Las Vegas is an excellent destination. Of course, because it is the Entertainment Capital of the World. But even more, as there's so much to explore outside of the city within a drivable distance. Only two hours west of Vegas and a few miles across the Nevada-California border lies one of the most unique national parks of the United States.
Stretched out for almost 3 million acres, the Death Valley NP is the 5th largest national park in the USA. An area this vast definitely requires multiple days to be explored thoroughly. But if you want to visit Death Valley from Vegas and be back within a day and a half, then you've landed on the right page.
After reading this hour by hour itinerary, you will have a plan to drive from Vegas, break for the night at one of the recommended accommodations, and explore the national park whole of the next day from sunrise to sunset. After that, you can choose to drive back to Vegas the same evening or crash for the night nearby.
#TravelSmart Itinerary at a Glance
- Travel Planning
- Drive from Vegas - 4 pm
- Dinner at Pahrump - 7 pm
- Dante's View - 30 min before sunrise or 6 am
- Zabriskie Point - 7 30 am
- 20 Mule Team Canyon - 8 30 am
- Badwater Basin - 9 30 am
- Natural Bridge - 11 am
- Devil's Golf Course - 12 30 pm
- Artist's Drive and Palette - 1 pm
- Furnace Creek Inn - 2 pm
- OR, Timbisha Tacos - 2 pm
- Furnace Creek Visitor Center - 3 pm
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes - 1 hour before sunset or 4 pm
- BONUS: Appetizers/Dinner/Drinks at Toll Road Restaurant - 6 30 pm
- BONUS: Harmony Borax Works - 8 pm
- Return to Vegas - by midnight
Before diving into the itinerary, let's talk about some necessary logistics.
Best time to visit
If you know anything about Death Valley National Park, it must be that it is the hottest place in the world and the driest place in North America. So don't even attempt to visit it during summer. Spring, Winter, and Fall, i.e., November to March, are the best times to make the trip.
However, days are shorter in those seasons, i.e., less daylight to explore the park. Anyone would choose temperatures that are 30 degrees lower vs. a couple of extra hours in the day. Don't you agree?
What to Wear and Pack
- Wear layers to adjust according to the time of the day. Loose and comfy clothing covering your skin will help block the sun and make you feel at ease when breeze flows. A windbreaker is recommended at higher elevations and when it's chilly before sunrise and after sunset.
- High SPF sunscreen, a wide brim hat, and sunglasses.
- Carry lots of water and replenishment drinks in a cooler.
- Download offline maps as there's no signal in the area.
- Carry snacks and packed breakfast/lunch if you can, as there are barely any restaurants and stores in the park.
Where to Stay
Airbnbs/Hotels outside the park
As soon as you know you're visiting Death Valley, try to book your stay at either of these two hotels:
These are the nearest moderately priced hotels, and they fill up very quickly, especially on long weekends.
If you don't mind being an extra half-hour drive away from the park, then you'll have a variety of Airbnbs to choose from within a little town called Pahrump.
Hotels within the park
Those who want to splurge should definitely stay at one of the hotels at Furnace Creek, namely, The Inn, The Oasis, and The Ranch. This will give you the maximum time to explore the park. Bookings for either of those can be made on this website.
The Furnace Creek Campground is the most popular one for two reasons. It is the most convenient campground to get to from Vegas. And, it is the only one that takes reservations from October to April. You can reserve your site on this website. In case, the campground is full, you can find more information about other first-come-first-serve campsites here.
For this trip, you will need a car; your own or a rented one. If you are planning to rent, keep the following things in mind.
- Most of the attractions within Death Valley are accessible via paved roads. However, you will have to pass through some short dirt roads that lead to a few main attractions, such as the Natural Bridge and Mosaic Canyon. The ride can be considerably bumpy, and hence, you should at least rent a Mini-SUV.
- For some far-off locations not covered in this itinerary, such as the Titus Canyon and the farthest of all, Racetrack Playa, it is advised to have a high-clearance vehicle such as a pick-up truck or 4WD SUV.
- There are numerous car rental locations throughout Vegas. Due to competition, it is quite easy to find a cheap rental. Use the tips from this blog to find a deal and make the most of your car rental.
Now that we've covered the logistics of the trip let's jump right into the hour by hour itinerary.
Drive from Vegas - 4 pm
Several routes take you to Death Valley National Park, but the shortest one is through Route 160. This route is very scenic. So start driving a couple of hours before sunset. That will give you enough daylight on the road to reach your accommodation and make for a mesmerizing drive.
Dinner at Pahrump - 7 pm
Irrespective of where you're checking in for your stay, dine at or pick-up from ChatThai Bistro in Pahrump. The restaurant prides itself on the fresh ingredients and authentic Thai flavors it brings to the table. Don't let the small restaurant space deceive you of the treat you're up for. It definitely needs more staff to keep up with the growing local popularity.
Fill up your gas tank the night before to avoid paying exorbitant rates within the park (almost 70% more). Don't forget you're going to California.
Dante's View - 30 min before sunrise or 6 am
From Dante's View at 5,475 feet, one can spot the lowest and the highest point of the park, i.e., Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level and Telescope Peak at 11,043 feet above.
Arrive 30 minutes before sunrise to see the magical phenomenon unfold in front of you. Purple hues of the twilight followed by the gradual spread of the yellow sunlight on the nearby mountains and valleys make for an out of the world experience.
For an early morning warm-up, you can take the short hike along the ridge at the end of the parking lot. The aspects of the basin are less obstructed from some points on the rim. Trek safely if you're doing this in the dark.
Zabriskie Point - 7 30 am
After spending 30 minutes before and after sunrise at Dante's, quickly head over to Zabriskie. The badlands at this spot are best to be viewed in the morning/evening light. Enjoy the panoramic slopes and gullies of these golden colored hills from an overlook, which is a short upward walk from the parking lot.
