Death Valley National Park is the largest National Park in California and third largest in the whole USA. Because of this it might not be easy to plan your first visit. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

Please, always remember to follow 7 Leave No Trace Principles to keep the nature destinations safe, thriving and pleasant to explore.

Best time to visit Death Valley

Best time is usually considered November to March.

It gets extremely hot in the summer, so try to avoid summer months. My favorite month is November as the temperature is warm and pleasant, and salt flats are white and clean. In spring the temperature is pleasant, but the salt flats might look gray and dirty after winter rains. There is a chance to see wildflowers in February and March but they don’t show up every year, and super bloom happens even more rare so I would suggest not to focus on that.

If you decided to go Death Valley in summer, focus on exploring during early mornings, don’t go on long hikes, always have plenty of water, sunblock and a hat.

Where to stay and eat

If you are visiting for the first time and planning to go to the most popular locations, the best way is to stay right in the heart of Death Valley, Furnace Creek. There are two hotels located right near each other. They are usually selling out quickly so make sure you book your stay in advance. Half a year in advance, not a week in advance ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Inn at Death Valley – A luxury option, the rooms start at $500. It is a beautiful place with restaurants, pool and tennis courts.

The Ranch At Death Valley – More budget-friendly place with rooms starting at $200. It also has restaurants and even a small grocery store.

One more option to stay and eat is Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel which is located 30 min away from the first two hotels and is right near Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. I liked their restaurant and the fact that they serve full menu during the whole day. Their rooms start at $150.

If all of hotels inside the park are booked check out Nevada side. Longstreet Inn & Casino is just 30 minutes away from Furnace Creek, and has a restaurant. The closest city Pahrump has variety of options. The drive from it would be an extra hour one way.

There are much less options on California side, and they are further from most Death Valley points of interest, but if you are driving from Southern California, Ridgecrest would be a good stop on your way.

Death Valley Map

Here is the map that will help you to visualize the itinerary. It has points with different colors depending of how popular the location is and how easy it is to get there:

Blue – Gorgeous and popular locations with easy access right in the middle of Death Valley. I recommend to start with them if you are visiting for the first time or have only one day for exploring.

Yellow – Great options for day two. Beautiful locations that might require a little detour and/or hiking.

Orange – You would need a detour for these places but trust me they are worth it.

Burgundy – Places that are far away from Furnace Creek. You will need a lot of extra time to see them.

Purple – Places outside of Death Valley that are totally worth visiting if they are on your way.

One best day in Death Valley National Park

Surprise! Some of the best Death Valley views don’t require much hiking. So, it is possible to see many of them just in one day.

Driving around the next 5 points takes just 1.5 hours. Add some time for short hikes to the best views, enjoying the sights and taking pictures, and a lunch break, and here is one full day.

You can visit them in pretty much any order, only the Sand Dunes are a bit separate.

1. ๐—”๐—ฟ๐˜๐—ถ๐˜€๐˜๐˜€ ๐—ฃ๐—ฎ๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜๐˜๐—ฒ and ๐—”๐—ฟ๐˜๐—ถ๐˜€๐˜๐˜€ ๐——๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ. Drive through a stunning one way road. Most of the views along it don’t require hiking. Artists Palette is one of the most iconic park view, you can watch it right from the parking lot or go for an easy ~1mi hike for more sceneries.

Photography tip: come during blue hour to see the best colors (it is an hour after sunset or before sunrise). Bright sun tends to wash out colors. Thick clouds would help too. If you took your pictures during the day, shifting temperature to cold in photo editor can help recover colors a bit.

Artists Palette during blue hour

2. ๐——๐—ฒ๐˜ƒ๐—ถ๐—น’๐˜€ ๐—š๐—ผ๐—น๐—ณ ๐—–๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ๐˜€๐—ฒ. You will find a huge field of large halite salt crystal formations there. National Park Service guide book said about it once that “only the devil could play golf” there. This view doesn’t require hiking, you will see it right from the parking lot.

3. ๐—•๐—ฎ๐—ฑ๐˜„๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐—•๐—ฎ๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ป. My favorite place in the park and one of the most picturesque spots. From the parking lot hike 1mi to reach the best view of the crisp white salt flats. There’s no elevation so it is an easy walk if the weather is not hot.

Tip: in the beginning of the year salt flats might not look white after the winter rains. They have the clearest white color during summer and fall.

