Death Valley National Park is one of the most underrated national parks in the US. It is the biggest National Park in the US, as well as the lowest point in North America. Death Valley has old ghost towns, hikes, off roading trails, beautiful canyons, and is so big you will always find yourself wanting to return after a trip to the desert. Anyone coming into Death Valley should be aware that it also holds the records for the hottest temperatures in the US, that being said, here are our recommendations for the Ultimate Weekend Itinerary for Death Valley National Park.
Best Time to Visit Death Valley National Park:
If you’re planning an ultimate weekend itinerary for Death Valley, then you should consider visiting in the non-summer months. Death Valley is known for its insanely high temperatures and it’s unsafe to do the following recommendations in the blaring heat in the middle of the day. If you are visiting during the summer, make sure to either hike during sunrise or sunset to avoid the peak temperatures.
WINTER: The temperatures in Death Valley can get as low as 40 F which is perfect for winter hiking. The only down side of exploring Death Valley in the winter is the rain. The National Park averages under 2 inches of rain per year, but when it does rain there are chances for flooding and mudslides. Winter is a great time to visit if you enjoy offroading, hiking, and cooler temperatures.
SPRING: Spring is the most beautiful time to visit in Death Valley. The flowers can cause a super bloom in Death Valley that turns the entire National park into a desert oasis. The weather is perfect and the days are getting longer giving you more time for exploring.
SUMMER: The temperatures during the summer skyrocket up to above 100 F. We do not recommend visiting during the summer unless you are prepared for the heat. Hiking can be miserable and dangerous with the high temperatures so plan accordingly
FALL: The fall is a good time to visit the park, but it does still have high temperatures into the 90’s until December. We recommend visiting during the Fall if you enjoy warmer temperatures, driving to the sites, and do not want to attempt the longer hikes.
Directions to Death Valley:
Death Valley National Park is INSANELY big. The park is 3.4 million acres, making it the biggest US National Park in the lower 48. There are many entrances into the park depending on if you are coming from the West or the East.
WEST: Take highway 395 and then the exit for highway 190. This will take you directly through Panamint Springs and into the heart of Death Valley. It is important to remember that it will take at least an hour from the edge of the park to make it to the Visitor Center in Stovepipe Wells so plan accordingly.
EAST: Take highway 95 north and then highway 374 into the east entrance of the park. This is primarily if you are coming into Death Valley from Las Vegas. As we said, the park is HUGE, so if you are coming from Las Vegas, we recommend starting in the southern end of the park and working your way North.
Things to Bring on Your Trip to Death Valley National Park:
WATER: Due to the high temperatures in the National Park, the park rangers recommend bringing one gallon (4 liters) of water per day per person. We thought this was a bit excessive, until you start exploring Death Valley and realize this is a MUST!
MAP or GPS: Make sure to bring a paper map as cell service is incredibly limited throughout the park. The Park Rangers have maps available at the visitor center and are incredibly helpful so we recommend making that your first stop when entering Death Valley.
GAS: Death Valley is the biggest National Park in the lower 48 states, so you will want to make sure you enter the park with a full tank of gas. There is gas available in the park for a VERY high price, so we recommend stopping in Mojave if coming from the west, or Beatty if coming from the east, and filling up on a full tank of gas. We would recommend also carrying two five gallon containers of spare gas in your car, just in case you are running low while exploring the park.
LAYERS: The weather in Death Valley fluctuates to the extreme ends of the spectrum. The mornings can be crisp with a wind chill and the afternoons are very hot when the sun is beating down on you. We recommend wearing a t-shirt, a warm jacket, and a wind breaker so that you have multiple layers to either shed or put on while hiking and sightseeing.
Where to Stay:
There are quite a few hotels and accommodations including a golf course in Stovepipe Wells which is the most touristy section of Death Valley. There are 3 Hotels that we recommend if you want to sleep in a bed and have a luxury experience while visiting. From most expensive to cheapest, The Oasis at Death Valley, The Inn at Death Valley, and The Ranch at Death Valley.
Campgrounds are another option when visiting Death Valley National Park. The campgrounds have fire pits, are located next to gas stations, and have a picnic table to help with cooking. Our 3 favorites all located near each other are Furnace Creek Campground, Wildrose Campground, and Mahogany Flats Campground. All the campgrounds can be great depending on which location you want to be located in. Furnace Creek Campground is the most centralized in the National Park.
The nice thing about Death Valley is there is so much free camping in the National park. The only rules for dispersed camping that is not in a campground or hotel is that you must be 1 mile off of the main highway, leave no trace, and no wood fires in the National park. We set our trip odometer right as we drive off the highway and as soon as we hit 1 mile we find somewhere to camp. LEAVE NO TRACE is so important in National Parks to help preserve the beauty and nature of the park for generations to come. Please pick up all trash and leave the area cleaner then you found it. Propane fires are allowed in the park, so if you are going during the colder months, be sure to bring propane and a means of controlled fire rather than wood.
