Julie United States 22 Comments

Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the United States. But don’t let its mysterious name and seemingly barren landscape discourage you from planning a trip here. This park is full of wonderful surprises. In this article, get the details on how to plan a Death Valley day trip from Las Vegas.

About this Death Valley Day Trip

This day trip starts and ends in Las Vegas. It’s a big day, with lots of driving and a busy schedule in Death Valley. You will need to get a very early start, in order to maximize how much time you have in the park.

This day trip is perfect if you want a quick taste of Death Valley. You will get to visit the most popular viewpoints, see the Mesquite Sand Dunes, go on several short scenic drives, and walk across the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States.

For this Death Valley day trip, you do not need a 4×4. A standard car is fine for this trip. You will drive on one to two gravel roads but the road conditions are suitable for a standard car.

Road Trip Statistics

Las Vegas to Death Valley

Distance: 110 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours

Total Round Trip Distance: 220 miles
Total Driving Time To/From Las Vegas: 4 hours

Driving in Death Valley National Park

Adding up the distance that you drive in Death Valley, round trip from the pay station, here are the totals.

Total Distance in Death Valley: 140 miles
Driving Time: 3.5 hours

Grand Total

Total Distance:  360 miles
Total Driving Time: 7.5 hours

As I said earlier, it’s a big driving day and you will spend a lot of time in your car. Adding another day to your visit to Death Valley helps to balance out the long drive to and from Las Vegas. If you are curious about what you can do in Death Valley with more time, take a look at our 2 Day Death Valley Itinerary.

Below is a map Death Valley. This map includes driving directions from Las Vegas to Death Valley, as well as a driving route through Death Valley. 

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go and the driving routes). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Death Valley Day Trip from Las Vegas

For this itinerary, all times are approximate, to give you an idea of how to plan your time.

7 am: Drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley

Distance: 110 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours

There are two routes to choose from: NV-160 through Pahrump and Death Valley Junction or US-95 through Indian Springs and Amargosa Valley. I recommend taking NV-160 through Pahrump. Overall, it is a very scenic drive and it is slightly quicker than driving on US-95. Plus, we were told by the local people that there is a huge speed trap on US-95 near Indian Springs.

Pro Travel Tip: In order to maximize your time in Death Valley (especially if you are visiting during the shorter winter days) get an early start. How early? If you leave Las Vegas at 7 am you will arrive in Death Valley at 9 am, which gives you a lot of time in the park today. However, if you don’t mind an earlier start, getting on the road at 6 am gives you an additional hour of daylight.

9 am: Arrive in Death Valley

Once you arrive in Death Valley, the first thing that you will see is the park entrance sign. Take a photo, if you like, and then continue a few more minutes down the road to the pay station.

There is no park ranger booth in Death Valley. You simply park, pay your fee ($30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days) at the automated pay station, put your receipt/ticket on the dashboard of your vehicle, and then continue on your way.

Death Valley Park Sign

9:45 am: Dante’s View

Just past the pay station, turn left on Furnace Creek Wash Road (follow signs towards Dante’s View) and drive 13 miles (about 25 minutes) to Dante’s view. The road gets very curvy with several switchbacks near the very end of the drive.

Enjoy the view from the parking lot and explore the trails that lead off in both directions.

Stretched out in front of you is the heart of Death Valley. Down below is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States. If you look closely, you can see a road running through the valley to Badwater Basin. Later today you will drive that road when you visit the Basin.

Badwater Basin Death Valley Day Trip

Dante Point Death Valley Day Trip

Dantes Point

For Star Wars fans, Dante’s View is the Mos Eisley overlook, featured in Star Wars: A New Hope. Death Valley was used a lot in the filming of Star Wars: A New Hope. Both Twenty Mule Team Canyon and Golden Canyon were featured, and you will visit Twenty Mule Team Canyon next.

For more on Star Wars filming sites in Death Valley, read this post.

10:30 am: Twenty Mule Team Canyon

After Dante’s View, drive back to highway 190 and turn left to continue into the park. Drive 6 miles to the entrance to Twenty Mule Team Canyon. The drive from Dante’s View to Twenty Mule Team Canyon takes about 45 minutes.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon is a one-way road through yellow and white mudstone hills. Borax was mined from this area 100 years ago.

I expected this to be an unexciting waste of time. Boy, was I wrong. The landscape here is gorgeous, in a chalky, desolate sort of way.

Two-thirds of the way through the drive is a small turn-off, just big enough for several cars, that gives you access to very short hiking trails into these hills. Definitely get out and do this. The view from the tops of these hills is amazing.

The drive through Twenty Mule Team Canyon and the short hike takes between 30 and 45 minutes.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon

Death Valley Day Trip Itinerary

12:00 pm: Zabriskie Point

From Twenty Mule Team Canyon it is a five-minute drive to Zabriskie Viewpoint.

