Discover the best itinerary for one day in Death Valley National Park, including stops like Furnace Creek, Badwater Basin, and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Imagine exploring North America’s hottest, driest, lowest, and largest national park — all in one day.
Welcome to Death Valley, a land of extremes and stark beauty, spanning over 3 million acres. While a day in Death Valley barely scratches the surface of this vast wilderness, it’s enough to witness its most iconic sights. From the surreal salt flats of Badwater Basin to the colorful panorama at Zabriskie Point, get ready to embark on an unforgettable 24-hour adventure in one of America’s most unique national parks.
So, let’s dive into this travel guide for Death Valley.
Is one day enough for Death Valley?
One day is definitely enough for Death Valley!
But that doesn’t mean you’ll get to see everything this park has to offer. For example, you’ll see top sights like Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. But because the park is so vast, you won’t have time to reach other top sights that lie further away.
Regardless, if you only have one day to visit Death Valley, then it’s well worth the trip.
And that’s what this itinerary is here for.
Planning your trip to Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park entrance fees
All national parks have an entrance fee, and keeping these parks looking pristine is worth it.
A lot of national parks I’ve visited have toll-style booths where you show or pay for your pass. But Death Valley was a little different. If you’re coming from the east (Las Vegas), head to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center after 8 am. Pay your fee, get your map, and explore!
For Death Valley, it’s:
- Private Vehicle: $30 for a 7-day pass.
- Motorcycle: $25 for a 7-day pass.
- Individual: $15 for a 7-day pass (for those entering by foot, bicycle, etc.).
For the frequent national park explorers out there, consider the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. Priced at $80, this annual pass covers entrance fees at national parks and over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country. It’s a fantastic deal if you’re planning to visit multiple parks within a year.
After all, if you visit three, it’s already paid for itself! Just something to consider.
Best time to visit Death Valley
Visiting Death Valley National Park can be a unique experience, depending on the time of year.
Here are your best bets:
- Spring (March to April): Ideal for mild temperatures and wildflower blooms, but also the busiest.
- Fall (October to November): Comfortable weather for exploring with cooler days and nights.
- Winter (January): The least crowded but a bit colder.
- Summer: Not recommended due to extreme heat over 115°F, limiting outdoor activities.
Where to stay in/around Death Valley
For those planning a visit to Death Valley National Park, there are several great accommodation options both inside and around the park.
Here are some of the best places to stay:
Inside Death Valley National Park
- The Inn at Death Valley: An upscale, historic resort with elegant furnishings, fine dining, and a hot spring-fed pool. It’s located in the park’s heart and provides a convenient base for exploring.
- The Ranch at Death Valley: Recently renovated, this facility has comfortable rooms, cottages, and various dining options, including a beautiful bar and restaurant with an Old West feel.
- Tarantula Ranch Campground: Located along the western edge of the park, it offers a variety of accommodations, a restaurant, and on-site amenities like a gas station and a general store.
- Furnace Creek Campground: Offers RV hookups and is centrally located to many major sights in the park.
- Stovepipe Wells Resort and Panamint Springs Resort: Both provide RV hookups and are not run by the National Park Service.
Outside the Park
- Pahrump, Nevada: This is where I stayed on my visit, and it’s about a 45-minute drive from the park. It has a few different accommodations, including the Holiday Inn Express and Suites and vacation rentals with comfortable furnishings and convenient access to dining and shops.
These options cater to different preferences and budgets, from luxury resorts to more rustic camping experiences, ensuring visitors can find the perfect stay for their Death Valley adventure.
One day in Death Valley itinerary
One day in Death Valley map
Morning: Sunrise at Zabriskie Point
There’s no better way to start your day in Death Valley than getting up before the sun’s up.
Sure, the idea of leaving your warm bed at 4 am isn’t ideal, but it’s worth it once you see the sunrise! And Zabriskie Point is the best place for it.
With a series of undulating hills, then the wide valley and mountains in the distance — you just know it’s going to be an amazing view. Eventually, the first light touches the mountains in the distance, turning them pink as the light creeps down to their base. And finally, it hits the rocks in front of you for one of the coolest sunrises you’ll see in your entire life. Yellows and oranges spread across the area like wildfire, and you can sit back and enjoy it all. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the moment as well.
I recommend adding this hike to your itinerary if you want some early morning exercise. The Golden Canyon trailhead is nearby and gives you the chance to hike through the hills you just watch the sun light up.
And it’s worth it for the views.
My fiancee and I ran the Gower Gulch Loop, which is a nice 4.4-mile trail through the canyon. Plus, you get better views out over the valley in the early morning light, so get there quickly! If you want a one day in Death Valley hike, I’d choose this one.
Mid-morning: Badwater Basin Salt Flats and Artists Drive
The cool thing about Death Valley is that it doesn’t only have the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded…ON EARTH! (134.0°F, if you were wondering)
But it also has the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level) — Badwater Basin. And that’s where you’ll head next.
