Driving through California, something one cannot miss out on is the awe-inspiring Death Valley. But what if you want to check out Death Valley in 1 day only?
While it’s possible to spend several days exploring the region, I want to show travelers on a time crunch how to make the most of their time.
From a 9-point itinerary, crafted to hit all of the main interest points, to the things you need to know, and those you need to bring to visit the famous California desert, here is my ultimate guide to Death Valley.
Want to Visit Death Valley in 1 Day?
Here are the 9 Must-See Attractions of California’s Desert Park
1. Death Valley National Park Information Area – Hells Gate – Devils Cornfield
A good way to enter Death Valley National Park is through the information area located along Daylight Pass Road, at the intersection with Betty Road.
You can use this opportunity to pay the entrance fee ($30 per vehicle), buy a map of the park, and check out Hells Gate.
Entering Death Valley from Hells Gate will immediately guarantee one of the best, most mesmerizing views of the park.
Immediately you’ll be transported to the otherwordly atmosphere of the park, with gorgeous views of the red and orange canyons on both sides of the road.
After about 7 miles on Daylight Pass Rd, you can check out one of the first viewpoints of the park, Devil’s Cornifield, just a couple minutes drive on State Route 190.
Ubehebe Crater is a massive crater of vulcanic origin, around which tower the Cottonwood Mountains. It has a diameter of 0.5 miles and is almost 800 feet deep.
To reach the crater from Devil’s Cornfield, take Scotty’s Castle Road and stay on the road for 34 miles before taking Ubehebe Crater Road.
In about five minutes you’ll reach the Ubehebe Crater parking lot, which is also the trailhead to a short and accessible path leading to the crater.
While this might seem like a slight detour compared to where the rest of the attractions are located, I believe it’s completely worth checking out Ubehebe Crater.
You might think that dunes can be found all over Death Valley, but the sand formations at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a sight to behold and an absolute must-see.
While the sand dunes are not very tall (about 100 feet), they are very diverse in shape with the combination of star-shaped, linear, and crescent dunes creating a truly picture-worthy scenery.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a couple minutes drive from Devil’s Cornfield viewpoint, so you can use this as a perfect second stop on your itinerary if you’ve decided to skip Ubehebe Crater.
Keeping on CA-190 you’ll find the trailhead for Mosaic Canyon Trail west of Stovepipe Wells Village.
To complete the hike you’ll need to walk a moderately difficult 4-mile trail, which can take more than 2 hours.
However, in the spirit of checking out multiple locations of Death Valley in 1 day, I recommend hiking the canyon up until half of the trail and then heading back to the trailhead.
It won’t take much from the experience as there is no clear arrival point of the trail, or main attractions at the end of the hike.
You can just enjoy around 1 hour of hike round-back within the Mosaic Canyon and you’d still be enjoying one of the most gorgeous spots in Death Valley.
5. Darwin Falls
Did you know there is an actual waterfall in the middle of the Death Valley National Park?
While the desert is almost completely barren, Darwin Falls represents a unique feature in the park, and as such it attracts many visitors every day.
The falls are a great way to catch a small break from the heat and enjoy the freshness that comes from proximity to rushing water.
However, it is not allowed to bathe at Darwin Falls, no matter how inviting the pool of water underneath the falls might seem.
It’s a pretty popular spot, although the hike to reach the falls is not the easiest. To reach Darwin Falls, you’ll need to keep on CA-190 for about 30 miles.
Then, a mile after Panamint Springs Resort, you’ll see the exit for Old Toll Road, which will lead you in a few minutes to the Darwin Falls Trailhead.
From Darwin Falls, you might be tempted to check out the famous Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley.
However, it is only reachable through a very long (7+ hours roundtrip) hike, so it does not suit your need to visit Death Valley in 1 day.
For this reason, I found Aguereberry Point, a nearby viewpoint that is reachable by car and guarantees just as beautiful views of the national park.
