Why aren’t there more people talking about Death Valley National Park? Maybe that’s a good thing … keeps it from getting too run down … but Death Valley may be one of my favorite national parks I have ever visited. The landscapes and diversity of the park just blew me away.
Because of how much the park has to offer, you could spend waaaaay more than just a weekend here. I think this covers barely a third of the park. But, this is a good taste of the park – hits some of the highlights – and will leave you wanting more … so you will just need to plan a second trip already. 😉
HOW TO GET THERE?
You will need a car to get to and around Death Valley. At this time there is no public transportation to Death Valley National Park – a car is the only way to explore Death Valley.
If you are flying to Death Valley (and not on a private plane directly to Death Valley), the closest airport is McCarren International Airport (LAS) aka Las Vegas. It is ~2 hours from McCarren to Death Valley.
Your second option is to fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) which is ~4 hours from Death Valley.
At the airport, you will need to rent a car.
If you are lucky, you will arrive in Death Valley in time for sunset at Zabriskie Point. This will give you a taste of what you are in for at Death Valley and will already leave you in aww.
Now … here’s the thing … if you haven’t already checked into your accommodation, then just be prepared that after sunset it will get dark. There are no street lights in the park which is why Death Valley is home to some spectacular night skies. But, that does mean that it will be very dark once you that sun goes down, so prepare for that when trying to find your accommodation.
Where you want to stay is up to you – there are options for camping, a motel style hotel, and a 4 diamond resort all within the park.
Camping has the most options during peak season, but I would suggest Fiddler’s Campground with the Oasis. While the “campground” itself is basically just a big parking lot and not all spots have shade, there is a clean bathroom AND access to the pool at The Ranch where there are nice showers.
That said, all of The Oasis options are all in Furnace Creek, which is a good base for this weekend guide, but there is SO MUCH more to do in Death Valley outside this guide, and you may want a base in one of the other “towns.” There are many campgrounds to choose from.
Yes, we are going back to Zabriskie Point. I truly don’t know what was better – sunset or sunrise. But Zabriskie Point is only 15 minutes away if you are staying at one of the Oasis accommodations which makes a good spot for your sunrise coffee.
After sunrise, we are going to take a drive to Badwater Basin. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, at 282 ft below sea level. This has created an area of beautiful salt flats.
To see the salt flats, you will walk ~a mile from the parking lot. Now, you can see them from the parking lot, but the further away from the parking lot you go, the more intricate the salt lines become (and the less people there tends to be – I found that when I was there, many stayed closer to the parking lot). That said, make sure you always have the parking lot in sight and don’t venture to far out, especially the close to midday you get. The basin gets HOT.
Once you’re done with Badwater Basin, you are going to make your way back to Furnace Creek via Badwater Road via a few scenic stops.
The first stop will be the Natural Bridge hike. This is a 1-mile, O&B hike and while it is classified as “easy,” be warned that the first half of the hike getting to the Natural Bridge is all uphill. Make sure you bring your water – water breaks make sure good moments to catch your breath.
And once you make it to the Natural Bridge, enjoy yourself and know that you did it because getting back to the car is easy peasy and all downhill.
After the Natural Bridge, you are going to make your way to Artists Drive – a 9 mile GORGEOUS, one way, scenic drive. Take you time on this drive. Drive slow and take in the views. The road is one way, so if you miss anything, you have to start the drive over – so just take your time and don’t rush!
About half way through the drive, you’ll arrive at Artist’s Palette. Artist’s Palette got it’s name due to the various colors that dot the hillside like a paint palette. Depending on the time of day and sun, the colors will pop in different ways.
I definitely enjoy staying at one of the Oasis properties because it gives me access to a pool. The Ranch and Fiddler’s Campground have access to the pool at The Ranch, and the Inn at the Oasis has a gorgeous pool at their resort. Both are happy options.
Death Valley gets hot in the middle of the day and I wouldn’t want to be out trying to hike in it. The pool is the best place to be.
As we get into the late afternoon, it is time to put on some music and take a nice drive to Dante’s View for sunset. Dante’s View is a scenic outlook that looks out on the valley and salt flats you were walking around earlier. It is a crazy perspective seeing it from above and below.
From Furnace Creek, Dante’s View is ~an hour away, so you can plan accordingly around sunset.
End your day in style at The Inn Dining Room for a fine dining dinner experience.
You will need to make reservations, and make sure to take into account sunset times and driving back to Furnace Creek, in order to eat here, so plan in advance.
If this doesn’t work out – that is completely ok. The Ranch has a couple of dining options including the saloon or a buffet style dinner. Or, if you are camping, you can cook your own dinner back at that campsite (or better – cook while still at Dante’s View and enjoy dinner at sunset).
End your night relaxing under the stars. The skies in Death Valley are truly beautiful, so make sure to take some time and look up!
This is a unique sunrise spot. It is ~30 minutes from Furnace Creek and is not one of the spots in Death Valley that I found people went to for sunrise. I was the only person there.
Maybe that is why I enjoyed it so much – I found it very peaceful.
Salt Creek is a 0.5 mile, boardwalk loop through the salt marsh in Death Valley and home to rare pupfish habitats. It is also known as a good birding spot and like I said – so peaceful in the quiet mornings.
*You could definitely swap this with Mesquite Sand Dunes – go to the sand dunes for sunrise and the creek afterwards. I don’t think you could go wrong with either.
Our last stop before we head back to Vegas (or LA) is going to be the Mesquite Sand Dunes. Yes, you are going from the salt marsh to large sand dunes in a matter of 15 minutes.
You can hike to the tallest sand dune, which is about 2 miles roundtrip hike, or you can just play around on any of the dunes you want (sand sledding anyone?). Either way, your calves will get a workout climbing through the sand – yes, they will be burning!
When you are done with the Dunes, put on some of your favorite music and get ready for the road trip back to Vegas. From the dunes specifically, it is ~2.5 hours to LAS airport.
PIN ME FOR LATER
This article contains links to outside websites. None of these links are affiliate links