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Planning Your Perfect Trip to Death Valley National Park: What to Know and Where to Go

Death Valley is often dismissed as nothing more than a blistering desert, and it’s true, it lives up to that reputation! With record-breaking temperatures and being recognized as the driest spot in North America, it’s no wonder it’s overlooked.

But before you write off Death Valley as just a hot sandbox, envision this: breathtaking viewpoints, colorful canyons, mountains made of sand, and black skies with millions of twinkling stars. These are just a few reasons why Death Valley is among my favorite National Parks in the United States.

A Death Valley road trip from Los Angeles is only about 4.5 hours, and even better, a Death Valley road trip from Vegas even shorter at about 2 hours – making it a great getaway for all adventure lovers and a fun surprise destination as an addition to any California or Vegas trip! 

Death Valley Road Trip From Vegas
Death Valley Road Trip From Los Angeles
Death Valley Road Trip From San Francisco

If you’re looking to plan a trip to Death Valley, I’ve got you covered with my full guide to this National Park. I’ll cover what you should know before your trip, what to bring, where to stay, and what hikes and lookouts are the best. 

Let’s delve into the details.
Hi, I'm Faith, your adventure guide. Let's unveil hidden gems, introduce you to places you never knew existed, and equip you with the ultimate travel tools to redefine your journey like never before.

When to go: 

Death Valley stands up to its name as being one of the hottest places on earth. Isn’t that crazy? So I recommend visiting between September – March when the weather is cooler.  During the winter months, the highs are in the 70s F, but the lows could be in the 30s/40s F so bring some extra layers for the nighttime. Most people try to avoid visiting Death Valley in the heat of the summer, May-August when the average temperatures are around 120 during the days and high 90s in the evenings. 

If you do come in the warmer months, plan accordingly. You’ll want to do any hiking in the the early morning, and do your vista points and scenic drives during the day. If you are hiking, you will need to take a lot of water. I can not stress this enough. Even if you are hiking short distances, you will get dehydrated. 

Winter is a wonderful time to do everything you want to in the park – and really, how many places can you say that about. I would say if there was any downfall with going in the winter is that you will have less daylight so if it’s possible, give yourself an extra couple days if you are planning on hiking, or wake up early to maximize your day! 

Getting Around: 

Before you embark on your Death Valley adventure, there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, Death Valley is massive. It’s the largest National Park in the United States, and travel between attractions can take hours so plotting your route ahead of time is your best bet. That way you can spend your time enjoying the park instead of just driving back in forth.

The second thing is that there is only a few gas stations in the park. At the entrances of the park, and one in the main center of the park near the visitor center. I highly recommend filling up your gas tank before the last major city you pass when driving into the park. You can use apps like GasBuddy to help you find the cheapest gas.

Make sure your gas tank is full. The last thing you want to do is run out of gas. I would also recommend topping off at the Furnace Creek station as well. You’ll pay inflated prices, but you’ll have a little more peace of mind.

The only way you’ll be able to visit the park is if you rent a car or go with a tour group, though renting a car is your best bet. And since accommodations are scarce, another fun option could be renting a campervan for your trip. 

Food: 

While exploring Death Valley, you’ll find limited dining options, especially within the park. Near Furnace Creek, there are some snack and meal options available. However, I recommend bringing your food and a large cooler filled with plenty of ice to keep it fresh during your outdoor adventures.

If you are looking for some in-park food options, some recommendations are the Toll Road Restaurant, Badwater Saloon, Panamint Springs Resort Restaurant, The Inn,and The Last Kind Words Saloon.

Accommodations: Hotels + Resorts

While there aren’t many options for in-room accommodations in the park, you can find a few. If you prefer staying within the park, The Ranch at Furnace Creek is a popular choice, albeit on the pricier side. There is also a fantastic new hotel that opened called The Inn which is a luxury resort with great dining options and even a pool. 

You can use this map below to help find some nearby accommodations but you want to use Furnace Creek as a point of interest to map directions and see roughly how far you are away from the main section of the park. 

Accommodations: Campgrounds

If you’d rather camp in a more estblished campground, Death Valley has some fantastic developed campground options offering incredible views, and many of them are open on a first come option. Just keep in mind that campgrounds tend to fill up quickly, especially on weekends and holidays. 

Furnace Creek Campground will be your best bet if you are looking for more amenities like a camp store, bathrooms, and electrical plugins. As a reminder, this campsite is open for reservations six months in advance, so make sure to set a notification on your calendars as campsites can go quickly once released.

