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2-Day Death Valley National Park Itinerary: How to Spend a Weekend in Death Valley

Red Cathedral Death Valley Hike

Death Valley National Park is one of the most unique destinations in the United States. In Death Valley you can visit the lowest elevation point in North America as well as the hottest place on earth. The extreme conditions of the park make for unique natural wonders to explore including the salt flats, badlands, canyons, waterfalls, craters and more. Two days in Death Valley National Park is the perfect amount of time to see the highlights of the park. Continue reading this 2-day Death Valley National Park itinerary to plan a memorable weekend exploring this fascinating destination.

2-Day Death Valley Itinerary: Contents

The Best Time To Visit Death Valley

The best time to visit Death Valley National Park is between November and April when the weather is cooler and comfortable to hike in. Do not visit Death Valley in the summer! This is a dangerous time to visit the park as temperatures can get as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. You won’t be able to hike in the summer which means you will miss some of the best things to do in Death Valley.

Keep in mind that 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 Badwater Basin which is 282 ft below sea level.

Death Valley Fees

There is no official kiosk at the entrances to 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. At the visitor center you can get a map as well as a card to place on your windshield to provide proof of payment. 

Alternatively, you can use an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass which you can purchase online ahead of time. This pass gives you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks and national monuments. At $80, it is worth purchasing if you plan to visit a few national parks in the next year.

Where to Stay Near Death Valley National Park

Dantes View with Lake Manly Death Valley

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 expensive for the quality of the accommodation that you are getting and you have limited food options at the hotels. Experience staying at one of the hotels in the park without spending too much money by booking a stay for just one night.

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 and about an hour from Furnace Creek Area.

We have stayed in two Airbnbs in Pahrump on our visits to Death Valley National Park. Most recently we stayed in this Guest Suite which is a great value and is conveniently located 3 miles from the road that leads to Death Valley National Park. It was one of the cleanest and most comfortable Airbnbs we have stayed at and the price was unbelievable. If you are looking for more space, I recommend this guesthouse which we stayed at on our previous visit to Death Valley. It is a comfortable stay with a kitchen and it even has a Koi Fish Pond next to the outdoor cabana.

How to Get to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is in a very remote location in California near the border with Nevada. The top sights in the park are located in Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells areas of the park. If you are not within driving distance of Death Valley National Park the closest airport with commercial flights is in Las Vegas (LAS). You can start planning your weekend in Death Valley National Park by searching for flights on Skyscanner.

Death Valley National Park is the largest park in the lower 48, covering over 3.4 million acres. The best way to explore the park is by renting a car to road trip through the park. Book your rental car in advance on Discover Cars which compares rates across rental car companies to find you the best deal.

Book a Tour from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie Point Death Valley

If you are staying in Las Vegas and don’t plan on renting a car, you can book a small-group tour to Death Valley National Park. This Death Valley Small-Group Day Adventure from Las Vegas is the best way to visit the park without having to rent a car. This day trip takes you to most of the top destinations in Death Valley National Park including Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Artist’s Pallete, and Dante’s View.

If you want to make sure you see the sunset in the park and have time to stargaze, I recommend booking this Death Valley Sunset & Starry Night Tour from Las Vegas. Watching the sunset at Zabriskie Point is an extraordinary experience making this tour worth the cost.

What to Pack for a 2 Days in Death Valley

Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park
  • Daypack: Bring a backpack to carry your water and camera while exploring Death Valley National Park. This REI backpack is a great bag to use for shorter hikes.
  • Water bottle: Make sure to bring a water bottle that you can refill. This Stanley water bottle is perfect for Death Valley as it stays cold for 12 hours.
  • Jacket: In the winter it can get cold in the mornings and evenings in Death Valley so make sure to bring a jacket. It is also colder at higher elevations in the park such as Dante’s view.
  • Hiking Clothes: This itinerary consists of several hikes so make sure to wear comfortable clothes.
  • Cooler with lunch and snacks: Death Valley National Park has limited food options so make sure to bring lunch and snacks with you. Don’t forget to bring a cooler for your food. This Stanley cooler is our go-to for road trips.
  • Camera: Death Valley National Park is one of the most picturesque places in the United States so you’ll want to bring your camera. I use the Sony A7RIII mirrorless camera with the Tamron 28-75 mm lens.

Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Death Valley

Ultimate Weekend in Death Valley National Park
  • There are limited bathrooms in the park. You can find bathrooms at Furnace Creek Visitor Center or in Stovepipe Wells Village general store and restaurant.
  • To get the official national park map and brochure you will need to stop at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and show your pass.
  • In the summer Death Valley National Park can get over 120 degrees which is dangerous to hike in. Opt for visiting Death Valley during the cooler seasons when you can explore more of the park safely.
  • When it is raining or after it recently 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.

2-Day Death Valley National Park Itinerary

Click on the map below to open the interactive map with all the highlights of this Death Valley Weekend Itinerary.

Death Valley Weekend Itinerary: Day 1

Golden Canyon Trail to Red Cathedral

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 miles round trip with 570 ft elevation gain that guides you through a canyon to a viewpoint of the badlands. The trail begins with slight elevation gain through a canyon. As you continue the canyon narrows and you will have to climb up 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 badlands and the valley beyond. As you make your way back down you will see another trail 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 Pallete Death Valley

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 on this drive is called Artist’s Palette. You can see the viewpoint from the parking lot or you can walk out and hike on these desert hills. Artist’s Pallete is a must-see during your 2 days in Death Valley National Park.

Devil's Golf Course

Devils Golf Course
Devil's Golfcourse Death Valley

Devil’s Golf Course is a quick stop down a short dirt road. This unique landscape was formed after salt lakes deposited salts which were then eroded by wind and water, forming jagged spires. 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
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 was one of the highlights of our weekend in Death Valley.

Lake Manly at Badwater Basin Death Valley

In August 2023 Hurricane Hillary brought rain to Death Valley that led to the accumulation of water on Badwater Basin. This formed a temporary lake where Lake Manly used to be 10,000 years ago. The lake continues to evaporate, but as of February 2024 there is still a shallow lake a number of inches deep. With the lake you get to experience Badwater Basin in a unique way, and although you won’t see the salt polygons you will enjoy the reflection of the surrounding mountains. 

Tip: The best way to explore Badwater Basin when there is water covering the salt flats is with rain boots. I ordered these rain boots before our latest visit to Death Valley and they allowed me to explore further without worrying about ruining any shoes. You won’t want to walk barefoot because the salt can be sharp and the water can be cold.

Death Valley Weekend Itinerary: Day 2

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

A short walk from the parking lot leads you to Zabriskie Point, a viewpoint of the colorful badlands. Here you can find one of the top hikes in the park, a 2.7-mile loop down into the badlands from Zabriskie Point. We visited Zabriskie Point different times of the day and being there at sunset was by far the most beautiful. You could adjust your itinerary to try to be here during sunset, but it is also the best time to see most places in the park.

Zabriskie Point Death Valley National park

Dante's View

Dantes View
Dantes View Death Valley National Park

Dante’s View is a viewpoint on top of the Black Mountains over 5,000 ft above the salt flats.  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.

The landscape of Death Valley National Park is constantly changing. In the first photo you can see the view of Badwater Basin salt flats dry. On the bottom you can see Badwater Basin covered by Lake Manly, created by the heavy rain and flooding from Hurricane Hillary in August 2023.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Death Valley
Death Valley Sand Dunes
Death Valley National Park 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. The best time to visit is early morning or late afternoon when there are shadows.

Mosaic Canyon Trail

Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley

Finish your weekend in Death Valley National Park hiking Mosaic Canyon Trail, a unique 4 mile 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 the trail becomes wider. You don’t have to do the whole trail, but I definitely recommend experiencing it by hiking 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.

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If You Have More Time...

Two days it the perfect amount of time to see the highlights of Death Valley National Park, but if you have more time there are more unique sights to explore.

  • Ubehebe Crater: The 600 ft deep crater is 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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Reut and Zack Elopement-5

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