There are some benches to sit and have a packed breakfast. If you're lucky, you'll spot the desert bighorn sheep.
Don't feel bad for not hiking on one of the trails from here. You'll get closer to the same geographical features much quickly at the next stop.
If you are late for the sunrise viewing at Dante's View by about 30 minutes or so, head over to the Zabriskie Point instead. The sunrise is equally phenomenal here. To get to this point, all you'll have to do is continue straight on Route 190 for about 8 minutes instead of turning to Furnace Creek Road for Dante's View, which would otherwise take you 25 minutes.
20 Mule Team Canyon - 8 30 am
Driving south for hardly a minute on Route 190, you'll see an entrance sign to the Twenty Mule Team Canyon. This one-way 2.5-mile unpaved road gives you a chance to drive through twists and turns amidst the eroded topography.
Take advantage of cooler morning temperatures and step out of the car. Walk into a ravine, feel the soil, grab some pictures, and appreciate the white, cream, yellow, brown, and black colors around you.
Badwater Basin - 9 30 am
This is the most popular attraction of Death Valley and with good reason. It lies 282 feet below sea level and is the lowest point in North America. There is a sea-level sign 280 feet above on the mountain across the entrance that gives visitors some perspective of the depth.
The basin is a natural salt flat, i.e., a large concentration of leftover salt from all the evaporation of what was once a lake.
After crossing the boardwalk, you can choose to walk how much ever further you want to. The characteristic polygons made up of salt lines farther out are more untouched and sharper.
Natural Bridge - 11 am
While there are several longer hikes to choose from, Natural Bridge is an easy and short one that is just perfect for a one-day time-sensitive itinerary.
The dirt road to the Natural Bridge Trailhead is rough and uneven, so drive slow and with caution. It might help to know that you may find some shade along the path within the canyon.
Within only 1/3 mile, you'll arrive below the Natural Bridge. It is a unique natural formation resembling a bridge and looks beautiful in contrast with the clear blue skies.
Walk some extra to check out a few dry waterfalls. These vertical chutes developed gradually from gushing floodwater thousand of years ago.
If you're up for a brief adventure at this point, keep going further to a wall of hard bedrock. It will require some scrambling to get to the top. Eventually, you'll find a taller wall that appears impassable, and you can return from that point to the parking lot.
Devil's Golf Course - 12 30 pm
The first thing to note, this place has nothing to do with golf. It is a vast land with jagged formations of salt crystals.
You'll have to drive through a dirt road to arrive at this geological attraction. If you plan to take a closer look at these bizarre rocks, tread lightly to go closer as these are sharp structures and can cause severe injury.
Artist's Drive and Palette - 1 pm
A colorful canyon range will catch your attention in distant sight from the Devil's Golf Course. That's the range along the Artist's Drive, a 9-mile paved one-way road and a must-drive in Death Valley. The colors are effects of oxidation of different elements in the soil deposits over the years.
This is a fun ride with twists and turns and ups and downs. About 5 miles in, you'll arrive at a viewpoint known as Artist's Palette. As the name suggests, the canyons here have the most distinct colors, like a palette.
While you can awe at the purple, pink, green, yellow, and white hues from a distance, feel free to step down and walk into the canyon to get a close-up view.
Furnace Creek Inn - 2 pm
Hungry and hot is what you'll feel by this time. Then, how about some shade and food at a resort in the heart of a desert?
Aptly named, The Oasis at Death Valley has two hotels, The Inn and The Ranch. The resort encourages visitors to check out their property even if they aren't staying. A sightseeing visit to the Inn and some gut-filling lunch in their dining room is a pleasant respite.
Take the tunnel from the parking lot that connects within the hotel and explore around.
OR, Timbisha Tacos - 2 pm
If you want a more affordable and quick lunch, or if you're running late on the schedule, make a quick stop at the Timbisha Tacos. This quick bite joint is located within the Indian Village and serves Native American fried bread as a taco. Their shaved ice is a delicious break from the heat.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center - 3 pm
The Visitor Center also offers another break from the heat. Here you can learn more about the park and its ecosystem through informational exhibits, ask rangers any questions, and shop for a souvenir.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes - 1 hour before sunset or 4 pm
Because of the surrounding mountains, it gets darker earlier than the actual sunset time. And hence, plan to arrive at least an hour before sunset at these beautiful sand dunes.
It might feel tiring after a whole day of exploration but walk farther into the dunes for a more mesmerizing experience.
Switch to flip flops to avoid sand getting in your shoes and socks.
BONUS: Appetizers/Dinner/Drinks at Toll Road Restaurant - 6 30 pm
If you are in the mood for some bar food and drinks in the middle of the park, then you can head to the Toll Road Restaurant in Stovepipe Wells. For a restaurant inside the park, it offers decent choices in its menu. Spend the morning of your last day exploring Bar Harbor. Take a walk on the Main street with some occasional wandering into the side streets, and you’ll spot local eateries, souvenir stores, ice cream shops, art galleries, museums, and much more.
BONUS: Harmony Borax Works - 8 pm
This area has minimal obstruction from the mountains and provides open skies to enjoy stargazing. If you enjoy night photography, use some of the historical artifacts as foreground, such as the mule cart.
Return to Vegas - by midnight
It will take about 2.5 hours to drive back to Vegas. If you wish to arrive earlier than midnight, you can choose to skip the BONUS stops.
A day is really tight for visiting Death Valley National Park. Still, as you read above, it is clearly doable if you time yourself fine throughout the day. Skip the attractions that don't interest you to make room for more time at other spots if needed.
Comment and let us know which attractions were you able to squeeze in your Death Valley itinerary and the ones you enjoyed the most. Happy Exploring!