How to Take an Unforgettable Trip to Death Valley National Park

AUTHOR: Connor Ursin with @nationalparktravelers

Tucked away in the Mojave Desert of California is America’s lowest, hottest, and driest National Park.

But don’t let that fool you — Death Valley desert is one of the most unique and beautiful places in all of America.

Death Valley takes the crown as the largest National Park in the lower 48 states. With how vast and unbelievable it is, you’ll feel like you’re stepping onto another planet with each new area you explore.

But this isn’t a park where you show up and wing it without a plan. Phone service is very limited within Death Valley, and WiFi isn’t easy to come by. It’s best to have a general idea of where you’re going and where you plan to stay BEFORE you arrive at the park.

We have everything you need to know preparing for your trip and what to do in Death Valley! Discover where to stay, which hikes are a must, and other important things to know before you hit the road with your camper van rental.

The Best Time to Visit Death Valley National Park

If there’s one thing that likely comes to mind right away when you hear “Death Valley,” it’s how high those temperatures can soar. With temps as high as 134 degrees, you have to be careful about when you go.

The best time to visit Death Valley National Park is from October through April when temperatures are comfortable. Other than these months, Death Valley can be a dangerous place to visit.

Things to Know Before Your Death Valley Trip

To enter Death Valley National Park, you will need to purchase either: 

  • $35, 7-day vehicle pass or
  • $55 annual pass

If you plan on visiting at least three National Parks/National Designated areas within one year, you can purchase an annual America the Beautiful Pass at the entrance station for $80.

The annual pass is well worth it —  the pass covers twelve months of entrance fees into any National Park in the US.

And remember to Leave No Trace when visiting. If you’re not familiar with the principles of leave no trace, here’s a great resource to learn about them before you go. We’re all responsible for leaving these beautiful areas exactly how we found them, and helping preserve the land for future generations ahead of us.

Hikes We Recommend in Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie Point

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: .6 miles
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 10 minutes to the lookout

Zabriskie Point is one of the most famous views in the park. There’s a reason photographers from around the world have this spot on their list — the sunrise over the beautiful badlands, mountains, and salt flats in the distance are breathtaking. You can also walk down the lookout here and take one of the many trails to explore further.

Artists Palette/Artist Drive

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: .5 miles to the lookout but we recommend hiking further in and exploring some
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour

When we first saw pictures of the mountain canyons with colors of blue, pink, and purple we thought for sure this was photoshopped. We were happily proved wrong.

Take the scenic Artist Palette drive down a 9-mile one-way road to end up at the Artist Palette lookout, where we recommend getting out and exploring the colorful area below.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 1.5-2 hours

The Mesquite Sand Dunes are the most accessible ones in the park because they’re located right by Stovepipe Wells village.

You can spend hours exploring here in awe of the glow of the sun on the sand. This is a must-do hike in Death Valley.

Badwater Basin

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1-5 miles depending on how far you want to walk out
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 30 minutes-1 hour

Sitting at the lowest point in North America (-280ft below sea level) Badwater Basin leaves you with miles of salt flats to view in awe. Be sure to stay on the boardwalk at the beginning of the trail because stepping off will damage the delicate area.

Once you make it onto the crystals, try and step only on the flat areas so you don’t damage the borders.

Devil’s Golf Course

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1-2 miles
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour

Devil’s Golf Course is another easier hike, and the sites you’ll see will be well worth the short journey.

Surrounding you are knee-high giant salt crystals that have formed over thousands of years. You can view them from the parking lot or you can venture out and explore closer.

And if you’re quiet enough you can even hear the crystals popping from expanding from the heat.

Natural Bridge

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 45 minutes

If you’re interested in learning more about the geological formations of Death Valley, you definitely should check out the Natural Bridge trail.

Check out the informational panel at the trailhead before you start trekking toward the canyon. You’ll be able to spot all the interesting faults, chutes, and mud droppings along the way.

If you have time, walk beneath the bridge — it’s also a site to see!

Other Great Hikes in Death Valley National Park

It’s easy to spend days on end exploring all of Death Valley National Park. So if you have extra time (and energy), discover more of the area on these trails. Each one offers more scenic views and unique formations to check out:

No matter where your journey across Death Valley takes you, be sure you’re drinking more than you normally would. Even in the cooler months, this place is much dryer than what you’re likely used to back home.

Closest Airports to Death Valley National Park

The closest major airport to Death Valley is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas 130 miles away. It should take you about 2 hours to get there.

The second closest major airport is Los Angeles International Airport at 270 miles away. This will take you around 4 hours (barring any crazy LA traffic!).

Where to Stay When Visiting Death Valley

Death Valley lodging is rather easy to come by. As you do your research, each option provides different amenities, restaurants, and more. Those with pools, spas, and saunas may sound especially appealing after a long day on the trails.

The Ranch at Death Valley

This is an affordable lodging option in the Furnace Creek area. It includes a restaurant, general store, café, pool, golf course, basketball court, tennis court, and a kid’s playground.

The Inn at Death Valley

This is a luxurious lodging option that is centrally located in the Furnace Creek area. It has its own restaurant, pool, exercise room, tennis court, spa, and sauna.

Stovepipe Wells Village

Located 30 minutes west of Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells Village is another fine lodging option and is right by the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It has all the necessities as well as a restaurant, saloon, pool, general store, and campground.

Panamint Springs Resort

Panamint Springs Resort is a 1-hour drive west of Furnace Creek. It’s a particularly exceptional area to stay in for adventures on the western side of the park. It has multiple room/cabin options, a campground, a restaurant, a bar, and a general store.

Campgrounds at Death Valley National Park

Death Valley also has a bunch of campgrounds within the park. Most of these are seasonal (October 15–May 15) due to the brutal summer heat, so always double-check before going:

Staying Outside the Park

This is an option we wouldn’t recommend with how large Death Valley is (and with so many options inside the park).

If all lodging inside is booked, the best nearby city would be Amaris’s Opera House, which is located 30 minutes from Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

Nearby Places to Explore If You Have Extra Time

Death Valley is vast enough to take up your entire trip. But if you’re taking an extended epic adventure, there is much more to see in the region.

  • Alabama Hills
  • Mammoth Lakes
  • Sequoia National Park
  • Kings Canyon National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Valley of Fire State Park

Next on Your List: Zion National Park

The United States is packed with unbelievable National Parks. Each one is fully unique to itself, has an intriguing history, and will always leave you wondering how it’s possible that it exists.

Once you feel like you’ve seen as much of Death Valley as you can, you should head to Zion National Park for a change of scenery. You’ll fall in love with its multi-colored cliffs, sunsets, and spirit of the old west.

As you switch gears, you’ll have some prepping to do as you pack up your camper van and get ready for your next great adventure. Check out our full guide to what you need to know before you go. You know we’ve picked our favorite must-hike trails!

Read our guide to visiting Zion National Park >