Planning a trip to Death Valley National Park, the land of extremes? We will guide you on a two-day trip through the hottest place on Earth. Find out where to stop and in what order to visit each place so you can make the most of your time. From the great peaks visible from Zabriskie Point to the sunken plains of Badwater Basin, Death Valley is a beautiful place waiting to be explored.
Arriving in Death Valley
We start our journey driving west from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park. The drive takes about two hours, mostly on NV-160 and eventually on CA-190. On your way into the park, make a quick stop at the Death Valley National Park entrance sign. This is a great photo spot.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Keep going on CA-190 and you’ll reach Furnace Creek, the main visitor center in the park. You can stop here to rest and learn about the park. The visitor center features extensive exhibits on park features, a 20-minute film, and knowledgeable park rangers to provide information. Pro tips: stock up on water here, and get gas before you head back out – there aren’t many other fueling stations in the park.
Harmony Borax Works
Less than two miles north of Furnace Creek you will find Harmony Borax Works. This old Borax plant and townsite played an important role in Death Valley history. Once Borax was discovered in the area, William T. Coleman built the Harmony plant and employed 40 men who produced three tons of borax a day. The plant went out of operation in 1888 after only five years of production, but you can still see the remains of the processing factory as well as the ruins of some homes where workers once lived.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Back on 19o-W for about 21 more miles and you will arrive at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. This is the largest dune field in the park, and one of the most photographed spots in Death Valley: sand as far as you can see! You can walk as far as you would like. You may even want to bring a boogie board to slide on the dunes. Expect to spend quite a bit of time here enjoying the views and playing in the sand.
Just two miles further down the road is Stovepipe Wells. Here you will find a general store, hotel, restaurant, and gas station. This is a great place to rest and get something to eat, as well as some souvenirs. Maybe get a cup of coffee in the general store. Keep an eye on that gas tank and if you didn’t fill up in Furnace Creek, do it here – it’s one of the only other places in the park to do so.
Just past Stovepipe Wells, you will see a dirt road on your left. Take that for about two miles to Mosaic Canyon. It’s a short walk from the parking lot into the canyon where you will be surrounded by smooth polished marble walls with a beautiful finish. The full trail is about a 4-mile hike, but even if you aren’t up for that, the narrowest section of the canyon is less than a mile away and is well worth the walk.
This is where day one ended. You have a few lodging options in Death Valley. You can stay at the Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel or drive back to Furnace Creek and camp at the campground. Near Furnace Creek, the Inn at Death Valley offers a full-service resort experience. Another option is to stay outside the park. Back about 30 miles east of Furnace Creek, the tiny hamlet of Death Valley Junction serves as the unofficial eastern gateway to the park, and it’s here where you’ll find the one-of-a-kind Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, a unique locale with a colorful history dating back to 1923.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon
Our first stop of the day is Twenty Mule Team Canyon, a location that once was the site of various mining operations. This is a one-way road through yellow and white mudstone hills. The winding dirt road through an almost surreal landscape has a low profile entrance off of CA-190, so try not to miss it! There are a few places to pull off the road and hike into the hills. Take your time and enjoy this view!
Devil’s Golf Course
Once out of the canyon, head northwest on CA-190 W until just past the Inn at Death Valley, and you come to Badwater Road. Make a left and drive for six miles until a turnoff onto another dirt road that will take you to Devil’s Golf Course. This area is so named because the landscape here features dry salt flats that have been eroded by wind and rain into otherworldly jagged spires. You are free to walk out onto the flats but a word of caution – the terrain is uneven and rocky, and a fall can easily result in injury, so do be careful!
Head back out to Badwater Road and turn right, and in another 9 miles you will see Badwater Basin. This is the lowest point in North America, sitting at 282 feet below sea level. You can walk out onto what would be a lake after a heavy rainstorm. Look behind you at the mountain to see a sea level sign on the cliffs above, which will help you realize just how low you are.
Head back north on Badwater Road (where you came from) and in a few miles turn right onto Artist’s Drive. This is a 9-mile scenic drive through another of Death Valley’s unique landscapes. There are a few places to stop along the way and get out of your car. There is a canyon about 3.4 miles into the drive. Walk east into the canyon and take in the beautiful views. Less than a mile further down the road, stop and see the rainbow hills of Artist’s Palette where pink, aqua, and purple colors cover the land due to various minerals embedded in the rocks.
Once finished with Artist’s Drive, head three more miles north on Badwater Road and you will reach Golden Canyon. There are two hikes you can get to from Golden Canyon: Red Cathedral (3 miles) or Gower Gulch Loop (4.3 miles). Both are beautiful! If you are short on time you can just walk into the canyon as far as you want and then turn around. You won’t regret seeing this view!
Zabriskie Point is the most famous viewpoint in the park. It overlooks the golden colored badlands of the Furnace Creek formation. This spot is most popular at sunrise and sunset. We highly recommend finishing your day here. It’s best to arrive an hour before sunset. After parking your car you will walk up a short hill to get to the viewpoint. Low clouds may get in your way at certain times of the year but you will still be able to enjoy a beautiful view.
If You Have More Time…
Dante’s View and Scotty’s Castle are must-see spots as well. However, both were closed on our recent trip. Dante’s View is set to open in May of 2018 while Scotty’s Castle will be closed until 2020. Ubehebe Crater is also a great spot to visit. Racetrack Playa is where you can see the mysterious moving stones. You must have a 4×4 vehicle in order to visit this spot, but if you do, it’s well worth the drive!
Finally, if you find yourself in Death Valley on a clear night, don’t forget to look up at the sky. You will be amazed at how bright the stars are and how many you can see. This is because you are in one of the most remote, isolated places in North America, where there is almost no light pollution.
Death Valley is truly an awe-inspiring place. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!