Death Valley National Park is located on California, and Nevada state borders in the United States. Death Valley holds the title for driest, hottest, and lowest of all the U.S. national parks. PLUS it’s the largest National Park outside of Alaska. In January 2020, Logan and I spent the perfect weekend in Death Valley National Park. The plan was to see as much as we could in the time we had. The national park was so amazing, we’re already planning our next trip back to explore more of this diverse landscape!
If you only have a day, take a small-group day trip from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park.
The park entrance fee is $25 USD per vehicle per day- I have an annual pass ($80 USD) we used to get in. With over 3 million acres of wilderness, sand dunes, slot canyons, rocky rainbow peaks, and miles of backcountry roads to explore- where do you begin?! We flew into Las Vegas after work the Friday of MLK weekend and rented a car to make the 2-hour drive through the desert into Death Valley.
The Perfect Weekend in Death Valley National Park
How to get to Death Valley National Park
PRO TIP: Make your rental car and camping reservations early. Spend the money on a 4×4 high-clearance vehicle. You’ll need one if you plan to do the backcountry drives- that includes the famous racetrack. It’s 27 miles of HARD road to get there, and the ever-logical Logan deemed our compact car unfit for such conditions… preventing us from seeing the racetrack and other park sites (getting a flat or needing a tow truck in the middle of nowhere sounded not so fun).
Day 1: Death Valley National Park East Side
Stay The Night at Sunset Campground
We spent more time dicking around in Vegas than we anticipated, so we got to the park a little later than planned, meaning we got to drive around in the dark looking for an open site… the campground is first come first serve and there were plenty of spots (it seems we’ve made setting up camp in the dark an unintentional tradition). The campsite didn’t have a fire pit or picnic table but the campground had water and flush toilets (no showers). The sites weren’t very private and it felt like we were in a giant parking lot more than a campground. We set up our tent facing the darkest side and watched the sky light up with stars.
Artists Scenic Loop Drive
This scenic loop drive is 9 miles of paved road that takes you through multi-hued colorful volcanic and sedimentary hills. We had the one-way road to ourselves so we took our time as we drove. As the famous Artist Palette came into view we got out at the pull-off and explored further into the rock formations for a small hike. Our little compact car did fine on the paved road.
artists scenic loop drive
Natural Bridge Hike
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK NATURAL BRIDGE
Natural Bridge Hiking Trail
We did a few hikes during our time at the park, but this by far was our favorite. The road to get here is rough and rocky, we didn’t think our car was going to make it- thank God it did. The out-and-back hike took us a 1-mile round trip from the natural bridge formation- bbbbbut don’t stop there!
We hiked back as far as we could get past the bridge (another mile or so) and the dramatic canyon turned to beautifully colored marble walls glistening around us. You could see the remains of a dried-up waterfall, and how the powerful element carved it’s mark permanently into the earth. It was incredibly pretty, and the tall narrow canyon kept us shaded from the sun.
Bad Water Basin
It was 75 degrees and sunny when we walked a mile out to the salt flats 282 ft below sea level- the lowest point in North America. There was no shade, and in the dead of winter- we were hiking in Death Valley, and for the first time- we felt it. I’ve seen salt flats in Bolivia, and they were miles and miles long.
But these were the first salt flats with water I’d seen, and it was an incredible sight (and another reason I FREAKING LOVE MY TEVAS). I walked out into the salty water expecting the lake I saw before me to get deeper as I walked further out. The water never went above my ankle in-depth and from afar it looked to others as if I was walking on water. It was a magical experience.
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park
If you’re looking for the best spot to catch a sunrise or sunset- this is it. The golden-colored badlands make for an amazing backdrop to nature’s free shows each day. Start your day or end your day here- you won’t be disappointed either way you do it. We missed the point of coming into the park at night, so we made sure we caught it on our way back out!
Day 2: Death Valley National Park North Side
Stay the night at Stone Pipe Wells Campground
We spent our 2nd night in this first come first serve campground that’s only open during the winter season; the campground has tent-only sites everywhere, and a lot of private options; we had a beautiful view outside our tent of the mountains across the desert- there are flush toilets and water, but no fire pits or picnic tables.
Hundreds of years ago, a massive volcanic explosion happened in Death Valley. Magma mixing with an underground spring caused the explosion that created this 600 ft deep crater. As we drove to the trailhead you could see the landscape around us changing from light-colored brown tones to dark volcanic black sand. You can hike the full rim of the crater (around 1.5 miles round trip) but we were short on time, so we hiked to see little Ubehebe crater and enjoyed the views before heading back down.
