Death Valley is a desert valley located in Southeast California alongside the Nevada border. Death Valley is home to the world renown Death Valley National Park and the Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America at 282ft. Death Valley is also well know as being one of the hottest places on earth, with the town of Furnace Creek registering an air temperature of 134 °F back in 1913.
Death Valley National Park is the perfect place for desert lovers looking to explore the outdoors. With wildflowers, scenic hikes, sand dunes, dry lakes beds, mountains, and more, one could easily spend years in this park and never come close to seeing it all. Before attempting to spend a lifetime, many visitors budget a single day while taking road trips through California and Nevada. In this guide, I’ll provide 10 must-see attractions for visitors planning a one day road trip in Death Valley National Park.
Death Valley Road Trip Map
For this one day road trip, my directions will start from the west via Lone Pine, CA, and will require a very early start. From Lone Pine, you’ll have views of the 14,555ft Mt. Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous United States. If you’re looking for a great place to camp before driving through Death Valley, check out my guide for Alabama Hills.
As you can see in the map below, you’ll take HWY 136 East out of Lone Pine and then join HWY 190 East into Death Valley National Park. You’ll want to be driving away from Lone Pine no later than 7:00 to see all of the things on my one day itinerary.
– Total Road Trip Distance: 163 Miles, not including the drive out of park
– Total Estimated Drive Time: 3 hours 40 minutes, stops not included
When to Visit
As I mentioned above, Death Valley is a desert and one of the hottest places on earth. Plan your visits accordingly and avoid the summer months. The months from October to April are ideal, with warm days and cool nights. The deserts are also prone to flash floods during storms, so keep a close eye on the weather forecast before driving into the park.
Gas, Food, and Lodging
You’ll want to fill up on gas before entering the park. Gas is available in Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek, but you’ll pay a pretty penny for it.
Food, water, and lodging are also available in these areas, but make sure to come prepared with a few days worth of food and water in your vehicle.
Fees and Passes
The standard price for a vehicle to enter Death Valley NP is $25 for a 7-day pass. You can also buy a National Park annual pass for $80. See more at NPS.gov.
Death Valley One Day Road Trip Itinerary
1.) Father Crowley Vista Point – Mile 42
As you drive towards Death Valley National Park on HWY 190 from Lone Pine, you’ll begin a descent of nearly 4000ft! Just before the highway starts to lose elevation in a hurry, you’ll see Father Crowley Vista just off of the road. Keep your eyes peeled here, as it’s easy to miss. From this overlook you can see down into Death Valley, with sand dunes, mountains, and lava flows before you.
2.) Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – Mile 83
Our second stop on this Death Valley road trip is the first within the National Park itself, the iconic Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The parking lot for Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is located off of HWY 190 just east of Stovepipe Wells. You can see the sand dunes from the parking lot, but you’ll have to take a little hike out onto the sand if you want to see them up close.
3.) Zabriskie Point – Mile 110
After leaving Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, head towards Furnace Creek and continue on HWY 190 to Zabriskie Point. If you look at my map, you’ll see that this could also be done at the end of this road trip, but I have it here at the beginning because it photographs better early in the day. There are a few hikes you can do in this area, but for this road trip, I just walked to the overlook viewpoint near the parking lot.
4.) Timbisha Village Frybread Tacos – Mile 115
After leaving Zabriski Point, double back to Furnace Creek. If you’re looking to grab a bite to eat, stop by the Timbisha Village Frybread restaurant in Indian Village. The frybread tacos and shaved ice are amazing here! You’ll also get a chance to learn about Death Valley from the perspective of the Timbisha Shoshone Indians who lived in the area before miners, pioneers, and settlers took it from them.
5.) Devil’s Golf Course – Mile 124
After stopping for an early lunch at Timbisha Village, you’ll head down Badwater Rd until you reach Salt Pool Rd. On Salt Pool Road you’ll get to see Devil’s Golf Course up close. This area is a dry lake bed (Lake Manly) of large halite salt crystal formations, and received its name from a line in a National Park service guide book that read “Only the devil could play golf” in this area.
The Pacific Coast Borax Company extracted resources in the Death Valley area before it became a protected National Park in 1934. Their prospecting in this area found that the salt and gravel of Devil’s Golf Course extended to a depth of more than 1000ft in some areas!
6.) Badwater Basin – Mile 135
From Devil’s Golf Course, you’ll drive a few more miles on Badwater Rd to reach the Badwater Basin. This point is 282ft below sea level, the lowest point in North America. Next to the Badwater Basin platform, you’ll see a pool of spring-fed ‘bad water’ from which the site gets its name. The salt on this dry lake bed makes the water unsuitable for human consumption. You can walk out onto the salt flats by heading east from the parking lot.
7.) Natural Bridge Trail – Mile 137
After visiting the Badwater Basin, get onto Badwater Rd and head back north towards Furnace Creek. On the east side of the road, you’ll see a dirt road for Natural Bridge Trail. This road is deeply rutted and can be very rough on vehicles without enough clearance.
At the end of the dirt road, you’ll see a dirt parking lot. This hike is 1-mile out and back and gains a little over 200ft of elevation. See my hiking track on Strava.
8.) Artist’s Drive and Palette – Mile 148
After the short hike to see Natural Bridge, you’ll return to Badwater Rd for a short drive before seeing the turnoff for Artist’s Drive. This road is one-way and can only be driven from south to north. This is why I have it featured after the visits to Devil’s Golfcourse, Badwater Basin, and Natural Bridge.
The highlight of Artist’s Drive is a stop at Artist’s Palette. Artist’s Palette is a stretch of the Black Mountains that is famous for the variety of rock colors on display. Oxidation gives iron compounds hues of reds, pinks, and yellows. Decomposing mica produces the greens.
9.) *Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail
As you make your way back north towards Furnace Creek, you’ll see a turnoff for Golden Canyon. This trailhead is perfect for hikers looking to complete an approach hike to Zabriskie Point. I didn’t have time on this visit, but if you can squeeze in a 6-mile round trip hike, the views are not to be missed!
10.) 20 Mule Team Road – Mile 163
The final stop on this one day Death Valley road trip is back on HWY 190 for the 20 Mule Team Road. This road is famous in Death Valley. From 1883 to 1889 mule teams hauled borax 165 miles to the railway in Mojave on ten day journeys. You can read more about this road on NPS.gov.
The stop at 20 Mule Team Road concludes this one day road trip itinerary for Death Valley National Park. You can exit the park via the east or west using HWY 190. I hope you enjoy your time in the park!
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