Out of all the national parks in the country, Death Valley is one of the most intriguing to people. They see the beautiful sand dunes but also think, “Isn’t this one of the hottest places in the world?” While that is true, it’s also one of the most underrated national parks, in my opinion, which is why everyone should spend at least two days in Death Valley.
When I first saw pictures of this park, I knew I wanted to visit immediately. I was intrigued to find out not only does it hold the record for the hottest place on earth (at 134°F in 1913!), but it’s also the driest and lowest place in North America. This is the opposite of the Pacific Northwest national parks that I frequent during the year, so I was excited to start planning my Death Valley itinerary here.
You’ll want to know some essential facts before you plan your own trip here, so read on to find out information such as how and when to go to Death Valley, where to stay, and a 2 day Death Valley itinerary that you can copy!
Tips to Plan Your Death Valley Itinerary
Here are a few tips to know before going to Death Valley for 2 days.
- Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Not only is it hot out here, but it’s also insanely dry. In fact, it’s so dry that you don’t feel most of your body sweat becuase it evaporates!
- Plan on having little to no service the entire time. There is very minimal service in the park (I only got 3G at Furnace Creek and only sporadically), so you’ll need to plan on not communicating with others or accessing the Internet. I would download a map of the park in advance to see where you are.
- Fill up your gas before you get into the park. There are gas stations in the park, such as at Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek, but they are expensive. While you’ll likely need to use these stations at some point during your trip, you can save your money by filling up outside the park when possible.
- Always check the NPS website for updates. As with any national park you visit, you should check the official website for any importants alerts such as closures that you might need to know about.
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How to Get to Death Valley
Death Valley is in southern California in the Mojave Desert and not really close to any major cities. The nearest airports are Harry Reid International in Las Vegas (about 2 hours to get to the most eastern part of the park) or LAX in Los Angeles (approximately 3.5 hours to get to the western part).
You can fly into those airports and then rent a car to reach the national park. While sedans can access most parts just fine, I recommend getting a mid-sized SUV from places like Alamo or Enterprise to be a little more comfortable on some of the gravel roads if you decide to go hiking.
Best Time to Visit Death Valley
Death Valley is unique for many reasons, one being that summer is probably the worst time to visit, contrary to most US national parks like Yellowstone. In fact, I saw multiple signs advising tourists not to come during this time.
Summer temperatures start in May and last until late September, and highs can reach up to 120°. Considering most everything you do here is outdoors, I advise against visiting then, as hiking can quickly become dangerous during temperatures like that.
Similar to hotter parks like Zion and White Sands National Park, the best time to visit Death Valley is in the winter if you don’t tolerate the heat well. That way, you can enjoy the outdoors much more, with temperatures around 70°. It’s a great US winter vacation if you’re looking to get away for a few days.
Just know that everyone else wants to visit during this time so you’ll see more people and need to book hotels in advance.
Spring and fall are also ideal times to visit, as temperatures are warmer but bearable. I came in March, and even then, we saw days that were almost 90° by midday, but the temperatures did get down to 40° at night.
Death Valley Packing List
I always include a small packing list for my national park posts, but this is the first time I strongly recommend bringing all of the items below. They’ll make your trip a lot more comfortable.
- CamelBak – You will drink so much water during your trip to Death Valley, so you’ll want a backpack on you at all times to quickly be able to hydrate yourself.
- Wide-brimmed hat – I’m usually a fan of baseball hats when I hike, but a wide-brimmewd hat is necssary here. It’ll cover more of your head and neck while keeping you cooler, both of which are essential. I bought this one just for the trip and was so glad I did.
- Chapstick w/SPF – My lips got insanely dry during my trip here, so I loved this chapstick with SPF 45 to hydrate them and protect them from burning.
- Long-sleeve shirts – I know it might seem odd to wear long sleeves when it’s so hot out, but it’s actually helpful when hiking. You’ll protect yourself from scratches when you go hiking plus this has SPF 50 protection, so I always wear this shirt.
- Extra water – While you can (and should) fill up all your water containers at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, it’s helpful to get a few giant jugs of water to keep with you as well (are you sensing a theme yet of staying hydrated?).
Where to Stay in Death Valley
While choices are limited, you have several options for lodging, including camping and hotels. While you can do a Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip, I recommend taking your time and spending the night here.
Camping in Death Valley
Camping is a popular option due to how warm it is during the year, and it’s a great way to save money. I would just warn that it does get cold at night, so pack appropriately!
There are a few options for camping in Death Valley, and these are the ones I stayed at during my 2 day trip to Death Valley:
- Panamint Springs Campground – I stayed here on my first night and was pleased to see that they had showers, a gas station, a general store, a restaurant, and Wi-Fi (albeit slow and limited). It’s on the west side of the park and you can tent camp, camp with your vehicle with no hookups, or stay on a full hook-up site. You’ll need to reserve your spot in advance.