Death Valley National Park Natural Bridge Hike
This was the hike I was most excited about. The 4-mile trail took us through polished marble narrows and required a bit of rock climbing (scrambling). It was beautiful walking through the labyrinth of smooth rock. The colorful walls changed in color and texture along the hike, making for gorgeous photo opportunities.
We ended our day exploring the west side of the park. As soon as I saw there was a “rainbow canyon” I knew we couldn’t leave without seeing it. The drive takes a couple of hours, so we stocked up on fuel and road trip snacks in Stovepipe Wells Village before heading towards the canyon. The drive to Father Crowley Vista was one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever done. A landscape of dark lava flows and volcanic cinders turns into a rainbow canyon with an explosion of color. As you’re driving through the mountains you can see the colors start to pop the closer you get.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Hike to the largest dune field in the park for another great spot to catch a sunrise or sunset. You can walk as far out into the dunes as you want, the hike to summit the highest is about 2 miles roundtrip. We walked through the sand up and down the dunes until we found the perfect sunset viewing peak, all to ourselves.
Camping in Death Valley National Park
Furnace Creek Campground
We spent our last night in Furnace Creek campground back on the east side of the park (where the only showers in the park were)- it was MLK Day, and the park entry and camping was free for the holiday! We were expecting a huge crowd but we had no issue finding a site on the first come first serve sites. It was our favorite campsite, we had a picnic table, a fire ring, and nobody around us. Of course the night we have furniture the clouds decided to be assholes- we didn’t see one star that night. Instead, we were kept awake by the howling of the locals (aren’t they just adorable?!?).
Hotels inside death valley national park
- The Ranch at Death Valley offers quaint cottages that sleep 2-6 people or classic rooms. The cottages are located inside the national park, with a great view of Zabriskie Point. Tennis courts, a beautiful pool, two bars, golf, and a buffet breakfast are all available at this resort. These cottages are perfect for couples or a group of friends.
- The Inn at Death Valley is a 4-star historic hotel inside the park next to a golf course. This is a great location for an event or a family vacation. For some rest and relaxation, visit the sauna, and indulge in a massage. Enjoy a meal at The Inn Dining Room, the onsite restaurant. A gym, and a pool as well as activities like basketball, volleyball, and horseback riding, are all available at the hotel.
Tips for Visiting Death Valley National Park
- Showers are only available at the privately owned Furnace Creek Resort. It’s $5 per person for a pool pass that gives you access to their pool & showers/locker room. **These are the only showers in the entire park, and if you’re camping and hiking, you will want a shower.**
- You can rent a 4×4 high clearance vehicle by the hour in Furnace Creek from a privately owned company.
- There is 1 restaurant (Stovepipe Wells Village) and a few small grocery stores inside the park (Stovepipe Wells Village & Furnace Creek).
- It is a 2-hour drive to the park from Las Vegas and a 5-hour drive from Los Angeles. The park is located in both California & Nevada.
- Check out my packing guide for what to bring on a national park camping trip!
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Loved Death Valley, it’s cool to see other perspectives and photos from visiting the same place and how different they are. You caught a lot of the colorful rocks in yours, nice!
We loved Death Valley! Your pictures are beautiful! We were with a group so would love to return and do some hiking especially in the Natural Bridge Trail.
The Natural Bridge Hiking Trail looks wonderful. I will make sure to do this once we get a chance to visit Death Valley NP. Also, I didn’t realize that it is the largest National Park outside Alaska.
What a nature lovers hidden gem. The landscape and scenery is so incredible. I’m not much of a camper anymore but think I might be to do this trip. I can only imagine what it must be like to wake up and have that view. At first I was thinking, drive through the Artist scenic road, but realize there is so much more.
This National Park has been on our list and we’ve almost made it happen twice but something always happens and we can’t go. We just have to plan on going during the cool months which is what makes it a bit difficult since going in the summer is unbearable 😅
So I have backpacked and been all around Mt Whitney nearby but I have never been over to Death Valley National Park but what a fun adventure. I actually said WOW out loud when i saw your sunset pic at the Sunset Campground! That was beautiful!
