Our Death Valley National Park travel guide covers how to get there, the best time to visit, must-visit sights, where to stay, what to pack and more!
Straddling eastern California and Nevada, Death Valley National Park is an extreme landscape full of sand dunes, salt flats, deep canyons, rock formations, and breathtaking hikes. Death Valley is also the hottest and driest place in North America, making plant life scarce and the scenery barren.
On my recent trip to Death Valley, I was absolutely blown away by the stunning and various landscapes — this place is truly one-of-a-kind! Here are our best tips for visiting Death Valley National Park!
Death Valley Travel Tips
The Best Time to Visit Death Valley
Wondering when is the best month to visit Death Valley?
Due to the great weather and the possibility of wildflowers dotting the landscape, spring is by far the most popular time to visit Death Valley. If you plan on visiting during this season, book ahead as campgrounds tend to fill up fast.
Fall and winter are also great times to visit Death Valley, as the temperature and crowds both tend to taper off. In the fall, you can expect warm temperatures with generally clear skies, while the winter does tend to bring chillier days, although, we were extremely lucky with the weather during our visit in January.
Note that summer tends to be too hot for most visitors to visit the park and, because of the heat, camping slows down and there are limited programs and guides.
How to Get to Death Valley
The closest airport to Death Valley is Las Vegas McCarran Airport, which is about a 2.5 hour drive away, although driving the 5 hours from Los Angeles is also a popular route.
Know that because there are no shuttle options within the park, you will have to have a car for your stay. Due to the sometimes-precarious conditions of the roads, I’d recommend a high vehicle with four-wheel drive.
Where to Stay in Death Valley
Consisting of both the elegant Inn at Death Valley and more family-centric Ranch at Death Valley, The Oasis is a lush spot in the middle of an otherwise desert landscape. We stayed at The Inn at Death Valley and this four-diamond historic resort was the perfect place to relax at the end of long days exploring the park.
Newly renovated, the property features a gorgeous spring-fed tiled pool, great service, and beautiful rooms. If you have the time, book an extra day just for relaxing around this gorgeous resort. I didn’t want to leave!
I highly recommend booking their B&B package which includes breakfast and all of the breakfast options are delicious. Also, do not leave here without trying their date bread!
If you’re looking for something a little more rustic, camping is also an option inside the park. Popular campgrounds include Furnace Creek Campground, Wildrose Campground, and Mesquite Spring Campground.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Yosemite National Park
Must-Visit Sights in Death Valley
Note that a lot of these sites are open depending on the weather and road conditions. Be sure to check if there are any closures before you head out.
If you’re near Furnace Creek and looking for an awesome panoramic view of the badlands and some great hiking, then head to Zabriskie Point. From the northeast, you’ll have a great view of Manly Beacon, just to the right of that you’ll find the cliffs of Red Cathedral, and to the south you’ll find multi-colored mountains behind Artist’s Palette.
However, not only does this spot have great views and hiking trails, it’s also a prime spot to catch the sunrise. It was only a 6-minute drive from where we stayed at The Oasis — which made it extremely easy for sunrise shots.
Mesquite Sand Dunes
For a surreal landscape, head to the Mesquite Sand Dunes. These 100-foot tall dunes are easily accessible and due to their nature, are ever-changing. I recommend coming here at sunrise or sunset as the changing colors contrasted with the dunes make for great photographs.
A one-way road going from south to north, the 9-mile Artist’s Drive crosses through some of Death Valley’s most famous sites. Not only will this route give you a great view of the salt flats, it will lead you straight towards Artist’s Palette — a sloping mountainside made up of a rainbow of colors.
To get to Artist’s Drive, head about 9 miles south of Furnace Creek on Badwater Road, and look for the turn off.
Lava Tube Trail
A 0.6 mile hike there and back, Lava Tube Trail will have you hiking through a lava field and straight to a lava tube. The tube itself is easily reachable by a ladder, and once inside you’ll find the tube beautifully lit up by holes in the rock ceiling.
Note that to get to the trail you’ll have to drive about 15 miles from the Kelso depot, and then another 5 miles down an unmarked road. The second road is a little sketchy with rocks poking out everywhere, so I’d recommend only taking it if you have a larger vehicle.
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Natural Bridge Canyon
Located on the east side of Death Valley, Natural Bridge Canyon is a naturally formed canyon that can be easily accessed by hiking through the Amargosa Mountain foothills on the Natural Bridge Trail (2.3 miles there and back).
One of the more popular sites in Death Valley, the canyon’s main attractions are a 50-foot-tall bridge created by erosion, interesting stress fractures in the canyon walls, and a dry waterfall.
The lowest point in North America at an elevation of 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin features salt flats that have been left behind by evaporated water due to periodical flooding. The basin is about a 20-minute drive from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
Although this is a very popular spot, the salt flats are about 5 miles long, so if you’re looking for some photos with nobody else in them, just keep walking.
A mansion set right in the middle of an otherwise barren area, Scotty’s Castle is a lavish Spanish-style house built in the 1920’s that’s located on the north end of Death Valley. The mansion pretty much defines grandiosity and features a main house area, a guest area, a huge pool (split up into two sections by a bridge running down the middle), and a large clock tower.
While you can check out the grounds by yourself for free, to enter the mansion you’ll need to go on a tour. You’ll have the option of the Underground Tour (a tour through the basements of the house), the House Tour (the main tour of the property during which you’ll learn all about Scotty and the mansion owners), and the Lower Vine Ranch Hike (which will take you to Scotty’s real house when he wasn’t entertaining guests).
The most popular hike in Death Valley, the Golden Canyon 3-mile loop will give you great views of large canyons, sprawling rocky terrain, and the Red Cathedral — a gorgeous, towering red rock.
Note that at the trailhead, you can choose to either go right or left. Given that it’s a loop, you can choose to go one way and loop back or make it an out and back hike to Red Cathedral.
A viewpoint terrace on the north side of Coffin Peak, Dante’s View rests at 5,475 feet and is known as one of the best viewpoints in Death Valley. The main viewpoint will give you an awesome shot of Badwater Basin below, but if you have time, head out onto one of the nearby trails for some alternate vantage points.
Read more: The Ultimate Packing List for Campers
General Death Valley Travel Tips
Stock up on Supplies
Due to restaurant and grocery options in Death Valley being very limited, I recommend gathering last-minute supplies just outside the park in a town called Baker. In particular, Bear Market is an inexpensive general store that has all the necessities.
Before you get near the park, you’ll definitely want do download some offline maps on your phone as you will likely lose service or it will be intermittent.
Additionally, I highly recommend stopping at the visitor’s center for maps and info, having a paper map in hand is excellent assurance.
Grab a Bite
Right across from Bear Market in Baker is Mad Greek — an authentic Greek food restaurant that is the perfect place to grab some eats before heading into the park. The restaurant is family-owned and has tons of options.
Death Valley Packing Essentials
Water: Death Valley is the driest place in North America, so it’s wise to carry and drink plenty of water. A hydration system like the Camelbak is a good idea, or be sure to keep a few refillable water bottles on hand.