A few of our favorite roads to drive up and disperse camp are Lemoigne Canyon (rough road and recommend 4x4), Echo Canyon (easy dirt road with lots of places to camp), and Marble Canyon (Dirt Road 4x4 Recommended).
Day 1 Itinerary:
Catch a sunrise at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
These sand dunes are incredible during sunrise and sunset. The perk of visiting them at sunrise is it’s likely there will be little to no people. Make sure to bring a headlamp and layers as the desert does get quite cold in the off seasons. We recommend layering a t-shirt like the Siesta Tee or long sleeve with your Sherman Jacket and a beanie to make sure you stay warm before the sun rises. It takes about a mile to reach the tallest dune in Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and this area makes for some epic pictures.
Hike Mosaic Canyon
The Mosaic Canyon hike is 4 miles out and back and is relatively flat in the beginning of the trail, with the latter end of it gaining much more elevation. This is a great hike for beginners. This is a gem of Death Valley National park as the narrower walls are completely covered in different rocks that give off the impression of a mosaic. This canyon is also famous because pieces of the famous blockbuster Star Wars films were filmed here.
Hike Golden Canyon
Golden Canyon is one of the more popular hikes, and an absolute must on our ultimate weekend itinerary for Death Valley National Park. Golden Canyon can be a 1 mile out and back or 3 mile round trip loop hike. We recommend hiking out and back right below the Zabriskie Point Rock.
Drive Artist’s Road
Artist’s Road takes about 45 minutes to drive and it is a 1-way road. This road will take you to a few pull outs to hike around, as well as the beautiful Artist’s Palette area. You’ll see purples, blues, and greens pop from the rocks here due to the oxidation of the elements in the area. The best time to see the colors pop is right after a rain, or during blue hour to really see the contrast of the colors. For more information, make sure to check out the Death Valley National Park site here.
Day 2 Itinerary:
Sunrise at Zabriskie Point
Watching the golden badlands surrounding Zabriskie Point is a highlight of visiting Death Valley National Park. The badlands light up with a beautiful glow unlike anything else in the park - which is why this is the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee in your Camp Mug to start your second day in the park. However, make sure to arrive here early as even during sunrise, the location is riddled with photographers trying to capture the perfect shot.
Take a drive down Twenty Mule Team Canyon and explore Death Valley’s badlands
Twenty Mule Team Canyon is a one way road straight through the badlands next to Zabriskie Point, and it does not disappoint. Similar to Artist’s Road, you can vividly see the colored mineral deposits popping out from the neighboring hills. There are trails all over this drive so feel free to find your own lookout and climb to the top of the beautiful mounds.
Hike Sidewinder Canyon
This hike is much lesser known than the others throughout the park, and is often not publicized. To retrieve a map of the area, make sure to head over to the rangers at the visitor center in Death Valley National Park and they can provide you with details on how to get to this trail and what the trail entails. This hike is filled with several narrow slot canyons with walls similar to Mosaic Canyon. Make sure to make it to the very end of the hike to be rewarded with the best slot canyon that envelops you in darkness temporarily. If you love off-the-beaten-path kind of hikes, then you will love this one! There are 4 slot canyons that you can hike up and each one is unique in their own way. Create your own adventure and make sure to bring your Sherman Jacket for those cold canyons.
Visit Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is also one of the absolute must sees for a weekend itinerary to Death Valley National Park, as it is the lowest point in North America standing at -262 feet below sea level. Make sure to bring sun protection like our Grizzly Hat as there is no shade in this area. Parking is pretty minimal, so if you are visiting during peak season make sure to be prepared for this. As this is one of the main attractions of Death Valley, it is also one of the most crowded. We recommend walking all the way down past the salt flats near the boardwalk to take in the beauty with a little more privacy. Seeing these salt flats right after a rain is a photographer's paradise because of the cool geometric shapes and the reflection the water has over the salt formations.
Finish the day with a sunset at Dante’s View
Dante’s View is one of the higher points in the park, giving you a scenic lookout over all of Badwater Basin. This spot is great at any point of the day, but especially amazing during sunset or sunrise to see the golden hour light spill over the rest of Death Valley. Make sure to bring a sweater as it does get cold due to the higher elevation. One a clear day, bring your binoculars because you can see all the way out to Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48.
Death Valley Overview:
This is our Ultimate Guide to Death Valley National Park. The area is so big and grand that you can spend weeks exploring every canyon and overlook. We recommend taking your time, driving the park with your windows down, and pulling off anytime you see something interesting. There are 1000’s of canyons to be explored and there is a hidden gem inside them all.
Death Valley is also filled with Ghost Towns and other Dunes including the biggest dunes, Eureka Dunes, and the most famous Ghost Town, Rhyolite. Every trip to Death Valley has something different to offer and more to be explored. This National Park has everything that Lot 54 stands for in a nutshell. Those adventures where you almost run out of gas on the way home, adventuring in the unknown from dawn to dusk, and the reminder of how there is always more to explore.