Zabriskie Point is another very famous, must-see viewpoint in Death Valley. You know it’s popular when the parking lot is enormous and there is an asphalt trail to the viewpoint. This was the most crowded place we visited in Death Valley.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Parking Lot

Enjoy the view but skip the hikes (you need the time to visit other places in Death Valley today). A visit here takes about 15 minutes.

12:30 pm: Lunch

Since you have such a tight schedule today, I recommend packing a picnic lunch. You can have lunch at Zabriskie Viewpoint or eat it on the drive to Badwater Basin.

There are restaurants in Death Valley, but your options are very limited. You can dine at one of the restaurants at The Oasis in Furnace Creek or you can drive one-hour round trip to Stovepipe Wells.

1 pm: Optional: Devil’s Golf Course

This quick stop is worth it if you want to see the lumpy salt flats that are named the Devil’s Golf Course. If you choose to walk out onto these flats, be careful! These formations are surprisingly sharp and you can be injured. You might want to think twice before letting young kids explore this spot.

We thought that the Devil’s Golf Course was just OK. I think that it is worth skipping this, but since you drive right past it on the way to Badwater Basin, it doesn’t add much time to your day.

Devils Golf Course Death Valley Day Trip

Getting here from Zabriskie Point: Drive past Furnace Creek and turn onto Badwater Road. Drive past West Side Road and then turn right onto the road to  Devil’s Golf Course (there will be a street sign that reads “Devils Golf Course). It’s a short drive on a well-maintained gravel road to the parking lot. This entire drive is 10 miles and takes about 15 minutes.

1:30 pm: Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the United States, sitting 282 feet below sea level. Walk out onto the salt flats and enjoy this unique landscape.

How to Day Trip to Death Valley

Badwater Basin Death Valley

2:30 pm: Artist’s Drive

This is a 9-mile scenic drive through more of Death Valley’s unique landscapes. Artist’s Drive is a one-way road from south to north. To get here from Badwater Basin, drive north on Badwater Road for 5 miles and turn right onto Artist’s Drive.

There are many places to stop to enjoy the view and take a photo, but there are two places that we think are really worth it.

There is an unmarked, unnamed canyon that’s worth a quick visit. It’s located 3.4 miles into Artists Drive (0.9 miles before the Artist’s Palette parking lot). Park at the dip in the road and walk east into the canyon. You can spend 10 to 30 minutes exploring here. To get into the canyon, it can be a slightly challenging climb up the first obstacle, but once you are past this, the rest is easy.

Artist Drive Death Valley Day Trip

Hiking Trail Death Valley Day Trip

The second must-see spot on Artists Drive are the rainbow hills of Artist’s Palette. These pink, aqua, and purple hills are the result of the oxidation of metals in the soil. Park in the parking area if you want a close up look at these hills.

Artist Palette Death Valley Day Trip

3:30 pm: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are one of the most photogenic spots in Death Valley. If you are here with kids, this just may be the highlight for them. We saw many people with sleds, sliding down the steeper dunes. We also saw more young kids here than anywhere else in the park.

Death Valley Sand Dunes

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

To get here from Artist’s Drive, it is a 29-mile drive and it takes 30 minutes.

By the time you finish up at the Mesquite Sand Dunes it will be approaching 5 pm. During the winter months, sunset time ranges from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, depending on the month you visit. If you plan to do this Death Valley day trip in December, consider starting your day at 6 am, so you have enough daylight to visit the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. I also recommend skipping Devil’s Golf Course…these sand dunes are amazing and not to be missed.

With More Time

If you are visiting Death Valley during the spring, summer, or fall months (and have more daylight) or, if you blazed through this itinerary, here are a few more things to add to your Death Valley day trip.

Golden Canyon – Gower Gulch Hike

This is a great little hike through the Badlands of Death Valley. The entire loop hike is 4.4 miles in length and can take between 2 and 3 hours. You will need a several hours of daylight in order to do this entire hike. However, you can shorten it by just hiking through Golden Canyon and returning to your car the same way.

Golden Canyon Death Valley Day Trip

Hike Death Valley

Scotty’s Castle

Scotty’s Castle is a mansion and ranch that has become an attraction in Death Valley. Currently, Scotty’s Castle is closed due to flood damage and it is not expected to reopen until 2022.

Best Time to Visit Death Valley

Springtime is the most popular time to visit Death Valley. If Death Valley received a lot of rainfall during the winter months, wildflowers bloom throughout the park (usually the end of March into early April).

The winter months are another great time to visit Death Valley. Daytime temperatures are very pleasant (65 to 70°F) although it can get cold at night. The National Park website states that the least crowded time to visit Death Valley is between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

We visited Death Valley at the very end of December (December 29, 30, and 31). This is one of the peak times for a visit. During winter break, viewpoints and hiking trails are more crowded than normal, but still don’t even come close to peak season crowds in other parks like Yosemite and Zion.

