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One Unforgettable Day in Death Valley National Park: 1 Day Itinerary 

Ready to spend one epic day in Death Valley National Park?

Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in North America.  It is also the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, and in my experience a totally underrated destination. Planning a trip to such a vast and diverse landscape can be overwhelming, especially of you only have one short day to see it all! Don’t worry, I’ve created the perfect itinerary for spending one incredible day in Death Valley National Park.

From the iconic vistas of Zabriskie Point, to exploring the depths of Badwater Basin, to the sandy waves of the Mesquite Sand Dunes, your one day adventure in Death Valley will be nothing short of epic.

This one-day itinerary is perfect for first time visitors, and ensures that you don’t miss out on the highlights of Death Valley National Park, even if you only have 24 hours – or less!

Ready to plan your unforgettable day trip to Death Valley? Pack your bags, don’t forget your water bottle, and keep reading!

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links where I earn a small commission from any purchase – at no extra cost to you. This commission helps keep Brooke In Boots up and running. As always, all opinions are 100% honest and my own!

Zabriske Point and Golden Canyon at Sunrise / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

A Quick Look at Your 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary 

This is an action-packed itinerary! If you only have 1 day in Death Valley, this itinerary makes the most of your time and still hits all the “must-see” highlights.

Like I said earlier, Death Valley is huge. In fact, it often takes hours to drive between the popular hikes and sights inside the Park. To make the most of your time, and reduce the amount of driving, I picked the best “must-see” stops that are all in the central part of the Park, within a short drive of CA-190, Furnace Creek, and Stovepipe Wells.

If you only have one day to spend in this incredible park, these are the stops I recommend:

  1. Sunrise at Zabriske Point
  2. Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch
  3. Artists Drive & Artists Palette
  4. Badwater Basin
  5. Furnace Creek Visitor Center
  6. Mosaic Canyon
  7. Sunset at Mesquite Sand Dunes

This guide covers all of these stops in tons of detail, below. I’ve also included some more suggestions where to stay and how to get around, and important safety tips for visiting Death Valley.

Want to learn more about planning an epic National Parks trip? Grab my free Ultimate National Parks Planning Guide, including 70+ pages of National Park packing checklists, planning tips, and everything you need to know to start planning a trip to all 63 National Parks!

About Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes. The diverse terrain here includes salt flats, sand dunes, canyons, and snow-capped mountain peaks.

The park encompasses over 3 million acres, making it the largest National Park in the United States outside of Alaska. In fact, it is larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Why is Death Valley So Hot?

Death Valley lies between two mountain ranges, the Panamint Range and the Amargosa Range. This creates a rain shadow effect, blocking moisture from reaching the valley and trapping hot air inside, making it one of the driest and hottest places on earth.

In 1913, a weather observed recorded a surface air temp of 134 degrees F, which still holds the record and the hottest recorded temperature on earth. That number is somewhat debated today, but even so, it regularly reaches above 120 in the summers. In 2021 the temperature reached a searing 130 degrees here.

a visitor stands on the windy white salt flats of Badwater Basin in Death Valley
Visit Badwater Basin on your 1 Day in Death Valley Itinerary

Where is Death Valley?

Death Valley is remote. If there ever was a place that felt like the middle of nowhere – Death Valley is it.

Death Valley is located in eastern California, near the border of Nevada. It lies within the vast Mojave Desert, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The nearest major towns to Death Valley are Beatty, Nevada (40 miles to Furnace Creek), Pahrump, Nevada (60 Miles to Furnace Creek) and Lone Pine, California (100 miles away).

Entrance Fees & Reservations in Death Valley

There are no reservations required to enter Death Valley National Park.

An entrance fee is required for all visitors to Death Valley. The standard entrance pass costs $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, or $15 per person if you are hiking into the Park.

Traveling to more than 2 National Parks or National Forests this year? Purchase an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass for $80, which covers entrance fees at all National Parks and NPS managed sites.

Unlike other National Parks, there aren’t any staffed entrance stations on the roads into Death Valley. Instead, you’ll need to self-register and pay the entrance fee at one of the Park’s pay kiosks. Kiosks are located at the Visitor Centers, Ranger Stations, campgrounds, and a few other areas around the park.

You can also register and pay the entrance fee, or show your America the Beautiful Annual Park pass, at the Visitor Center, where you’ll be given a paper receipt to place on the dashboard. Don’t leave your plastic Annual Pass on the dash – it could melt!

Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Is Death Valley Dog Friendly? 

Like most National Parks, Death Valley isn’t very dog-friendly.