The vista from Aguereberry Point is truly breathtaking, granting you the opportunity to take in the entire valley on a clear day.
It’s an ideal location for capturing postcard-worthy photos.
One of the most distinctive and iconic attractions in Death Valley, Artists Palette is an absolute must-see.
You can explore Artists Palette by taking the Artists Drive Scenic Loop, which is the park’s most picturesque route.
This well-maintained, approximately 9-mile-long paved road offers an easy and relaxing drive.
As you reach Artists Palette, there’s a good chance the sun will be beginning to dip below the horizon, casting mesmerizing low light and enhancing the already stunning colors of the canyons.
Zabriskie Point is one of the most popular viewpoints in the park and one of the easier to reach as well.
What makes the view at Zabrinsky Point stand out is Manly Beacon, a huge outcrop that stands meters taller than the rest of the badlands.
This magnificent rock formation is shaped like a claw and makes for a great picture opportunity.
To reach Zabriskie Point you’ll need first to retrace your steps from Artists Palette to Furnace Creek Visitors Center (about 10 miles), then take the CA-190 E. In about 5 miles you’ll reach the trailhead of Zabriskie Point.
The path leading to the viewpoint is short, only ¼ mile, and it’s on a paved road, so it is not challenging or demanding at all.
You don’t want to skip this location for two reasons. First, you’d be missing out on a gorgeous view.
Secondly, Zabriskie Point is also the trailhead of the Badlands Loop trail, which leads to the last item on the list, Golden Canyon.
You can easily reach Golden Canyon and the Red Fortress by taking a 2-mile hike that starts at Zabriskie Point, where you can park your car.
The Badlands Loop Trail offers stunning panoramic views and takes you to many of the main attractions in Death Valley National Park. This trail winds through colorful badlands that were once the bottom of an ancient lake.
And moreover, you probably did not know that this area within Death Valley National Park was once the set of none other than the Star Wars movie franchise.
The park occasionally organizes a Star Wars-themed program and guided tour, allowing participants to dress up in the costumes of their favorite characters in a perfect setting.
However, it’s not the shortest hike, so I recommend tackling it only if you’re feeling up to it after a day of exploring the park.
If you want to prioritize the Badlands Loop Trail, you can consider skipping other hikes, like the one to Darwin Falls, in favor of this one.
5 Things To Pack Before Visiting Death Valley in 1 Day
There is no bad weather, only bad equipment. Packing smart can make or break any holiday, or day out of town.
And while some travelers may be more prepared, well-equipped, or organized than others, there are some things you absolutely need to bring to Death Valley.
The heat at Death Valley can be pretty unforgiving, which is why it is absolutely necessary to pack at least 3 liters of water per person when planning a trip to the desert.
Nothing can ruin a nice day in the sun like, the sun itself. You’ll hardly find any shade within Death Valley National Park, which is why you should invest in some good high-level sunscreen before leaving for the park.
3. A map of Death Valley National Park and/or Navigation
Reception in the park can be spotty at times, so I would bring a paper version of the park’s map to have some analogic means of navigation to fall back on.
Be sure to prepare the route you’re going to take beforehand and always let someone know your plans before leaving for Death Valley.
4. Emergency Supplies and a First Aid Kit
Because discovering Death Valley includes a bit of hiking, be sure to carry a basic first aid kit with essential items such as bandages, painkillers, and antiseptic wipes.
I also recommend packing a flashlight and a Swiss army knife just in case.
5. Appropriate Clothing and Footwear
It goes without saying that appropriate clothing is a must when exploring a literal desert.
Breathable clothing, that doesn’t weigh on you and is possibly light in color is the way to go to keep cool during the hottest hours. Some prefer wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect from the sun.
I recommend bringing good hiking shoes and definitely avoiding slippers or open-toed shoes in general.
Discover the Many National Parks In The States
With Fall approaching, this is a great time to start planning your winter holidays. Check out my guide on the best 9 National Parks to visit in winter for some inspiration.