Badwater Basin in August

4. ๐—ญ๐—ฎ๐—ฏ๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ธ๐—ถ๐—ฒ ๐—ฃ๐—ผ๐—ถ๐—ป๐˜. Walk just 0.6 mi round trip on a paved road from the parking lot to the viewpoint. A beautiful trail Badlands Loop (2.5 mi) starts here too.

5. ๐— ๐—ฒ๐˜€๐—พ๐˜‚๐—ถ๐˜๐—ฒ ๐—™๐—น๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐——๐˜‚๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜€. One of the easiest access to sand dunes in California. You will see the dunes from the parking lot, and thereโ€™s also a 2mi round trip trail โ€œinto the thick of itโ€. You can climb the dunes too, it is a lot of fun!

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Two amazing days in Death Valley

If you want to hike and to extend your trips by a day here are some amazing drives and trails:

1. ๐—ง๐˜„๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐˜† ๐— ๐˜‚๐—น๐—ฒ ๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐—–๐—ฎ๐—ป๐˜†๐—ผ๐—ป. You may have seen it in Star Wars! (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was filmed here). My most favorite detour from the popular route.
It is a short (2.5 mi/4 km) one-way road is just east of Zabriskie Point. The road is unpaved but most of cars can make it without problems. There are many pullouts along the way where you can stop and explore these insane views. There are a lot of trails too! You choose how far you go.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon

2. Natural Bridge Canyon Trail is an easy 1.4 mi hike. The road there is a bit rough and honestly the hike itself seemed slightly boring to me. My husband loved it though. I know many people really like this spot so it is definitely worth it to see it once.

Natural Bridge Canyon Trail

3. Mosaic Canyon Trail is a 3.3 mi moderate hike. If you want to spice up your trip with a bit of rock scrambling, this is the best choice.

4. Dante’s View is a viewpoint at 5,575 ft overlooking Death Valley. Perfect for sunrises and sunsets.

Three or more incredible days in Death Valley

Do you want to go off the beaten path and explore unique views that most people didn’t see? Here are several amazing options for you.

1. Death Valley hidden gem – two volcanic craters located right near each other! ๐ŸŒ‹

๐—จ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ ๐—–๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ฟ is around 2000 years old. It is the largest of many explosion craters in the area. It is a half-mile across and about 500 feet deep!
You will get stunning view of the crater right from the parking lot. You can also go down to the bottom if you want. There’s also an option to hike around it for 2 miles and see one more crater: ๐—Ÿ๐—ถ๐˜๐˜๐—น๐—ฒ ๐—›๐—ฒ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ ๐—–๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ฟ. Because this area requires a bit of a detour most people donโ€™t go there during the first visit. But it is totally worth the extra drive!

Ubehebe Crater
Little Hebe Crater

2. ๐—ช๐—ถ๐—น๐—ฑ๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜€๐—ฒ ๐—–๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ž๐—ถ๐—น๐—ป๐˜€ is a historical-architectural gem of Death Valley National Park. These ten beehive shaped structures are the best known surviving example of such kilns to be found in the western states!
You don’t need hiking to see this unique place. To get there you will need to take a 1.5h detour which is well worth it.
If you want to hike there’s a cool Wildrose Peak Trail that allows you to see the kilns from top (8mi, moderate).

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns

3. Darwin Falls is a great addition to the trip if you are driving from (or to) California side. It is a 2 mi easy trail that will lead you to a pretty unexpected view for the dried Death Valley landscape.

4. Racetrack Playa is the most mysterious place in the park. Huge rocks somehow move themselves around there leaving trails behind them. This place requires a long detour on a rough road. 4×4 car is a must there. From September to May there’s an option to rent a jeep right in Death Valley. Get ready to spend around 6 hours for this trip.

5. Eureka Dunes is located in the remote Eureka Valley northwest of Death Valley. From the Ubehebe Crater Road you need to travel 44 miles on graded dirt to the dunes. It is a long detour but it will bring you to spectacular uncrowded sand dunes.

6. Telescope Peak is the highest point within Death Valley National Park. It is a hard 13 mi trail with more than 3000 ft elevation. Note that the road there is closed in winter and spring.

What to visit nearby

On Nevada side:

Just a short drive will bring you to Rhyolite Ghost Town. You will find remains of the old buildings there along with fun ghost installations.

On California side:

Alabama Hills is one of the most spectacular California’s hidden gems where over 150 movies were filmed.

Trona Pinnacles is another hidden gem with unique rock formations.

For more ideas what to see in Death Valley National Park see this article from my friend Jaz Wanderlust.

Used in these pictures: dresses from California Dress Collection.