Dogs are allowed on unpaved roads like Twenty Mule Team Canyon, but due to extreme weather conditions and rough terrain, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable walking my pup here.

Leashed pets are allowed in campgrounds and picnic areas, but not on any hiking trails or in any buildings.

Never EVER leave your dog unattended in a vehicle in Death Valley! For more on pets in Death Valley, check here.

Death Valley National Park is Indigenous Land

The Timbisha Shoshone and Southern Paiute have lived and traveled in the Death Valley area for over 1000 years. Please respect and honor their land and ancestors while you explore.

Is 1 Day Enough for Death Valley? 

With over 3 million acres to explore, there is so much to see and experience in this wild and extreme National Park. With 1 day in Death Valley there simply isn’t enough time to really see ALL of this incredible Park, but it is enough time to hit some of the highlights and have a memorable experience!

If you have more time, check out this extended Death Valley itinerary for 2-3 action-packed days in this epic National Park.

Visiting Death Valley is a popular day trip from Las Vegas. Or if you’re passing through (or near) Death Valley on your way to one of California’s incredible National Parks, Alabama Hills and the Eastern Sierra, or on your way to Zion and Utah’s National Parks, a day trip to Death Valley is worth your time!

a vast yellow wildflowe superbloom in Death Valley
If you time it right (and get lucky) you may be able to see wildflowers in Death Valley! / 2016 Superbloom

The Best Time to Visit Death Valley

When’s the best time to visit Death Valley? In short – NOT summer.

In the summer months, temperatures in Death Valley can easily reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. This heat can be dangerous and even deadly. For that reason alone, I really don’t recommend visiting Death Valley in summer. You’ll hardly be able to get out of your vehicle, let alone hike and explore everything that makes this Park so amazing.

On the other hand, in late fall, winter, and early spring, the weather is much more mild and enjoyable. During these times, it’s possible to explore more of the Park without worrying about extreme temperatures.

I recommend visiting Death Valley November – March when temperatures hover in the 70s during the day, and can even dip below freezing at night. I visited during March in 2023 and it was perfect. I even got to experience a bit of snow as I drove over the pass on to towards Lone Pine! Talk about a land of extremes!

In spring, wildflowers bloom between February – April. If California experienced above average rainfall, you might even get to experience the rare “super bloom”, when the desert comes alive with a colorful display of wildflowers.

Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Getting to Death Valley

The closest major cities to Death Valley are Las Vegas (2 Hours away) and Los Angeles. (4 – 5 Hours). Most visitors to Death Valley will want to fly into one of those two cities, rent a car, and drive into the Park.

You won’t need a 4×4 vehicle for this 1 day Death Valley itinerary, but if you plan on staying longer and exploring any of the Park’s unpaved and backcountry roads, you’ll need to bring a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle.

If you’re planning on flying to Death Valley, the two most common airports for people flying to Death Valley National Park are Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport in Nevada, and Los Angeles International Airport in California.

AirportDistance to Furnace Creek, Death ValleyDrive Time
Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) 120 Miles 2 Hours
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)270 Miles 4.5 Hours

Because of it’s close proximity, easy hotel options, and great rental car selection, I recommend flying into Las Vegas Airport when visiting Death Valley.

Planning a National Parks road trip? The closest other National Parks to Death Valley are:

National Park (From Visitor Center)DistanceEstimated Drive Time
Joshua Tree (California)260 Miles5 Hours
Zion (Utah)300 Miles4.5 Hours
Bryce Canyon (Utah)390 Miles6 Hours
Yosemite (via Tioga Rd, open Spring – Fall)300 Miles6 Hours
Yosemite (via South Entrance, open year-round)430 Miles8 Hours
Sequoia & Kings (Lodgepole)340 Miles7 Hours

Driving in Death Valley National Park

There is no public transportation to or within the Park. There aren’t any shuttles or buses within Death Valley, so you’ll either need to bring your own vehicle, rent a 4×4 for off-road exploring, or take a guided tour.

Do not rely on GPS or Cell Service for directions in Death Valley.

You can pick up a helpful road map of Death Valley at the Visitor Center, or check out the online copy, here.

There are a ton of unpaved and backcountry roads in Death Valley. This 1 day Death Valley itinerary only includes 1 unpaved road: Mosaic Canyon Road. This road is gravel and dirt, and is passable for most passenger cars.

My AWD Mazda CX5 crossover SUV was more than up for the job for this road. I saw plenty of sedans parked in the parking lot when I visited, just drive carefully and let faster cars pass you on the bumpy road.

If you want to spend more time exploring Death Valley’s unpaved roads, check out this longer itinerary guide!

