.
The Oasis at Death Valley offers two hotel experiences, the historic, serene, and peaceful Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley and the family-friendly, adventure-focused Ranch at Death Valley.
- The historic Four-Diamond Inn at Death Valley is a AAA-rated resort that still pampers every guest. Set against the hillside, the exclusive and private resort looks out over the valley toward Panamint Mountains. Natural springs run right through this iconic hotel and lush palm trees are always in bloom with flowering bougainvillea adorning its grounds – totally revitalized for today’s traveler! Relax by the spring fed pool or soak up some sun on one of many outdoor lounge chairs while you’re here to get your desert fix.
- The Ranch at Death Valley is a sprawling 3-diamond hotel that has been part of a $100 million renaissance! Set along Highway 190 next to the National Park Service Visitor Center, the expansive property includes lots of room for you to spread out with huge lawns along an 18 hole golf course – the lowest elevation course in the world; natural spring fed pools just steps from every suite; rooms with private patios so you can enjoy all this exquisite scenery…and everything else we have here at our one stop vacation destination.
If you want longer to explore, see sunrises and sunsets in different locations, include more hiking then road tripping for a few days or a week will give you plenty of time to enjoy this magnificent national park.
But if you are limited on time then visiting Death Valley in just one day and seeing all of the famous highlights is absolutely possible!
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Death Valley, California. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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I was welcomed as a guest on this tour from Get Your Guide. As always, all opinions are my own.
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