- Furnace Creek – There are several campsites around Furnace Creek, including Texas Springs and Sunset. These are first-come, first-serve, so you may want to come here early in the day to reserve your spot before going out to explore. Texas Springs is more “outdoorsy” with some trees and more private spots, and also overlooks the valley below. I aimed to stay here on my second night, but it was booked, so I went to Sunset, which I consider “bare bones” (no shower, no vegetation, no fire pits). However, it worked as a place to sleep for the night, as we were off and running early the next morning.
Make sure you have your America the Beautiful Pass! For only one price, you can visit all the national parks over and over throughout the year. I renew mine every year.
Hotels in Death Valley
There are a few hotels to choose from if you prefer a more luxurious stay, but you’ll need to book them well in advance when visiting Death Valley in two days.
- The Inn at Death Valley – This is a beautiful hotel in Furnace Creek to stay at during your Death Valley trip that has three restaurants on-site, a pool, and a spa to enjoy after a day of exploring. (book on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- The Ranch at Death Valley – Also in Furnace Creek, this hotel is in the center of “town” so you can easily walk to the general store, shops, ice cream parlor, and more. (book on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Panamint Springs Motel – The same campsite I mentioned above also has limited motel rooms with family rooms available. (book on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Atomic Inn – This hotel isn’t in Death Valley but in one of the closest towns of Beatty, about 20 minutes northeast of the park. However, it’s a great option if you want to save some money and don’t mind driving in and out of the park each day. (book on Booking.com)
2 Day Death Valley Itinerary
This Death Valley itinerary assumes you’re coming in from Las Vegas, which is the most popular place to start. If you come from California, you can do this backward or add extra time at the beginning of your trip to get to the starting point.
To make the most of your two days in Death Valley, I would leave early in the morning on the first day, meaning you may want to fly into Vegas the night before. You can stay two nights in Death Valley and drive out on the third morning to maximize your time.
I created this Death Valley map to easily see where you’ll be going during your time there. All the day one stops are in blue, while the day two stops are in green.
Day 1: Mosaic Canyon, Darwin Falls, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
You’ll be up early on day one of your Death Valley trip, as you have plenty to see today! I recommend taking US-95 N to enter the park from the northeastern corner if coming from Vegas. You’ll go through the sleepy town of Beatty, which is a great place to grab a coffee and a quick breakfast.
Your first stop is hiking Mosaic Canyon, which is a four-mile hike with about 1,200 feet of elevation gain. Similar to White Sands hikes, I highly recommend going here in the morning to provide shade for a good portion of it so you can enjoy the walk and not worry about getting too hot. Take your time on this to spot the Mosaic Canyon Breccia, which looks beautiful locked in with the stones found in the canyon.
I have a post on Death Valley hikes for more details, but an important thing to note is that rock arrows show you the right way to go. Towards the end of the hike, you’ll have to climb up multiple boulders, and it may be confusing which way to go, so just follow the arrows made of rocks. The very end of the hike is a wall, so you literally can’t go anywhere else.
After your morning hike, you’ll then get a break and enjoy the hour drive north to Ubehebe Crater. This massive volcanic crater measures 600 feet deep and half a mile across and is a unique sight to see during your 2 days in Death Valley.
The crater was formed by a steam explosion thousands of years ago, and you can now explore the area yourself. There’s an observation deck if you prefer to just look at it from above, but you can also take one of the multiple trails to get a closer view. Just note that it gets pretty windy around here, so dress appropriately.
Note – if you didn’t pack a lunch, you could stop in Stovepipe Wells on the way to your next destination. However, I recommend bringing a lunch with you to save time since you only have 2 days in Death Valley National Park.
Did you know that there’s a waterfall in the desert? I didn’t either until I went on this hike that surprised me with a waterfall and plenty of trees. This hike is lovely in the afternoon when it’s still a bit hot, as there’s plenty of shade once you get past the first portion of it.
You’ll follow the trail for about one mile until you reach the waterfall, which is an ideal spot to take a snack break in the shade. There is minimal elevation gain, but you will have some water crossings, so dress appropriately during this portion of seeing Death Valley in 2 days.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
You’ve had a long day of driving, so spend the evening relaxing at some of the most stunning sand dunes in the park. These dunes happened due to sand from the eroding mountains having nowhere else to go and the wind coming in to blow it around.
You’ll also notice various mesquite trees in the area, which reminded me of the unique Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park. If you time your trip right in the spring, you may see them blooming bright yellow.
Check what time sunset is on the day you’re here during your weekend in Death Valley National Park, and make sure to get to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at least half an hour before that time. I saw many people bring a blanket and sit on one of the smaller dunes while they watched the sky change into different colors as the sun went down.