Gas Stations in Death Valley

Make sure to carefully monitor your gas tank and fill up whenever you can while driving to, from, and around Death Valley.

Gas Stations in this part of the country are few and far between, and an empty tank can be a disaster under the wrong conditions.

Unfortunately, gas is also hella expensive here. And yes, I’m saying that as someone who grew up in LA and routinely pays over $4 per gallon without thinking about it. When I visited Death Valley in March 2023, I paid $6.21 a gallon!

There are 3 gas stations in the park:

  • The Oasis at Death Valley, located next to the Furnace Creek Golf Course (gasoline and diesel)
  • Panamint Springs Resort (gasoline and diesel)
  • Stovepipe Wells Resort (gasoline only)
Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Tips for Visiting Death Valley National Park

If it’s your first time visiting Death Valley, make sure you read these important tips for visiting this wild and beautiful National Park.

  • Beat the Heat: Don’t underestimate the heat. Death Valley is one of the hottest places on earth, and heat related deaths do occur here. Make sure to bring plenty of water, stay hydrated, eat salty snacks, and know the signs of heat stroke.
  • Winter Conditions: Just like the heat, winter can also be extreme in Death Valley. Temperatures can drop below freezing, and snow is not uncommon on the roads over high passes. If you’re visiting in the winter, make sure to bring appropriate clothing, including warm layers and a jacket.
  • There is NO cell service in most places in Death Valley. Don’t rely on your cell phone for directions in and around the Park. Make sure to bring an old-fashioned paper map, and a satellite GPS if need be.
  • Flash Floods. Even a little water in the desert can be deadly. Make sure to check the weather forecast and avoid driving through flooded roads. If you’re hiking in canyons, be aware of potential flood risks and seek higher ground immediately if a storm approaches.
  • Book ahead. If you want to spend the night in Death Valley, try and plan ahead. Lodging options are limited within the Park and the hotels book up early, although there are several first-come first served campgrounds that usually don’t fill all the way.
  • Bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water on top of your usual hiking essentials. These essentials are crucial for surviving the scorching hot temperatures in Death Valley.
Cotton candy pink clouds visible from Zabriske Point and Golden Canyon at Sunrise
Zabriske Point and Golden Canyon at Sunrise

1 Day Epic Death Valley Itinerary 

With 1 day in Death Valley, you can explore some of the best highlights in this National Park. This itinerary assumes you’re spending 1 full day in Death Valley – sunrise to sunset. This whole itinerary will take about 10 – 12 hours.

Only have a few hours in Death Valley? Short on time? I include some suggestions for what to see if you only have 1, 2, or 4 hours in Death Valley further down in this post.

If you’re visiting on a day trip from Las Vegas, try and arrive as early as possible! I would leave the Las Vegas strip no later than 4am in order to catch sunrise.

If you have more time to spare, check out this post for how to spend 2 -3 days in Death Valley.

Death Valley Itinerary Map

This map shows your stops on this 1 day Death Valley itinerary. I’ve also included some information on where to stay in Death Valley at the end of this post.

How to Use This Map: Click the Icons on the map to see more information about each location. Click the star at the top of the map to add the map to your Google Maps account. 

Sunrise at Zabriske Point

Set that alarm early and brew yourself a cup of instant coffee because you do not want to miss the sunrise in Death Valley!

Zabriskie Point is the go-to spot for catching a magical sunrise in Death Valley . What makes Zabriskie Point so special? Apart from its easy access from the parking lot, the badlands formations of Golden Canyon and Red Cathedral formations light up in a dazzling array of colors as the sun rises over Panamint Mountains.

Be warned, you won’t be alone at Zabriske. Make sure to get there 30 to 45 minutes before sunrise to secure your prime viewing spot.

Golden Canyon from Zabriske Point

Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch

After sunrise, take the short hike from Zabriske Point into the badlands and canyons below you.

From the parking lot, take the dirt trail that descends below the Point and into the badlands below. The trail winds through a labyrinth of gorgeous golden and red rock formations and canyons.

You can also access this same loop trail system from via the Golden Canyon Trailhead, on Badwater Road, which is on the way to your next stop.

The entire loop is 7.4 miles and takes 4-5 hours to complete. If you only have 1 day to spend in Death Valley, I suggest Badlands loop, a moderate 2.7 miles that takes about 2 hours.

This topographic map shows the entire Golden Canyon loop trails. As you can see there are a lot of options for mixing and matching your route, depending on how much time you want to spend here!

Stunningly beautiful Artists Palette on Artist Drive / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Artist Drive and Artists Palette

After your morning hike at Golden Canyon, drive north on CA-190 towards Furnace Creek, then take a left onto Badwater Road. From Badwater Road, you’ll turn onto the one-way 9-mile loop through Artist Drive.

