Ready for an extreme weekend? Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park, and is home to the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (282 feet below sea level). It’s also famous for the highest temperature ever recorded in the world (134 degrees). Don’t let this deter you, though- visiting the park in the winter or spring is the perfect weather to explore the area!
PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 0-1
Day 1: Mesquite Sand Dunes, Devils Golf Course, Badwater Basin, Natural Bridge
Day 2: Zabriskie Point, Artist’s Palette, Mosaic Canyon
Death Valley is about 5 hours northeast of Los Angeles. If you plan on driving here after work on Friday evening, I recommend breaking up the drive by stopping for the night at Red Rock Canyon campground, to avoid driving at night on the back roads to Death Valley.
This itinerary is based on driving from Los Angeles Friday night (stopping in Red Rock Canyon campground) and driving to Death Valley early Saturday morning from there, coming back Sunday afternoon.
Where to Stay:
I highly recommend renting a camper van. We rented one from Jucy which worked out perfectly- we slept on the pop-up bed on top of the car, and cooked meals in the kitchen in the trunk! It was a very cool experience to be able to stop on the side of the road with a nice view and cook a nice meal out of the back of the van! The best time to visit Death Valley is in winter months, when the temperatures are mild. If you are camping, make sure you are going during this time to avoid being uncomfortably hot!
There are several first-come/first-served campgrounds in Death Valley. We were there on a holiday weekend and were still able to find a spot at Sunset Campground with no problem ($16/night). If you want to reserve a campground ahead of time, Furnace Creek campground is open to reservations from October 15th-April 15th for $22/night.
If you aren’t the camping type, there actually are a few hotel/resorts located in the park if you are down to pay the price, such as The Oasis at Death Valley.
Day 1:Mesquite Sand Dunes, Devils Golf Course, Badwater Basin, Natural Bridge
The first stop you’ll encounter upon entering the park is Mesquite Sand Dunes. While these aren’t the tallest sand dunes in the park, they are the most accessible and are the largest dune field in Death Valley.
Keep driving on the main park road until you come across signs for “Devil’s Golfcourse”. Make a short stop here- check out this large salt pan and venture out onto the jagged mounds of salt that keep going as far as the eye can see. This place got its name from an old guide book from the ’30’s that noted “only the devil could play golf here”
Continue on the main road until you get to Natural Bridge Canyon on the left side of the road. This 2.3 mile round-trip hike leads to a 50 ft. tall bridge that was formed naturally by erosion from flash floods. This bridge can be seen about 15 minutes into the hike from the parking lot, in case you don’t want to hike the full trail. Even though the trail is short and fairly easy, make sure to bring water, as the air is super hot and dry!
Keep going on the main park road until you get to the last stop of the day- Badwater Basin. This salt flat is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, at 282 ft. below sea level. Stroll along the boardwalk, and go until the boardwalk disappears and you are walking on more of a dirt trail instead, to soak in the views without as many people around!
After Badwater Basin, head back towards the way you came to snag a spot at the first-come-first-served campground for the night (we stayed at Sunset campground).
Day 2:Zabriskie Point, Artist’s Palette, Mosaic Canyon
Head to Zabriskie Point in the morning (try to make it for sunrise if you can!) for a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the badlands of Badwater Basin. You can walk up the short paved trail to the top, but can also explore along the dirt trails to the side, where you can escape the crowds.
Next up- head to Artists Drive for a scenic, 9-mile drive through colorful mountains and canyons. The start of the drive is clearly marked with a sign on the left side of the road, driving towards Badwater Basin. It will take you about 45 minutes, depending on how long you stop along the way. After about 5 miles of the drive, you will reach Artist’s Palette- a naturally multi-colored face of the mountain. There is a small parking lot and a trail where you can get out and walk to through the canyon to check it out! Pictures don’t really do it justice- this is something you need to see in person!
Once you finish the Artist’s Drive, start heading back in the direction of Los Angeles and towards your last stop- Mosaic Canyon. The gravel road to Mosaic Canyon is right across the street from the Stovepipe Wells campground near the entrance to the park. The hike is 4 miles round trip, but there is so much to see even in the first part of the hike in case you don’t want to go the whole way. The trail meanders through smooth canyon walls, making its way into a slot canyon a few minutes into the hike.
After your hike of Mosaic Canyon, start the scenic drive back to LA!
Other Things to Do if You Have Extra Time:
Ubehebe CraterRacetrack Playa (you need 4 wheel drive for this. If you don’t have 4wd, they have Jeeps for rent in the park)Eureka DunesGower Gulch Loop
Things to Note:
The best time to visit Death Valley is in winter months, when temperatures are mild. It get can to over 110 degrees F if you go in the summer! You probably won’t have cell service, so print out a map! There are several signs along the road that make getting around pretty easy as wellDrink lots of water!! Bring layers- it gets cold at nightThe best time to visit is in winter- we went in February, and it was around 70-80 degrees F in the daytimeDrones aren’t allowed in National Parks, but once you exit the park the drive is very scenic and open if you want to get some cool shots