How to Make the Most of a Death Valley Day-Trip
To go along with its ominous name, Death Valley National Park features a fittingly intimidating climate. As the hottest, driest, and lowest point in North America, the park possesses a stark, yet beautiful landscape full of sand dunes, salt flats, and vast stretches of open terrain that have an almost eerie quality.
Although hotel and camping options exist within the park, many first-time visitors choose to use Las Vegas as their day-trip starting point. Although it’s impossible to see such a vast park in its entirety in one day, it is feasible to see some of the park’s best highlights in a limited amount of time. If you’re wondering where to begin your Death Valley adventure, consider exploring these quintessential spots:
First Stop: Furnace Creek
After your drive into the park, you’ll be ready to refuel and stretch your legs. Grab lunch at the casual Forty-Niner Café, explore the general store, and take a stroll through the nearby Borax Museum. Don’t forget to check out the outdoor portion of the museum, which features historic trains and mining equipment. Golf enthusiasts will want to check out the 18-hole Furnace Creek Golf Course, which sits over 200 feet below sea level, making it the world’s lowest course.
The park’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center is located just down the road and provides an excellent introduction to Death Valley’s unique ecology. If you’re visiting during warm weather, you’ll want to snap a selfie near the digital thermometer located outside.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Death Valley is home to several collections of sand dunes. Perhaps the best known, and most easily accessible, are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which provide visitors with plenty of room to hike, explore, and climb. The sand-covered expanse is dotted with trees, shrubs, and animal tracks. The hike out to the tallest dune is approximately 2 miles round-trip. Although the sand dunes are best enjoyed in the morning, nighttime visitors can join one of the ranger-led star-gazing tours that are often held here.
Officially the lowest point within Death Valley National Park, Badwater Basin is a popular stop for tourists. Explore the salt flats, which form a stark, almost moon-like landscape that stretches out from the boardwalk. Be sure to remember your camera, not only to document the unique landscape, but also to snap a photo with the Badwater Basin elevation sign.
A visit to Death Valley wouldn’t be complete without a stop at one of the park’s scenic overlooks. Two of the best are Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.
Zabriskie Point features sand-colored rock formations that look like they are a backdrop in a science fiction film. Located just five miles from Furnace Creek, the overlook can be a quick stop on your way in or out of the park.
Dante’s View, on the other hand, requires a little more effort. However, it is worth your time. Located at the end of a winding road, 25 miles from Furnace Creek, Dante’s View provides travelers with a dramatic look at Badwater Basin and the mountains that encircle it.