The dunes start right by the parking lot, but I recommend walking the mile out to the large dunes for some amazing photos. Make sure to time this appropriately if you don’t want to be walking back in the dark, as it does take much longer to walk in the sand that you’re constantly sliding in with each step.
Day 2: Golden Canyon, Badwater Basin, Artists Drive, Zabriskie Point
I recommend getting up early again on day two of your Death Valley itinerary to get everything in. You’ll do a combination of hiking and stopping at viewpoints today.
You’ll start your morning with the most popular hike in Death Valley, Golden Canyon. I recommend getting here early to avoid the heat as well as the crowds.
This is a “make your own hike” type of trail, as it’s a mile into the path until you come to a junction that gives you a choice of different routes you can continue on. If the one mile is enough, you can feel free to turn back around. However, many people continue to venture on.
I went onto Red Cathedral, which I highly recommend to anyone okay with a moderately complex trail. There are some tight spaces to fit into and scrambling to do, so I advise wearing pants not to scratch up your legs.
At the end of the trail, a giant red wall will greet you, and you’ll understand why it’s called Red Cathedral. You can climb up onto some viewpoints to have some fantastic views of the area.
Devil’s Golf Course
This area is fun to stop off during your weekend in Death Valley to take pictures of these unique salt fields, as its giant spires of rock salt were eroded by rain and wind. The name comes from being so serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”
You can walk into the salt fields to see them close up, but there are signs warning you to be careful. Supposedly the salt is so sharp that not only can it scratch you up, but it can even break your bones if you fall on it!
You’ve likely seen pictures of this before when researching the park, and it’s worth stopping at during your two days in Death Valley. At 282 feet below sea level, this is the lowest point in North America, and if you look back at the parking lot, you’ll see a sign hanging up on the rocks indicating where sea level is.
The area gets its name from when a surveyor came by with his mule and tried to get it to drink from the water, but it refused due to how salty it was. Thus, the water was deemed “bad water” from then on. You’ll see small pools of water there depending on when the most recent rain was.
The evaporation rate for the area is much higher than the average rainfall per year, so even feet of water that form will get evaporated, leaving behind these salt crystals. You can hike a mile out if you want to see all of this area, which I recommend if you have time during your Death Valley two day itinerary.
Natural Bridge Trail
This hike is another fun one to add to your list if you want to see a unique structure, which is a natural “bridge” formed by the rocks. It’s only a mile roundtrip, so it’s worth it to hike to the bridge, take some pictures, and go to the end if you want, where you’ll see a dry waterfall.
You get a bit of a break from hiking as you drive through the nine-mile stretch known as Artists Drive. Here, you’ll see a variety of colorful rocks formed when volcanic deposits left different compositions. If you can time this drive with golden hour in the evening (the time before sunset), the colors will shine through even more beautifully.
There are various spots to pull off to get out and take pictures. You can also hike through the hills in certain places, which I recommend putting on your Death Valley National Park itinerary for even better photos.
Note – vehicles longer than 25 feet aren’t allowed due to all the tight turns on the road, and this is a one-way road.
Zabriskie Point is a stunning viewpoint that requires a steep 0.2-mile walk up a paved path. If you follow this itinerary for 2 days in Death Valley, you should time it right so you’re here for sunset. These brown and yellow hills were shaped by water back in the day, and the sun’s glow on them makes them even more beautiful.
You can turn this into a hike if you want by doing the 2.5 mile Badlands Loop trail through the mountains. For a really long hike, you can even hike down to Golden Canyon if you haven’t already done that hike on your Death Valley 2 day itinerary. As always, with hikes later in the day, make sure you have adequate time to get back to your car before it gets dark out.
Harmony Borax Works
Harmony Borax Works is where the Furnace Creek area started in the late 1800s when three tons of borax were produced daily. This was then shuttled by mules all over the area until the plant shut down only five years later.
However, this spot was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, so you can now visit its remains. While I found that interesting, even more intriguing is this is one of the best places for stargazing in Death Valley.
When you stop by the visitor’s center, make sure to look at the events and see if any “star parties” are taking place. I previously did one in Joshua Tree National Park and loved it, so I was thrilled to join another one here.
The ranger will point out different constellations in the sky that show that night and give a brief history of the universe. Death Valley is one of the darkest spots in the country and is perfect for spotting meteors and the Milky Way with the naked eye, which is usually hard to do.
I was surprised to see Vegas over the mountains because it’s so bright and even LA somewhat to the other side. This was a really fun way to end our 2 day trip to Death Valley.
Want more California adventures? Head back to Los Angeles to explore the best things to do in Huntington Beach.
If two days in Death Valley doesn’t feel like enough, you can always spread this itinerary out over a few more days or add in more hikes. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with your trip!