3 Days in Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is home to the lowest point in North America, but there is so much more to see. From amazing viewpoints overlooking Badwater Basin to a giant crater to the Mesquite Flat sand dunes, to the eerie landscape of the Racetrack, Death Valley offers a unique landscape that will leave you with new appreciation for the desert.
How to get there
Death Valley National Park is most easily accessed from Las Vegas, NV (about 2 hrs away) and Los Angeles, CA (about 4 hours away).
Where to Stay
Death Valley is remote and your options will be fairly limited. We chose to stay inside the park at the Ranch at Death Valley, which I had to reserve about 6 months in advance. It saved valuable time in the morning when we wanted to get out the door before the temps got too high.
When to go
The best time to visit is Fall through Spring (roughly late October through March/April), with Spring being the busiest time. Summer is considered off-season due to the extremely high daytime temperature, and you won’t find ranger-lead programs during this time. Visitors still come in the summer, but they do most of their sight-seeing from the car or very early in the morning. I visited in late March and the weather was quite pleasant, although already edging on the warm side during the day in the valley.
Death Valley is huge. Without proper planning, you may find yourself driving back and forth a lot. This 3-day itinerary clusters popular sights together to minimize driving time.
Day 1: Drive to Death Valley from Los Angeles; Alabama Hills, Father Crowley Overlook
If you’re coming from Los Angeles, a great little detour on the way to Death Valley is the Alabama Hills, a formation of rounded rocks and eroded hills set against the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada. A short hike through the rocks will lead you to Mobius Arch, which perfectly frames Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous US with an elevation of 14,505 ft (4,421 m).
Continue to the park, which is about an hour east from Alabama Hills.
Make a stop at Father Crawley’s overlook before descending into the valley.
Start the day at Artists’ Drive, which is best seen at sunrise. Follow that up with Badwater Basin, then head to the hills for amazing views of valley from Zabriskie Point and Dante’s view.
The Mesquite Flat sand dunes are a must but are best visited early in the day before it gets hot and before the crowds arrive. The soft light makes for great photos of the dunes! A visit to Ubehebe crater is also a must. The dirt road to the famed Racetrack starts here, but do not attempt on your own unless you have a 4×4 high-clearance vehicle. You don’t want to risk breaking down on this remote road where there is no cell reception. Finish your day with a sunset at Zabriskie Point.
If you do want to visit the Racetrack, set aside on additional day just for that. You can rent a high-cleareance 4×4 at Farabee’s Jeeps inside the park, or book a tour with them.