Feel like driving through one of the hottest places on the planet? Sure, who wouldn’t?
Death Valley is a place like no other. From the rainbow-colored badlands to the expansive salt flats and looming mountains, this is one unforgettable road trip.
If you’re planning on visiting Death Valley, we’ve planned a 1-day Death Valley driving tour to help you see all the attractions and find the best parking spots in the park.
The Best Time To Visit Death Valley
Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest places on earth, so it’s best to avoid it during the warmest months (between May and September). At this time of year, temperatures soar to around 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius), which can make the tour pretty uncomfortable.
March and April are the best months to visit. Although they’re the busiest, the weather is best, and the Spring wildflowers are in bloom.
Nighttime temperatures are mild, and the park is the perfect place for star gazing, so if you can hang around until after sunset, it’s worth doing.
What To Expect On The Drive
Large areas of Death Valley aren’t accessible unless you’re an experienced backcountry driver with an off-road vehicle.
But don’t worry; there are paved roads from Beatty, NV, to Saline Valley Road, as well as from Las Vegas to Death Valley Junction. These are well-maintained and easy to drive, so our tour will stick to these.
The longest, most popular route starting from Las Vegas is easy to navigate, so you don’t need to stress about getting lost.
There isn’t anywhere to replenish water, food, or fuel along the way, so you’ll need to stock up in advance. There’s also next to no cell phone service, so be prepared to be off-grid while you’re in the park.
The National Park Service regularly updates its website about road closures and conditions in the national parks, so you can check on this before setting off.
How To Plan Your Trip
The longest route through Death Valley starts at Las Vegas. Leave via the I-95 and take the NV-373 south into California. It takes about an hour and a half to reach Death Valley Junction from here, where you can enter the park and start your Death Valley driving tour.
From Death Valley Junction, you’ve got a 100-mile drive through the valley, which takes around two hours without stops. The road follows the CA-190 the entire way, so it’s simple to navigate.
Check out this guide for more tips on places to stay, things to pack, and how to plan your one-day trip to Death Valley.
Gas, Food, and Lodging
You need plenty of water and food in your car to take this road trip. Although it’s easy to complete in a day, you need to plan for emergencies. If you break down, it can take a while for emergency services to reach you, so you’ll want plenty of supplies for the wait.
We recommend having a couple of days’ worth of food and water in your car to be on the safe side. You’ll also want emergency supplies like blankets, a first-aid kit, and flashlights in the trunk.
Gas is available in Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek – it’s expensive, but these are the closest places to fill up before entering the park.
Fees and Passes
A car pass costs $30 and covers up to four adults entering the park in one car. You can pay online before you go, or you can grab a pass at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
Stops On The Tour
If you’re entering the park from the west, this is a full road trip that takes you past all the main attractions of Death Valley National Park.
Father Crowley Vista Point
As you drive toward the park, you’ll start the incredible descent of nearly 4,000 feet. Just as you start to drop, you’ll see the Father Crowley Vista, but keep your eyes peeled – it’s easy to miss. This overlook gives you an incredible view down into the valley, where you’ll see the sand dunes, mountains, and wildflowers (if you’re there in the spring).
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Once you’re inside the national park, your first stop is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. There’s a parking lot just off HWY 190 east of Stovepipe Wells. It’s a short hike to get to the dunes from the parking lot, but it’s worth it to see them up close.
Head toward Furnace Creek and continue on HWY 190 until you reach Zabriskie Point. There are a few hikes in this area, but you can also just admire the view from the viewpoint near the parking lot.
The views here at sunrise and sunset are the most photographed in the entire park. Take a look at the badlands below, carved out by the powerful force of water. The salt flats are also visible in the distance, while the stunning Panamint Mountains form the backdrop.
Devil’s Golf Course
Head down Badwater Road until you get to Salt Pool Road. This is where you get to see the Devil’s Golf Course up close. It’s actually the dry bed of Lake Manly, where huge halite salt crystal formations now live.
The jagged salt spires form such rough terrain that an old guidebook once said, “Only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”
Listen closely, and you’ll hear tiny pops and pings, which are the salt crystals bursting in the heat.
A few miles from the Devil’s Golf Course, down Badwater Road, is Badwater Basin. This is the lowest point in North America, sitting at 282 feet below sea level.
From the viewing platform, you’ll see a pool of spring-fed “bad water”. The salt on the lake bed makes the water unfit for consumption, hence the name.
You can walk out onto the salt flats here if you head east from the parking lot.
Natural Bridge Trail
Head back onto Badwater Road and go north toward Furnace Creek. To the east, you’ll see the dirt road marked Natural Bridge Trail. It’s not suitable for most vehicles, but it’s a nice hiking trail if you want to stretch your legs.
The hike meanders through the forest for about a kilometer before it joins a service road for another half a kilometer to the natural bridge. It’s a short but steep switchback trail to the top of the bridge, but you can’t actually walk across it.
The bridge is a 51-foot cliff of rhyolite rock cut through by Bridge Creek. It’s a wonderful natural site to see, so worth the short hike out and back.
Artist’s Drive and Palette
Another short drive along Badwater Road takes you to a turnoff for Artist’s Drive. It’s a one-way road that can only be taken south to north.
Artist’s Palette is a long stretch of the Black Mountains that is famous for the beautiful range of colors it displays. The natural process of oxidation gives the iron compounds in the rock hues of red, pink, and yellow, while the decomposing mica (silicate minerals) gives off the greens.
Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail
On your way back toward Furnace Creek, you’ll spot a turnoff for Golden Canyon. This isn’t part of the road tour but a good opportunity for hikers who want to walk up to Zabriskie Point.
It’s a six-mile round trip, so make sure you plan plenty of time to do it and get back to your car to finish your tour. You’ll need some decent trail shoes and plenty of water if you are going to take on this hike. But the views are incredible, and it’s a romantic hike to take with a partner.
20 Mule Team Road
The final stop on our Death Valley driving tour is 20 Mule Team Road. This road is iconic in Death Valley National Park, first used in 1883 by mule teams hauling borax 165 miles to the railway in Mojave.
It’s an unpaved road through the colorful badlands. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you might recognize this part of the valley as the landscape around Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Star Wars Episode VI.
After you’re done admiring the view, you can exit the park either east or west using HWY 190.
Avoid Making These Mistakes
It’s easy to forget how dangerous Death Valley actually is, but people have died in the park due to heat exhaustion. Here are a few mistakes to avoid to help you stay safe and have a great trip.
Pack enough water
We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again – you need a few days’ worth of water for a Death Valley road trip. It’s easy to take unused water home with you, but you don’t want to run out and wish you had more.
Keep applying sunscreen
Many people forget about sun protection because they spend a lot of their day inside a car. However, UV rays are still dangerous through car windows, even if they’re fitted with UV-blocking technology. Keep reapplying sunscreen throughout the day and take breaks in the shade if you’re feeling hot.
Don’t get stuck on one-way roads
There are a couple of one-way roads in Death Valley, and it’s irritating driving up to one only to realize you’re at the wrong end. Whichever way you plan on entering the park, map out your entire road trip and check for one-way roads to ensure you plan a nice, smooth loop.
Enjoy Your Death Valley Driving Tour!
A trip to Death Valley requires a little more planning and safety considerations than other national parks, but it’s definitely worth the visit.
There’s no other place like Death Valley on Earth, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a sci-fi movie. Whether you plan on taking hikes or just want a fun one-day road trip, enjoy your death valley driving tour and stay safe out there.
This article originally appeared on The Roam Wild and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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