Looks like there is definitely tons to do for 2+ days in Death Valley as long as you are stocked with water and sunscreen! I had no idea that there was a major salt flat there like in salar de uyuni, Bolivia! How cool getting those reflective type pictures.
As an avid hiker and outdoor explorer, I think I would also love just roaming around the Bad Water Basin, checking out the Natural Bridge hike, and just exploring. Very cool that you had a 4 legged visitor when you camped at Furnace Creek!
This area of the US is quite gorgeous. Last year we went to Joshua Tree and had to decide between the two spots. I would love to get there, especially the salt flat with water.
The pictures are beautiful. We missed camping during our trip to Death Valley. Next time will have to plan it to get a complete view.
WOW! The photos are amazing, really makes me want to go. Artist’s Palette looks so beautiful (and I see from a map that it’s not too far off the main road!). I’d also love to see the salt flats – the water has such a smooth, mirror-like finish to it. Great post! I’m bookmarking this because I may be going to DVNP in January!
The Artist’s Palette is a very beautiful scenic road, that’s paved and easily accessible. We visited in January, and the weather was PERFECT. Great time to visit, as you’ll be more likely to see water on the flats.
I live in Cali and have been wanting to go here so bad. I had no idea there were such stunning rock formations here. I always just here about the salt flats. I definitely will need to rent a 4×4 after reading your post. Bookmarking this!!
It’s certainly a hidden gem of the National Parks. YES, definitely do the 4×4 – there are a lot of backcountry trails / roadways that you will need it for if you want to explore those areas. Especially the race track!
Wow, I’d heard of Death Valley before but never realised it was quite this spectacular! The terrain looks other-worldly! Badwater basin looks so surreal – and you’re right, it does look like you’re walking on water!
Thank you! I saw the Bolivia salt flats a few years back, they were dry but still beautiful. So I was very grateful I was able to experience the flats with water on them (mirror pics)!
I can’t wait to get over to the States and start exploring the national parks. Your pictures are stunning. Are there free camping options, or are they all paid camps? In New Zealand, a lot of local councils will offer campers a free place to stay – but then our National Parks are waaayy smaller than yours!
I have heard New Zealand does that!! It sounds incredible, and I can’t wait to visit one day. The camping is not free in our National Parks – however the prices are very low. Primitive (no electric/vault toilets) are < $20 usd and Modern (electric panel on site, water pumps, flush toilets) There are no public showers in any of our National Parks. Death Valley has some available for a $5 usd day pass per person at a cabin resort inside the park they will let you use though.
The United States has such diverse beauty. I didn’t know there was so much in Death Valley. We were to so close a few months ago for a funeral, but didn’t feel like we had the time to add the few hours to our drive from California to Parump, Nevada. Next time.
Our National Parks are all unique, and they all offer just about every landscape on the planet. Did you make any park stops on your way? We flew into Vegas and drove there as it’s a shorter drive than from LA.
I’m looking to do a National parks tour with my family next year permitting that this crisis is over by then. I’ll absolutely be using your guide to Death Valley during our planning! I was a bit down this week, life just feels so weird nowadays. Your post completely cheered me up. It made me inspired to start planning my trip, thank you!
Oh my gosh, thank you so much for that 💜 your comment made MY DAY. I had a hard time with travel/my blog/business the first few weeks of quarantinee too. So much has changed, and so much is still yet to change. I’m eager to see how the future of travel changes.
As a native Cali girl, I can remember many trips passing by or through the park. It has always amused me how people hear Death Valley and don’t think it’s a great place to visit. Your post demystified the park and really brought to light the diversity and beauty of the park. Thanks for sharing.
Wow!! You are very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit that much! I live in Michigan, and the closest national park to us is at least 10-12 hours from us. Thank you for the compliments, I’m so glad you enjoyed my post 🙂
Great post, death valley national park looks epic. I’ve only ever been to San Diego & Los Angeles but I’d love to go explore more of California.
Actually, if you are considering visiting one day – it is a shorter drive from Las Vegas than it is Los Angeles. The park is right along the 2 states borders, so we always fly into Vegas for the Utah/Southern Cali/Nevada parks 😍
This place looks absolutely incredible! I travelled around South America a few years ago, and your pictures look quite a lot like my photos from Bolivia. I am trying to persuade my boyfriend to do a US road trip with me sometime, I think I’ll show him this post!