This huge salt flat is just one part of this park’s unique geology. Badwater Basin is around 200 square miles, making it one of the largest salt flats in the world. If you go at the right time, you’ll catch some water on the basin, which creates a unique mirror effect with the surrounding mountains.
Next, you’ll turn around and head toward Artist’s Drive. This slow-going drive drifts between the multi-hued volcanic and sediment hills, which makes you feel like you may or may not have taken some hallucinogens before starting this part of your day.
But you didn’t. The colors are just that beautiful and the scenery that surreal.
The highlight of the trip is Artist’s Palette — a quick pull-off and hike to get a closer look at the hills…or just a reason to stretch your legs. The drive is around 9 miles and is a nice way to slow down and enjoy the park a bit more.
One thing to note is that the road can get pretty narrow, so it’s not ideal for RVs, trailers, or buses.
Also, if you have time, nearby is Devil’s Golf Course, which is another great (and short) drive
Lunch: Furnace Creek
Midday in Death Valley calls for a well-deserved break at Furnace Creek.
This oasis in the desert is home to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, where you can learn more about the park’s history and environment. The visitor center has no dining options, but some options are nearby.
I’ll be honest, though. They don’t have the best reviews. So dine here at your own risk.
We opted to pack snacks and small lunches in our car beforehand so we had something to snack on at any point. Simple items like trail mix, sandwiches, and beef jerky are what we went with.
Afternoon: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
I’m always amazed when I find towering sand dunes somewhere that isn’t Egypt.
Sure, I know this is an existing bias of mine. And, yes, I know there are sand dunes in plenty of places outside of Egypt. But it doesn’t stop the image from flashing in my head.
And that’s how I feel when I look at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
You cruise along with the rugged mountains and wide valleys stretching out in front of you. Then they disappear, and waves of sand begin stretching as far as you can see. You’d think you entered another country entirely if you hadn’t driven there yourself.
But because they spread so far, you can largely explore the dunes by yourself! Just be aware of the temperature depending on the season, and bring plenty of water. The dunes will remind you quickly that you’re in a desert, and dehydration always lingers.
Pro tip: if you have gaiters or anything to keep the sand out of your shoes, it’s a great choice!
Sunset: Dante’s View
Sitting over 5,000 feet above the valley floor, this spot gives you, arguably, the best view in the entire park.
Here’s the deal: Dante’s View offers a panoramic view of almost the entire valley. From here, you can see both the highest (Mount Whitney) and lowest (Badwater Basin) points in the contiguous United States on a clear day.
And that’s why it’s best for sunset. As the sun dips lower, the sky transforms into a canvas of fiery oranges and pinks, with the valley below bathed in a surreal, soft glow.
You’ll have to double back toward Furnace Creek and Zabriskie Point when coming from Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. And remember to bring layers. It might be Death Valley, but up here, it gets chilly after sunset — even during warmer months.
It’s been an amazing (but long!) day, and a bit of stargazing is the best way to wrap it all up.
Death Valley is a stargazer’s haven, with its status as a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park. Not sure what that means? Basically, it means there’s very little light pollution in the park. That means complete darkness and BRIGHT skies.
I truthfully didn’t believe all the pictures I’d seen of starry skies and people saying you can see it with the naked eye. That is until I experienced it myself while standing in the Grand Canyon, and all I could say was, “Wooooowwwww!”
And Death Valley is no different. My fiancee and I were lucky enough to be in Death Valley during the Geminid meteor shower. On our way to Zabriskie Point for sunrise at about 4 am, she counted at least five shooting stars!
So here are some prime spots to see the stars the best (two of which you’ve already visited on this trip!):
- Harmony Borax Works: Open space with a historical backdrop.
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Expansive skies over undulating sands.
- Badwater Basin: Vast salt flats offering a unique stargazing experience.
Now, there are a few things you can do to make your night under the stars even better:
- Aim for a new moon night for the darkest skies.
- Give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the dark.
- Dress warmly, as the desert gets cool at night.
- Use a red light instead of a flashlight.
Whether you’re laying back on a blanket or setting up a tripod for astrophotography, the night sky in Death Valley is an awe-inspiring sight.
And you shouldn’t finish your trip to Death Valley without taking it in.
Tips for a successful Death Valley Day trip
This trip itinerary isn’t your end all, be all.
Feel free to adjust it to your liking, and have a great time! But, there are a few last tips I want to give you so you have a great time AND stay safe:
- Plan your route: You don’t have to follow this itinerary. But it can help you plan what you do or don’t want to see and maximize your time.
- Check the weather: Death Valley weather can be unpredictable, so come prepared.
- Respect the environment: Stay on designated paths and practice Leave No Trace principles.
- Stay safe: Keep track of Death Valley temperatures, stay hydrated, and bring snacks for the most enjoyable trip.
Ready to travel to Death Valley National Park?
In just one day, you’ve seen the best of Death Valley’s extraordinary contrasts and natural wonders.
From sun-soaked dunes to salt flats that mirror the sky, this brief journey through the park is a testament to nature’s extremes. While a day is short, the memories of Death Valley’s surreal landscapes will linger long after.