Artist Drive is a scenic road that winds through the multi-colored hills of Artist Palette in Death Valley. The colors in this area are caused by oxidation of different minerals, creating vibrant hues of green, purple, red and blue.

About half way through the loop is the turnoff for Artist Palette. From here you can explore the most colorful section of the hills – and yes, this is THE spot you’ve probably seen in a thousand Instagram photos, and it’s totally worth it!

After completing the loop, take a left onto Badwater Road towards your next destination – the lowest point in North America!

Badwater Basin / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Badwater Basin

Continue on Badwater Road to reach Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Take a picture by the iconic sign and walk out onto the blinding white (and often windy) salt flats.

As you walk out, follow the boardwalk by the natural spring to preserve the fragile ecosystem in this area.

The vast 200-square-mile salt flats are trail-less and yours to explore as far as you want. Walk about a mile to see the unique hexagon salt shapes left by evaporating water.

On the way back, don’t forget to look up at the cliffs to spot the sea level line 282 feet above you.

Badwater Basin Salt Flats / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Furnace Creek Visitor Center & Lunch

At this point you’re probably starving, and it’s a great opportunity to rest for a moment during the hottest time of the day.

Packing a picnic lunch is recommended because, like everything else in Death Valley, food here is expensive. The Visitor Center at Furnace Creek has shaded picnic tables that make an excellent lunch spot.

Don’t forget to snap a photo of the famous thermometer in front of the Visitor Center, which tracks real-time extreme temperatures in the Park.

check the temps at Furnace Creek! / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Inside the Visitor Center is a small gift store, ranger desk, and a fascinating exhibit about the geology and human history of Death Valley. Don’t forget to get your National Park Passport stamped!

If you need to buy lunch, head to the general store at the Ranch at Death Valley or at Stovepipe Wells. You can find sit-down lunch options at the 1849 Restaurant, Ice Cream Parlor, and Last Kind Words Saloon at the Ranch, and the Toll Road Restaurant at Stovepipe Wells.

Mosaic Canyon slot canyon / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Mosaic Canyon

After relaxing, refueling, and definitely rehydrating, head towards Stovepipe Wells to explore my favorite canyon in Death Valley, Mosaic Canyon.

Mosaic Canyon is located just uphill from Stovepipe Wells. From Highway CA-190 at Stovepipe Wells village, take a left onto the unpaved Mosaic Canyon Road. This is a bumpy unpaved road, but most passenger sedans can make the drive if you are careful.

Park at the small trailhead at the end of the road. This parking lot fills early, so its best to do this hike first thing in the morning.

The trail is fairly easy, at 3.5 miles round-trip and about 1000 feet of elevation gain. The multi-colored marble canyon walls are fun to explore and make for some great photos. Be prepared to climb over some boulders and through one narrow slot canyon on this out and back hike.

Make sure to bring plenty of water and hiking shoes with good grip, as the rock is slippery to climb in some sections.

Mesquite Sand Dunes / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Mesquite Sand Dunes

The last stop of your day in Death Valley is the iconic Mesquite Sand Dunes.

There are multiple dune fields throughout the Park, but these massive sand dunes are the most accessible and popular sand dunes to explore.

You can see the dunes from your car, but to really experience them, you’ll want to kick off your shoes and start hiking.

There are no set trails, so you’ll have the freedom to explore and create your own trail. But be warned, climbing those dunes takes more work than it looks like! Be sure to bring water and a jacket if you plan on hiking out.

At sunset, the dunes become even more magical as the colors of the sand change with the light. It’s a perfect spot for some stunning photos and a peaceful moment to take in last bit of beauty as the sun sets on your one epic day in Death Valley.

Where to Eat in Death Valley

If you have time to stick around and eat, or you’re staying overnight inside the Park, here are a few options.

The Toll Road Restaurant in Stovepipe Wells village is a short drive from the Mesquite Dunes parking area. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and a bar in a casual setting.

The Last Kind Words Saloon is a recently renovated bar located in the Ranch at Death Valley, replacing the older and dive-ier Corkscrew Saloon that used to sit here.The atmosphere feels straight out of your favorite old western movie, complete with wanted posters, historic memorabilia from the park’s wild history, and taxidermy animals. Dinner reservations are available a month in advance and are highly recommended.

Finally, The Inn at Death Valley dates back to 1927 and has hosted celebrities and presidents. The Inn Restaurant offers a fine dining with sweeping views of the salt flats and Panamint Mountains. Reservations are required, dress code is resort attire.