Photo captured by Ara Moses @decapture at Furnace Creek Campground 

Accommodations: Backcountry 

For a more rustic experience, consider primitive camping. While in the park, you can camp off any dirt road as long as it is 1 mile off the main highway. This makes your visit very convenient because you can camp close to the hikes and viewpoints you want to explore the following day. It’s also more cost-efficient if you’re trying to visit Death Valley on a budget.

You’ll want to make sure you are fully self-sustained and have all the necessary car camping gear if you are car camping. 

And please remember to be respectful and to leave no trace. 

Photo captured by Ara Moses @decapture at the Eureka Sand Dunes

Water Refilling Station: 

It’s hot in the desert, regardless of the season. Make sure you carry plenty of water with you at all times in both your car and on your body. If you are hiking in Death Valley, have a few extra liters on you. You won’t find streams of lakes to fill up water in so prep this ahead of time. 

I recommend carrying a few jugs of water in your car and just refilling them when you pass the visitor center. Almost all visitor centers in any National Park usually offer an area where you can refill your water bottles (and bathrooms). 

Road Closures: 

Stay informed about road conditions and closures by checking the official Death Valley Road Closure Map before your trip.

With only a few roads traversing the park, closures can disrupt your plans and limit access to certain areas or activities. Keeping an eye on road conditions will help you navigate smoothly during your visit.

Cell Service: 

Due to its remote location, Death Valley has very limited cell service in and around the park. If you need to make a phone call or check social media, your best chance is to try picking up a few bars at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center or one of the restaurants.

It’s strongly advised to download all your offline maps and hiking trails before entering the park. A highly recommended app for discovering and safely navigating the best hiking trails is AllTrails.

I also recommend having an emergency satellite device on you such as a Garmin In Reach.

Google Map: 

Be sure to explore my Google Map of California, featuring all the top attractions and activities in Death Valley. From campgrounds and restaurants to fill-up points and primitive camping spots, this map provides everything you need to plan your adventure in this stunning national park.

What To Wear: 

Dressing appropriately for extreme desert conditions is essential for your comfort and safety. Here’s a guide on what to wear during your adventure:

Sun Protection: Regardless of the season, the desert sun in Death Valley can be intense. Protect yourself by wearing sunscreen with a high SPF, wide-brimmed hats to shield your face and neck, UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes from glare and harmful rays, and a sun shirt.

Layered Clothing: Temperatures in Death Valley can vary dramatically between day and night, so layering is key. Pack lightweight, moisture-wicking base layers to keep you cool during the day and warm socks to protect your feet from the hot ground. For cooler evenings, bring puffer jackets, sweaters, and beanies to stay cozy.

Footwear: Opt for sturdy hiking shoes with excellent traction to navigate the rugged terrain safely. Choose footwear that provides ankle support and protection from rocks and debris. Proper hiking shoes will ensure stability and reduce the risk of slips and falls on the trails.

Additional Gear: Don’t forget to pack a headlamp or flashlight for early morning or late evening hikes, as visibility can be limited in the dark. Having a light source will help you navigate the trails safely and enjoy sunrise or sunset adventures.

Here is my full gear list on what I recommend to pack for visiting Death Valley in the winter

Okay, now the goods. Here's what you should plan to see when visiting Death Valley.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

If you’re gearing up for an epic adventure in Death Valley, you’ve gotta start with a visit to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – they’re like the welcoming committee to this incredible desert playground.

Now, here’s the insider tip: aim to hit the dunes early in the morning, before the sun cranks up the heat and turns that sand into a giant frying pan. Trust me, it’s no joke out there!

Sunrise or sunset is where it’s at for the best views, and the coolest photo ops. And here’s the deal: there’s no set path through the dunes, so feel free to wander as far as your heart desires. But fair warning, trekking through sand isn’t exactly a walk in the park – it’ll definitely give you a workout!

But hey, if you’re into photography, this place is a dream. The shifting light and shadows make for some seriously stunning shots. 

If you are interested in photography 👉🏼 here are 8 Things I Wish I’d Done Differently When Photographing the Sand Dunes in Death Valley

Photo of Ara Moses @decapture – Captured by Faith Calhoun @prettyliltraveler

Badwater Basin Salt Flats

One of my favorite spots to capture stunning photographs is the lowest point in North America, boasting expansive salt flats covering nearly 200 square miles. To catch the breathtaking sunrise, aim to arrive early and witness the sun’s gentle glow cascading over the nearby mountains before illuminating the vast flats.

Accessible from the Badwater Basin parking lot, reaching the salt flats is a breeze. As with most popular places, the parking lot does get crowded. Parking along the street is also an option at designated pull-off spots, just be prepared for a bit of extra walking to reach the crusted flats.

