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The Ultimate Weekend in Death Valley National Park

Salt Flats in Death Valley

Death Valley National Park is the hottest place on earth where you can find the lowest elevation in North America. The extreme conditions of the park made for unique natural wonders to explore including the salt flats, badlands, canyons, waterfalls, craters and more. Death Valley National Park is a large park but it is possible to explore the highlights in a weekend. Follow this guide to plan the ultimate weekend in Death Valley National Park.

Best Time To Go to Death Valley

As I previously mentioned Death Valley is the hottest place on earth. Therefore, whatever you do, do not visit in the summer! It will make it a very difficult (miserably hot and dangerous) visit and you won’t be able to hike much. I recommend visiting Death Valley between November and April, when the weather is cooler and nicer to hike in. In October the weather is typically still in the 90s and drops to 80s in November. The weather in the park can vary largely depending on where you are due to the vast difference in elevations. For example, Dante’s View is at 5,475 ft so it is significantly cooler than at Badwater Basin which is 282 ft below sea level.

Death Valley Fees

There is no official kiosk that you are required to pay at to enter the park as there is a major road that goes through it. However, when you do visit attractions in the park you are required to pay the fees. You can do so at self-serve kiosks located in the park or at one of the visitor centers. The cost is $30 per vehicle and it is valid for up to 7 days. Alternatively you can use your America the Beautiful annual national parks pass (Interagency Annual Pass). At the visitor center you can get a map and a card to put in your car when you provide proof of payment.

Where to Stay Near Death Valley

Whether you decide to stay inside or outside the park, I recommend booking your accommodations at least one month ahead of time especially if you are traveling to Death Valley on a weekend during peak season.

Inside the Park

There are three hotels located inside the park which include The Inn at Death Valley, The Ranch at Death Valley, and Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel. The Inn at Death Valley is the most expensive option but it is also the nicest. The benefit of staying inside the park is that you can save a lot of driving time when you are here for two days. The downside with staying inside the park is that it is significantly expensive for the quality of accommodation that you are getting and you have very limited food options which are expensive. If you do decide to stay in the park but want to save some money you could just stay Saturday evening in the park.

Outside the Park

The closest towns to stay outside the park are Beaty and Pahrump. Pahrump is bigger than Beaty and has more restaurant and Airbnb options. In Pahrump you can find many affordable Airbnb options that are a better value than hotels inside the park. Pahrump is about 1 hour away from Furnace Creek Visitor Center and 1.5 hours from Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Beaty is located only 30 minutes from Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes but about an hour from Furnace Creek Area.

What to Pack for a Weekend in Death Valley (Fall-Spring)

Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park
  • Daypack: Bring a backpack for hiking in Death Valley.
  • Water bottle: Don’t forget to bring a reusable water bottle, it will be very hot and dry so you’ll be drinking a lot of water.
  • Light Jacket: It can get cold in the mornings and evenings in Death Valley in the winter and also at the higher elevations like Dante’s View so make sure to bring some layers.
  • Hiking Clothes: This itinerary consists of several hikes so make sure to wear comfortable clothes.
  • Sneakers: You will definitely want to wear sneakers for the hikes. Hiking boots aren’t necessary for the hikes in this Death Valley itinerary, but you can bring them if you prefer.
  • Sunglasses: Make sure you can enjoy the views even when it’s sunny. Don’t forget your sunglasses.
  • Sunscreen: The sun can be very strong in Death Valley and getting burnt isn’t fun.
  • Snacks: There aren’t many food options in the park and the food that is available is expensive. Make sure to bring plenty of high protein snacks with you.
  • Cooler: Bring a cooler to keep your water and food cold in the car.
  • Camera: Death Valley National Park is one of the most picturesque places in the United States. Make sure to bring your camera and charger for endless stunning photos.

Tips for Visiting Death Valley

Ultimate Weekend in Death Valley National Park
  • There are limited bathrooms in the park so plan ahead. You can find bathrooms at Furnace Creek Visitor Center or in Stovepipe Wells Village general store and restaurant.
  • You can get more information and the park map and brochure at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center when showing your paid pass.
  • Death Valley can get over 120 degrees in the summer. Be careful if you decide to hike in the summer and only hike in the early morning with a lot of water.
  • When it is raining or after it has rained avoid hiking in canyons as there is a risk of flash floods.
  • There is no cell phone service in most of the park. Make sure you know your plan before heading into the park and save the locations that you want to see on google maps and download the map beforehand.