I’ll be honest, prices are outrageously expensive at all of these options – you’ve been warned! I opted to eat at the Last Kind Words Saloon on my last visit and loved the experience and the atmosphere. It’s the perfect spot if you’re only spending 1 day in Death Valley.

Last Kind Words Saloon / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

What to See in Death Valley if You Only Have a Few Hours

Only have a few hours to spend in Death Valley? Perhaps you’re passing through on the way to one of California’s other epic National Parks, or headed to Las Vegas.

If you’re short on time in Death Valley, these are the stops I recommend.

One Hour in Death Valley

If you only have one hour in Death Valley , make the most of it by heading directly to Badwater Basin. This iconic spot is a must-see in the park, and you can easily spend an hour walking on the salt flats and taking in the expansive views.

At the very least, you have to snap a selfie with the iconic “283 Feet Below Sea Level” sign and take a moment to appreciate that you’re standing at the lowest spot in North America!

Two Hours in Death Valley

If you have two hours to spend in Death Valley, head directly to Badwater Road in the center of the Park.

Drive the one-way Artist Drive through the spectacular multi-colored badlands. About half way through the loop is the turnoff for Artist Palette. From here you can explore the most colorful section of the hills – and yes, this is THE spot you’ve probably seen in a thousand Instagram photos, and it’s totally worth it!

After completing the loop, take a left onto Badwater Road towards Badwater Basin. Park in the lot and spend the rest of your time in Death Valley exploring the huge salt flats of one of the lowest spots in the world!

Four Hours in Death Valley

If you have half a day to spend in Death Valley, you have just enough time to visit Artist Drive, Badwater Basin and a chance to get out and explore at least one hike.

Consider exploring the Mesquite Sand Dunes or Mosaic Canyon near Stovepipe Wells. If you’re exiting the park on CA-190 towards Lone Pine and the Eastern Sierras these two stops are already on your way.

Or, on Badwater Road hike the Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch loop, a little over 5 miles through the badlands and golden canyons of Death Valley.

Either way, make sure you wear proper closed-toe footwear with good traction (especially for Mosaic Canyon) and carry plenty water on top of your day hiking essentials.

Golden Canyon / Day Trip to Death Valley / 1 Day Death Valley Itinerary

Where to Stay in Death Valley

There are 4 hotels inside Death Valley National Park. These can book up in advance, so make sure to make reservations.

The Inn at Death Valley: This luxury resort offers stunning views of Death Valley with a glamorous history to match the price tag for staying at this four diamond resort.

The Ranch at Death Valley: The more family-friendly sister property to the Inn. The Ranch at Death Valley is where I stayed during my recent 2 day trip. Although it isn’t cheap, it has nicely renovated rooms, several dining options, an outdoor pool, access to the golf course, horseback rides, and Jeep rentals. It’s a great family-friendly property, and I’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

Stovepipe Hotel: This Western-style hotel offers a more rustic experience with options for both standard and deluxe rooms. It has wifi, a pool, as well as a restaurant, saloon, gas station, and general store on site. This is a good alternative to the Ranch while still staying centrally located in the Park.

Panamint Springs Resort: The furthest option from the main attractions in Death Valley, this resort offers a more secluded and quiet experience. It has both motel rooms, cabins, tent cabins, and RV sites available, as well as a restaurant and small store.`

The National Park operates 7 developed campgrounds within Death Valley National Park, and there are 3 private campgrounds.

Outside the Park, the most popular towns to stay in outside Death Valley are Pahrump, Nevada, Beatty Nevada, and Lone Pine, California.

In Pahrump, you’ll find reliable chain hotels like Best Western and Holiday Inn. This is the most convenient town to stay in outside the Park if you’re driving from Las Vegas. Pahrump is about 60 miles or 1 hour from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

In Beatty I suggest staying at the Death Valley Inn or the motel-chain Super 8. It takes about 50 minutes, or 45 miles, from Beatty to Furnace Creek.

In Lone Pine, you can stay at Mt Williamson Motel (a hiker’s favorite), the Best Western Plus Lone Pine, or Quality Inn Lone Pine.

Conclusion

Spending a day in Death Valley National Park presents a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the most extreme, and I think beautiful, landscapes on Earth. From the mesmerizing salt flats at Badwater Basin to the colorful vistas at Zabriskie Point and the eerie quiet of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a day here promises an unforgettable adventure.

Remember to plan ahead, stay hydrated, and leave no trace, ensuring that this treasured landscape endures for generations to come.

Whether you’re seeking solitude, adventure, or just a break from the ordinary, Death Valley’s vast, rugged beauty will not disappoint.

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