What to do in Death Valley National Park if you only have 1 day
Death Valley is the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the U.S. Its unique desert landscape offers a window into the past
Death Valley is many memorable things.
It’s the hottest, driest and lowest national park, according to the National Park Service.
- Hottest: It’s the hottest place in the world, sometimes reaching 134 degrees.
- Driest: It’s the driest place in the U.S., averaging only two inches of rain per year.
- Lowest: It’s the lowest place in North America, with the lowest spot dropping to 282 feet below sea level at the lowest point.
It’s the largest national park geographically in the continental United States, spanning 3.4 million acres, Financial Times reported.
The geographic landscape is interesting and unique and provides compelling learning experiences surrounding the American desert. It also offers insight into how the Earth was formed so long ago.
You could easily spend more time in the park, but if you have just one day to spend, here’s what we recommend.
Start at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center
The visitor’s center is a great place to start in any national park, but especially in Death Valley. You can pick up a map, check out the history and science of the park and watch the park’s movie to learn more.
I would recommend talking to the park rangers or other guests to get their recommendations for your day, especially because what’s available to see in the park can change, depending on the weather.
There’s a great exhibit explaining how the Timbisha Shoshone people found water and food and survived in the harsh conditions of the region for years.
You can also learn about how the land was formed.
It’s also one of the few places in the park where you can get water and use the bathrooms.
Do Artist’s Drive, hike into Artist’s Palette
This is where you’ll find the iconic colorful landscape you might think of when you picture Death Valley. It’s a quick drive from the visitor’s center, and you can hike into Artist’s Palette. There’s no specified trail — you can just wander through to find a spot you think looks interesting. It could be a 15-minute stop or an hour, depending on how long and far you want to hike and wander.
Hike the Badwater Basin
This region is the lowest area of the park. On one of the badlands, there will be a sign that shows where sea level is before the entrance of the hike, because it will be 282 feet below sea level at that point.
This is a great place to watch the sunset at these salt flats, and the area is significantly warmer than higher elevated parts of the park, so if you’re there in winter, it might feel nice and toasty here.
Watch the sunset or sunrise at Dante’s View
This is the highest point in the park, and Dante’s View offers a 360-degree view of the park that is perfect for sunrise or sunset. At sunrise, the light will be illuminating the world of the Badwater Basin below, so that would be most recommended. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the visitor’s center, and the road that leads to it only really leads to and from Dante’s View — there aren’t really spots to stop at along the way.
There are hikes you can do around there, but it will be more challenging.
Check out the nature scene and the dunes
The landscape is unique with tall peaks, low salt flats and sand dunes that offer a variety of experiences. There’s also a restaurant, ice cream shop and bathrooms near the dunes — the visitor’s center is about 30 minutes in the other direction.
They do call it Death Valley for a reason, with few signs of life or greenery, but this year could see more wildflower blooms than normal, according to The New York Times.
“We expect this year will probably be better than average,” Abby Wines, public affairs officer for the park, told the Times.
Wherever you go and whatever you do in the park, make sure to stay hydrated and pack water and snacks with you. Even in the winter, it can get dry and hot.
Stop at Zabriskie Point for one last look at the park
The hike up is paved and about 400 feet. It is uphill, so it will get your heart rate up, but the views are worth it. There are other hikes around the area if you’re interested, but you do get a great view of the badlands of Death Valley National Park at Zabriskie Point.
Other stops if you have time:
Some roads were closed when I was there, so I didn’t get a chance to see these spots, but I hear good things about them.
- Ubehebe Crater Loop.
- Mosaic Canyon.
- Darwin Falls.
- Scotty’s Castle.
- Rainbow Canyon.
- Natural Bridge.
A previous version of the article stated Death Valley was the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. Laguna del Carbón in Argentina is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at -344 feet.