It is such an amazing park, very very under rated. The name “Death Valley” deters a lot of people I think haha My partner and I are planning to get a tiny home and travel across the US/Canada to all the National Parks 😍keep sending him posts of all the places you want to go and he’ll cave 😂😂 that’s what I do, works like a charm.
Wow! Awesome post! I lived in California for 18 years and we only made a quick stop at this park. Your post makes me want to go back and see all the things we missed. Did you happen to find out what the greens and blues were in the rocks? Is the green copper? Just wondering. It’s so beautiful. Thanks for all the detailed info.
All the different colors in the rocks are different minerals. We had a long weekend to camp & explore, and it STILL wasn’t enough time! We just went back to the Vegas area in February debating if we wanted to do Death Valley again, or explore the Nevada parks. We ended up doing the ones we’d not seen before haha I ALWAYS want to go back and visit places i’ve already been, but it’s hard to decide on limited time if I should do a redo or a new haha
Stunning photos! It definitely makes me want to visit 🙂
Thank you! It was such a great place to practice my photography skills.
I went to Death Valley when I was suuuuper young so I don’t remember any of it. I wanted to add it to my cross-country road trip last year, but it was late August and I figured visiting during milder weather would be a better idea. Your photos are gorgeous!
Yes I do not suggest visiting during the summer months… it is the hottest place in the country and avg temps in summer are 116 f / 47 c we visited in January and the weather was just perfect for hiking/camping.
Death Valley National Park sounds (and looks) awesome! I’ve never looked much into it, so you’ve given me lots of info for future planning. Straight to the Bucket List! I definitely want to see the dried up waterfall. Isn’t it amazing how it’s carved such a dent into the rock face.
The name “Death Valley” doesn’t draw the crowds it should haha so it’s much less crowded than most parks in the US. The waterfall has been dried up for over thousands of years! We were hiking in a giant dried up canyon that it rain into once upon a time ago. So cool, right?!
Beautiful pictures!! This spot is definitely super high on our bucket list! Hoping we can go in the near future!
Thank you! Death Valley doesn’t get a lot of people’s attention because of the name. Which is great! Not as crowded, and feels more secluded as it should while you’re in nature.
Death valley is indeed in one of my goal for the near future, but neither my husband nor I are very much into the camping options…
There is also a lodge in the park! They have cabins/rooms/a pool and THE ONLY SHOWERS in the whole park haha we had to pay for a “pool pass” to be able to use their locker room showers one day. 4 days of camping with no shower is very challenging haha
Death Valley is less than a days drive from where I live and I’ve never been there! Definitely have to make the trip! Thanks for the reminder!
ohhh yes!! You must absolutely take advantage of being so close! We are in Michigan so we have to fly out to Las Vegas and drive a few hours to get there.
I love Death Valley and would love to go back again and explore more. So cool that you saw some wildlife. It’s definitely one of California’s hidden treasures.
I would also love to go back, there is still so much more we wanted to see. The park is huge! It’s definitely a hidden treasure, people are deterred by the “Death Valley” part haha which was great for us, because it wasn’t crowded 🙂
I have read about the Death Valley for decades. All about the native indians and much more, but somehow, from your article what surprised me the most was the salt pans! I had no idea there were there. Thanks for sharing such amazing pictures!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! The salt flats reminded me of the ones in Bolivia, which were dry when I visited. So it was very cool that I saw them covered in water at Death Valley, it completely changes the flats 🙂
This place looks beautiful! Love all your pictures!
Thank you! It was a magical place
Perfect indeed! Thanks for sharing it.
The nature looks so beautiful here! I’d love to travel this country
I visited Death Valley as a day trip last year in 2019 and was totally blown away by the landacapes. I couldn’t believe this place existed in my backyard! Anyways, I really love Artist’s Mountain, but I don’t think you covered it in your post. Definitely worth checking out!
We did stop at Artists mountain lookout, but we unfortunately didn’t get to hike that area due to time 🙁 we also didn’t get to do the race track because we didn’t have the right vehicle. Which means we have to go back now, oh darn 😉
Sounds amazing. We’ve been close although never visited. Perhaps it needs to be on our agenda.
One of my favorite places in the USA and definitely under the radar for a lot of visitors. Your photos are great and it makes me want to go back! Hopefully next year!
Your photos and adventures brought back some great memories of Death Valley. I went as a kid and recall it being a fun place to camp and the scenery is like nowhere else. We even brought my dog and she enjoyed it as much as we did!