Even though I had read quite much about Death Valley National Park before visiting, I was completely taken by surprise by everything this unique place has to offer – in a positive way! Doing a Death Valley road trip is something to put on your bucket list. If you have a few days to spare for your Death Valley drive, you’ll get the chance to see the most of this amazing national park. However, we did a Death Valley day trip and managed to see everything on our list!
Keep reading to get my best tips on what to see in Death Valley and how to visit Death Valley in one day!
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What you need to know before going on your Death Valley day trip
There are a few very important things you should know about Death Valley National Park, especially when it comes to what to pack and safety.
My packing list for a Death Valley day trip
- Water – one of the most important things to bring for your Death Valley day trip. You’ll need a lot. I wouldn’t bring anything less than 4 litres/person. Bring one smaller bottle with you on the short hikes you’ll be doing, and keep the rest in the car.
- Food – if you don’t plan on eating at one of the very few restaurants in Death Valley, such as the ones in Furnace Creek, make sure to bring food for your whole day! Just as with water, it’s better to bring too much than too little.
- Clothes – Be smart when it comes to clothes. You’ll need to put on something that will completely protect you from the sun. Also, don’t forget sunglasses and a hat!
- Sunscreen – If some part of your body is exposed to the sun, put on sunscreen regularly during the day.
- Footwear – bring something that’s comfortable walking in and covers your whole foot while still, preferable, being light. I wore my Asics on our Death Valley road trip – they’re so comfortable!
- Camera – there’s a lot to capture.
- Phone – even though you most likely won’t have any reception in most places you’ll be visiting, it’s always a good idea to bring your phone.
- First aid kit – something to always bring! We have a pocket first aid kit from Lifesystems. You’ll also find travel first aid kits on Amazon.
Some places, especially the hikes, will have warning signs saying that it’s not recommended to walk after 10 a.m. – take this seriously! Start your day early instead – you’ll be glad you did this later in the day when the heat’s getting more and more intense. We had 48(!) degrees Celcius during our visit in August. That’s a lot!
We did our Death Valley day trip from Longstreet Inn, which is a casino pretty much on the border between California and Nevada.
My Death Valley day trip itinerary
Where you’ll start your road trip through Death Valley National Park might depend on where you’re coming from, and if you’re passing through or going back in the same direction. It seems to be rather common to make a detour and visit Death Valley when going between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
My Death Valley itinerary is based on coming from our accommodation near Death Valley Junction and going back the same way. However, if you’re coming from another direction you might want to do the itinerary backwards.
If you’re going to make it to the hikes before the heat gets too intense, you’ll need to get up early in the morning to have time to check out Dante’s view since it’s a bit of a detour. You’ll probably want to check it out though, it’s gorgeous! We weren’t there in time, but I’ve heard it’s one of the best places in the whole national park for watching the sunrise.
Zabriskie Point is a viewpoint where you’ll get an amazing panorama of the outstanding landscape in Death Valley.
Golden Canyon is the first hike of the day and one of my favourite things to see in Death Valley. As you might have guessed already, it’s a beautiful golden canyon with incredible formations. It’s also a Star Wars filming location. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably like this stop even more!
This hike is 5-6 kilometres long, depending on how close you want to get to the beautiful Red Cathedral, and will take you about 1,5-2 hours. You can also decide to walk a bit of the trail and then turn around if you don’t mind not seeing the Red Cathedral. There’s a lot of secret paths in the canyon to explore in addition to the main trail. Remember to bring water and don’t get lost!
Devil’s Golf Course
I find this name so funny. I don’t think I have to tell you that much about the Devil’s Golf Course, the name and the photo speak for themselves!
Continue all the way to Badwater Basin. On the way back again, you’ll make some other stops, but you must get to Badwater Basin before the heat gets unbearable. The walk is not long and you can choose how far you want to go, but try to be here before 10 a.m – it quickly gets really hot. It’s not recommended to go for walks after that, and this is a Death Valley must-see you’ll probably want to explore. It’s the lowest point in North America!
After Badwater Basin, we were supposed to explore the Natural Bridge. It looks like a pretty cool formation, but at 11-12 o’clock it was already 45 degrees Celsius outside. That’s way too hot for another hike, if you ask me. We decided to put safety first and stick to the other places in my Death Valley itinerary where you don’t need to walk as far. If you’re there earlier than us though, or on a cooler day, you could for sure check out the bridge!
Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette
As the names reveal once more, this is a beautiful and colourful drive. Stop at the Artist’s Palette for some extraordinary colours! Here’s also another Star Wars filming location for fellow nerds out there, just as the next stop after this one. Here a link to several Star Wars filming locations in Death Valley if you’re interested.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
This could be the last stop for the day, if you’re not leaving the national park via Panamint Springs. In that case, I have another stop for you below. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are really impressive, and very hot – be careful, especially if you’re visiting during the middle of the day! As I’ve mentioned before, walking isn’t recommended after 10 a.m. – if you want to walk further than just a few meters from the parking lot, you might want to consider skipping one of the first stops of the day and going here instead.
Rainbow Canyon and Father Crowley Vista Point
If you’re leaving Death Valley National Park via Panamint Springs, a stop at the Rainbow Canyon and the Father Crowley Vista Point is a must. It’s the perfect place to stretch your legs before ending your Death Valley day trip.
I hope this Death Valley itinerary has helped you plan your visit. Have an amazing time on your Death Valley road trip and remember to bring water and stay safe!
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