Although you can walk as far across the salt flats as your heart desires, keep in mind that camping and driving are prohibited. Finally, don’t be that guy. Please be respectful of both the environment and other visitors. Other than that, have fun!

Lake Manly

Lake Manly is the phenomenon that is taking Death Valley by storm  (literally). 

Did you know that the floor of Death Valley was once occupied by a vast lake named Lake Manly? Occasionally, the lake resurfaces on the valley floor when enough water traverses the surrounding mountains.

Lake Manly made a notable return in August 2023 following rain from Tropical Storm Hilary. Initially, the water was pretty shallow, however, in February 2024 the area experienced a large amount of rain causing it to fill up, even enough to take a kayak or small boat on. 

This rare phenomenon won’t be around long and is on its way out so if you are lucky enough to make it out to Death Valley while the lake is still there, you’ll want to take full advantage of this maybe one-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Lake Manly lake on Badwater Basin in Death Valley

Photo of Ara Moses @decapture – Captured by Faith Calhoun @prettyliltraveler

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is an absolute gem in Death Valley and one of my top hiking spots in the park. If hiking isn’t your thing, no worries! You can simply stroll up the short path to the viewing platform and soak in the breathtaking vistas. Picture this: tan and brown badlands stretching out before you, with snow-capped mountains framing the backdrop – simply stunning!

But if you’re up for more adventure, you’re in luck! There’s a whole network of trails here offering incredible views that many people overlook. 

Whether you’re embarking on a short stroll or a longer trek, make sure to pack plenty of water and consider using a GPS tool like AllTrails to help you stay on track. Trust me, it’s easy to veer off course in these parts!

Photo capture by Ara Moses @decapture – Photo of Faith Calhoun @prettyliltraveler at Zabriskie Point

Golden Canyon

Undoubtedly one of the park’s most picturesque trails, the Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, and Badlands loop stand out as another of my favorite hikes in Death Valley. This trail, above all others, takes you on a journey through narrow, twisting canyons, offering close-up views of the striking rust-colored rock formations of Red Cathedral, and immersing you in the iconic landscape of the park’s pastel-hued badlands.

The Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral is roughly 3 mile hike. While many hikers opt to explore Golden Canyon without venturing up to Red Cathedral, if you have proper hiking shoes, I highly recommend adding the extra 0.5 miles to reach Red Cathedral. The final stretch involves a bit of scrambling, but the breathtaking views of the red rock formations make it well worth the effort.

Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral: 

Length: 2.9 Miles Round Trip 

Elevation Change: 577 ft elevation change

Route Type: Out and Back

Artist Pallet

Get ready for a color explosion at Artist Palette Drive! It’s like stepping into an artist’s dream, with rock walls showcasing a rainbow of vibrant soil colors caused by metal oxidization. It’s a natural wonder you won’t want to miss in Death Valley.

For the ultimate experience, catch the sunset at Artist’s Palette. That magical blue hour makes the colors pop like crazy in your photos. And here’s a tip: after a rain, the colors get even bolder, so keep your fingers crossed for some showers! Just take a short 0.3-mile stroll to the overlook for jaw-dropping views of the canyon painted in hues of blue, green, pinks, and red.

Photo capture by Ara Moses @decapture – Photo of Faith Calhoun @prettyliltraveler at Artist Pallet

Dante's View

Prepare to be on top of the world at Dante’s View, soaring 5,000 feet above the fiery depths of Death Valley! It’s the ultimate vista in the park. Picture this: as the sun dips below the horizon, the sky transforms into a canvas of pink clouds, with Telescope Peak standing tall in the distance. It’s hands down one of the most breathtaking moments you’ll experience in Death Valley.

Now, here’s the scoop: the hike to Dante’s View is just 1 mile long, but it can get pretty crowded, especially during sunset. So, our advice? Get there early, whether you’re chasing sunrise serenity or sunset splendor. 

5 NOT-SO-POPULAR THINGS TO DO IN DEATH VALLEY

Sure, Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Sand Dunes, and Artist Palette Drive are like the rockstars of Death Valley. But guess what? The park’s got a whole lot more to offer beyond the headliners!

If you’re up for crafting a one-of-a-kind Death Valley adventure and uncovering some hidden desert treasures, buckle up and add these gems to your itinerary for your next trip.

Racetrack Playa

Buckle up for one of Death Valley’s best-kept secrets: The Racetrack! Tucked away in the park’s remote corners, this dry lakebed is a true hidden gem. Picture this: vast stretches of desert beauty, with the north end marked by the iconic rock formation dubbed the grandstands.