You can visit Death Valley in the summer months, just be prepared for sweltering heat (temperatures in the 120’s). Skip the hikes and instead drive through the park, getting out to see the viewpoints.

Autumn has warm temperatures and clear skies. As the heat fades, visitors start reappearing.

Death Valley Travel Guide

Practical Information

Don’t Expect to Have Cellular Service in Death Valley

We had no cellular service during our time in Death Valley. Don’t expect to be able to make telephone calls, check your email, or get on social media. Think of a visit to Death Valley as a digital detox.

Before leaving Las Vegas, cache the map of Death Valley on your phone. The GPS will still work, as long as the map is cached on your phone before you arrive here.

This is also one of the few times we recommend having a paper map. We used the National Geographic Topographic Map and it was a lifesaver!!

Fill Your Gas Tank Before Entering Death Valley

Fill up your tank with gas before arriving in Death Valley. Once inside the park, you can get gas at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells (during our visit gas was slightly cheaper at Stovepipe Wells). Remember, if you run out of gas, you won’t be able to use your phone to call for help because there is no cellular service!

Sunrise and Sunset Times

It is very important to know the sunrise and sunset times for this Death Valley day trip, so you know how many daylight hours you will have and when it will get dark.

Click here to get sunrise and sunset times for your day of travel. 

Check Conditions Before You Go

Check for road closures, trail closures, and park closures before you go on the Death Valley National Park website. 

Tours to Death Valley

Finally, here are several small group tours where you can visit Death Valley on a day trip from Las Vegas. 

 


If you have any questions about this Death Valley day trip, let us know in the comment section below.

For More Information on Visiting Death Valley, read these articles:

United States Travel Guide

More Information for Your Trip to Las Vegas:

 

Death Valley Las Vegas Day Trip

 

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Comments 22

  1. Hi! I’m just wondering if we left at 6am and followed your guide, how long you think we would be there?

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      If you do this as a day trip, it will take you a full day. Starting at 6 am, you could finish up around 4 pm, depending on how long you spend at each sight, crowd levels, etc. So you could be back in Las Vegas by 6 pm, making it a 12 hour day. Cheers, Julie

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      Once you are finished at Mesquite Sand Dunes, you can exit the park and drive back to Las Vegas via Route 160, the same way you drove to Death Valley (146 miles, 2 hours 40 minutes) or drive out to Beatty and take US-95 to Las Vegas (149 miles, 2 hours 30 minutes). Cheers, Julie

  2. This is a wonderful description! We are planning to go to Death Valley on 3-31-2021, a day trip and use all the tips you have provided. Thank you very much for taking time to write these details.

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      Yes, you will have the best experience if you stay away from Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells, since there will be a few buildings here with lights. Badwater Basin and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes make a great spot for stargazing. I also read that Harmony Borax Works is a good spot. If you are into photography, you can take a photo of the old train with night sky. Cheers, Julie

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  3. Hi Julie,

    Planning a day trip from Las Vegas, the first week of April. Your itinerary looks perfect, but I was wondering if there is a way to print one off without printing everything from the beautiful blog post? Do you offer these in PDF? Thanks for what you do, very inspiring.

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      Author

      We are working to convert some of these itineraries to PDFs since we get so many requests. But I don’t have one for this post. For now, the best you can do is use the Google browser to save a copy of this post as a PDF. I know that’s it’s a lot of pages but for right now it’s the best way to save a copy to take with you. Have a great time in Death Valley! Cheers, Julie

  4. This was SO helpful. My husband and I literally followed this guide almost exactly just a couple days ago. Let me just say – we would have probably been very lost without it haha. Sadly Dante’s view gate was closed off but we were still able to see everything else we wanted to see.

    Thanks so much!!

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  5. Thanks so much for this guide! I used it for my trip to Death Valley yesterday. I’ve been wanting to see this park for quite some time, a d it absolutely did not disappoint. I’ll be using your guide to King’s Canyon and Sequoia today before heading back towards LA to see Channel Islands..

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  6. Hi, have you ever considered while going from LasVégas to Furnace Creek, going via Shoshone, Ashford Junction and bad water road from the north? Thank you so much for your blog and sharing all this information!

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      Author

      Hello Sylvie. No, we hadn’t considered that. Have you done it? Is is a nice drive? We just wanted to get to Death Valley as fast as possible. 🙂 Cheers, Julie

  7. Just used this as a guide. THANK YOU!!! Went in slightly unprepared but after reading and then following it had the best day in Death Valley and as I sit in the Pahrump McDonald’s I feel very accomplished.

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      Author

      Great!! So glad we could help, and that you had a great trip to Death Valley. Happy travels to wherever you go next. Cheers, Julie

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