Death Valley National Park Weekend Itinerary

Begin your weekend in Death Valley National Park by arriving to your accommodation near the park or inside the park on Friday night. This way you can wake up early Saturday morning to start exploring Death Valley National Park. Click on the map below to open the interactive map with all the highlights of this Death Valley Weekend Itinerary.

Saturday

Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral

Golden Canyon Trail
Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral

Start your weekend in Death Valley National Park by hiking Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral. Golden Canyon Trail is about 3 round trip with 570 ft elevation gain that takes you through a canyon to a viewpoint. The trail starts easy with slight elevation gain through a canyon. As you continue the canyon narrows and have to climb some rocks.

Once you reach the red canyon wall you can take a left and keep going around until you see a narrow steep trail up to a viewpoint. Very carefully continue up this trail to see a breathtaking view of the canyon and the valley beyond. As you make your way back down you will see another trail now on your left which takes you up to another view of the canyon and is also worth the short hike up. This last part of the trail is very narrow, steep, and slippery so make sure to be extra careful.

If you have more time on your way back you can take a left towards Zabriskie Point. This will add about 1.6 miles each way if you go all the way to Zabriskie Point, making your total hike about 6.2 miles round trip. You can access the National Park Service Map of the trail options in this area here.

Artist's Drive and Artist's Pallete

Artists Palette

Artist’s Drive is a one way 9-mile road that takes you through colorful badlands. There are a few spots where you can stop and enjoy the views. The most popular viewpoint is of Artist’s Palette since it has the most diverse colors. You can easily see the viewpoint from the parking lot or you can walk out and hike on these desert hills.

Devil's Golf Course

Devils Golf Course
Devils Golf Course in Death Valley National Park

Devil’s Golf Course is a quick stop down a short dirt road. This large area rock salt that was eroded by wind and water. It is called Devil’s Golf Course since it is said that only the devil could play on such a terrain.

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park
Salt Flats

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 ft below sea level. A short half-mile walk from the parking lot will take you to the edge of the salt flats. The salt flats have unique patterns formed by wind and water and span 200 square miles. Visiting Badwater Basin at sunset will be one of the highlights of your weekend in Death Valley.

Sunday

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park

Visiting Zabriskie Point is one of the best things to do in Death Valley. This beautiful viewpoint of the golden badlands is a great spot for sunrise if you can wake up in time. If you would like to hike more during your weekend in Death Valley National Park you can hike from Zabriskie Point on Badlands Loop which is a 2.7 mile loop through the badlands. 

Dante's View

Dantes View

Dante’s View is a beautiful viewpoint on top of the Black Mountains over 5,000 ft above Death Valley.  The road to Dante’s View is 17 miles off the main road and offers great views throughout the drive. Since it is at a higher elevation it is at least 10 degrees cooler so make sure you have a jacket. There is a short path that you can follow to see more of the salt flats with the Panamint Mountains towering above them.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

A weekend in Death Valley National Park is not complete without a visit to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are the most popular sand dunes in the park and the easiest to reach. The sand dunes extend 14 square miles with the highest dune one mile away from the parking lot. The dunes were created by the eroded sand from the mountains around Death Valley which was carried by wind and continues to accumulate at the bottom of Tucki Mountain. Spend time exploring the sand dunes and taking photos. Unfortunately when we visited there was sand storm and we didn’t get to spend too much time here before the storm started.

Mosaic Canyon Trail

Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley
Mosaic Canyon Trail

Finish your weekend in Death Valley National Park hiking Mosaic Canyon Trail, a unique 4 miles round trip trail with 1,200 ft elevation gain. The first part of the hike is the best taking you through narrow canyon marble walls. As you continue hiking the canyon walls open up and it is a lot wider. You don’t have to do the whole trail, but I definitely recommend doing the beginning. The 2.3 mile road to get here is unpaved but it is easily passable and we had no issue in a low clearance sedan.

If you have more time:

  • Ubehebe Crater: A 600 ft deep crater located about an hour each way from Stovepipe Wells area so it is a bit of a drive. You can hike a 1.5 mile loop around the crater.
  • Desolation Canyon Trail: This trail is located close to Golden Canyon Trail and is 3.6 miles round trip with 600 ft elevation gain.
  • Natural Bridge Trail: This is a short one mile round trip hike to a natural bridge.
  • Darwin Falls: Darwin Falls is located about 50 minutes southwest of Stovepipe Wells area. There is an unpaved road to get here that requires a 4×4 high clearance vehicle. The hike is 2 miles round trip and takes you to a waterfall.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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