Now, here’s where things get fascinating: those rocks? They move! 

To reach The Racetrack, venture beyond the breathtaking Ubehebe Crater, southwest of Scotty’s Castle. Now, fair warning, the journey might require a trusty 4-wheel drive, especially according to the National Park Service. 

The thrill of reaching The Racetrack is no illusion. So, whether you’re braving the washboard ride or embarking on an epic 4-wheeling adventure, the payoff is well worth every bump and twist along the way!

Devil's Golf Course

Devil’s Golf Course – just a quick stop near the Badwater Basin. Devils Golf Course is made up of large salt formations that jut out of the barren landscape for as far as the eye can see. The area is so incredibly serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”

Eureka Sand Dunes

Eureka Sand Dunes, are sizably larger than the popular Mesquite Sand dunes, plus they are isolated from the rest of the park so you’ll probably be the only people there. There are campsites right at the bottom of the dunes. The Eureka Dunes are the largest dunes in California and quite possibly in North America.

Whereas Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are more centrally located in the park, the Eureka Sand Dunes are pretty remote. It will take about a two hour drive from the Death Valley Visitor Center in order to reach these dunes, but it is absolutely worth the drive.

It will take about an hour of hiking to reach the very top of the tallest dune, so make sure to give yourself enough time in the morning if you want to catch sunrise or sunset from the top.

Father Crowley's Overlook

Father Crowley’s Overlook often gets overlooked by many visitors due to its location near the northwest entrance of the park. However, I personally find it to be one of the most captivating viewpoints in the area. If you happen to be passing by this vista around sunrise or sunset, do yourself a favor and make a stop. You’ll be treated to breathtaking views of Death Valley from a perspective that’s often unseen and truly awe-inspiring.

Mosaic Canyon

If you have time, add Mosaic Canyon to your list!

Just off CA-190, this hidden gem offers an unforgettable hiking experience. Don’t let the gravel road deter you! Most sedans can handle the journey, but big rigs and buses might want to steer clear. 

Once you arrive at the trailhead atop Mosaic Canyon Rd, you’ll find clearly marked paths and ample parking. The four-mile Mosaic Canyon Trail promises stunning landscapes, with the option to shorten your trek if time is tight.

Mosaic Canyon: 

Length: 3.5 Miles Round Trip 

Elevation Change: 984 ft elevation change

Route Type: Out and Back

Sidewinder Canyon

One of the coolest slot canyons in the park is Sidewinder Canyon. This 4-mile trail is a hidden gem, boasting a total of about 5 slot canyons along the way. 

For the best experience, I recommend tackling this hike during the day to catch the stunning play of light inside the canyons. This hike is one of Death Valley’s lesser-known treasures, offering a peaceful and memorable experience away from the hustle and bustle.

Sidewinder Canyon: 

Length: 4 Miles Round Trip 

Elevation Change: 1,040 ft elevation change

Route Type: Out and Back

Twenty Mule Canyon Drive

If you are looking for a beautiful drive while trying to stay cool, you might want to check out Twenty Mule Canyon. On this drive, you’ll see tons of badlands with colorful rocks. If you have time,  hike up to the top of the badlands and take in the unique views, as well as some fun photos along the way! 

Photo capture by Ara Moses @decapture – Photo of Faith Calhoun @prettyliltraveler on the Mule 22 Drive

I hope that my adventure guide to Death Valley National Park has provided some helpful tips for your upcoming visit. Exploring this park is always a joy for me, and I genuinely hope that each of you has the opportunity to experience its unique beauty firsthand.

Don’t forget to snag my Google Map of California! It’s like having your own personal treasure map to uncover all the incredible outdoor gems scattered throughout this amazing state. Whether you’re seeking epic hiking trails, picturesque campgrounds, soothing hot springs, towering fire towers, serene lakes, or iconic National Parks, this map has got you covered.

Happy exploring!

PrettylilCalifornia - Downloadable Google Map

What You'll Find Inside

PrettylilCalifornia is my downloadable Google map of the coolest places to visit around the beautiful state of California!

Let’s be honest, no one has the time to spend reading blog after blog and scrolling through Instagram to land of these locations. Skip the scrolling and start living. Once you download my PrettylilCalifornia map or any of my other Google Maps, you’ll add the freedom to just get in your car and go.

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I’ve spent countless hours researching and tracking all of my stops around California. I’ve vetted the best destinations and most instagrammable photo opts for you to take with you on your travels. These are the maps that I use for all of my road trip planning.

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