Death Valley is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, and for good reason. This desert landscape is home to stunning geological features, unique plants and animals, and a rich history. While it would take more than a day to explore everything Death Valley National Park has to offer, here are five must-see attractions for visitors with limited time.
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Five Things To See in Death Valley in One Day
Where to begin!
This itinerary goes East to West beginning at sunrise at Zabriskie Point and finishing up the day with some fun in the sun at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Beginning on Highway 190 at Zabriskie Point, you will travel West to Badwater Road and head South. The middle three sites on this list are all accessible down Badwater Road and are easy to visit in back-to-back stops. Because parking is limited at Badwater Basin, we recommend driving down to Badwater Basin then stop at Devil’s Golf Course on your way to Artist’s Palette. Artist’s Drive is a one-way road going North, so you will drive that on your way back up to Highway 190 due West to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
1. Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point is a scenic overlook in Death Valley National Park. It is located on the edge of a badland area and offers views of the valley floor and the surrounding mountains. The point is named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, who was a vice president of the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The company owned the land around Zabriskie Point, and Zabriskie was responsible for managing the company’s mining operations in the area. Today, Zabriskie Point is a popular spot for hikers, sightseers exploring Death Valley.
The beauty of Zabriskie Point is second to none and best experienced from the lookout area. From the parking lot, you will walk 0.25 miles up a paved path, it is a bit steep, to the viewpoint. There you will behold the beauty of the golden banded badlands. Get there early to beat the crowds (and the heat!). This is one of the spots recommended to watch the sunrise in Death Valley. As such, we recommend beginning this itinerary at sunrise at Zabriskie Point.
Unfortunately, we did not catch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point. Although we did see a gorgeous Death Valley sunrise. We visited Zabriskie Point on our way into Death Valley, taking in the views before hiking Badlands Loop. It is a gorgeous place and when we visit again, we will watch the sunrise from this area.
Buddy says, “The views were astonishing!”
2. Badwater Basin
No trip to Death Valley would be complete without seeing Badwater Basin. At 282 feet below sea level, this salt flat is the lowest point in North America. From the boardwalk, you will see a sign designating sea level high above you on a rock wall overlooking Badwater Road.
Although you can view the salt flats from the board walk, to see the famous salt polygons you will want to walk about 1.5 miles out onto the flats. The walk is incredible! The salt formations change as you walk about the flat. First, the crystalized salt waves begin small and brown, then the morph into large brown turbulent waves that lead way into calming serene salt polygons.
The views from the heart of the salt flats are truly breathtaking! We were so inspired, we filmed a Movement Postcard at Badwater Basin.
Pro tip: Arrive early! Parking at Badwater Basin is limited and because it is such a popular site, parking does fill up quickly.
We arrived at Badwater Basin at 11am on a Saturday morning and the parking lot was full!! We had to drive around the parking lot and wait in a long line of cars before we found our spot. I highly recommend arriving early.
Buddy says, “I really liked the big salt slabs. They are salty but tasting is optional.”
Yes, Buddy tasted the salt flats to find out that the polygons are indeed made of salt. I do not recommend tasting the scenery!
3. Devil’s Golf Course
Next, drive North on Badwater Basin Road to Devil’s Golf Course.
Devil’s Golf Course is the largest saltpan in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the largest in the world. The pan is composed of alt that has been left behind after evaporating lakes. The salt is incredibly dense, and the surface is covered with razor-sharp crystals. Devil’s Golf Course is a hostile environment, and it is said that only the devil could play golf here.
To access Devil’s Golf Course, you will drive on a short dirt road due west to a dirt parking area. Unlike other dirt roads in Death Valley, the road to Devil’s Golf Course is passable with the average vehicle. Luckily, there is no need for a four wheel drive to access this site!
The landscape of Devil’s Golf Course is incredible! Unlike Badwater Basin, you cannot walk out very far. The ground is uneven, and the salt crystals are jagged and sharp. If you choose to explore, be careful and watch your step. Be extra careful if you are traveling with littles.
We visited Devil’s Golf Course after exploring Badwater Basin. Because there were less visitors in the area, it was easy to find parking. I intended to film a Movement Postcard there, but given how uneven the area is, it was not possible to dance there. Luckily, we filmed a lot of short dance films at Badwater Basin for this week’s Movement Postcard!
Buddy’s tip, “Don’t fall. The ground is very sharp and jagged rock. You do not want to fall!”
I had our first aid kit in the car in case something happened. Luckily, we did not need to use it!
4. Artist’s Palette via Artist’s Drive
Just North of Devil’s Golf Course is Artist’s Drive. Winding through the colorful desert, this short one-way paved scenic 9 mile loop road is a fun drive! There are 3 spots where you can pull over and take in the scenic views. Like other Death Valley roads, Artist’s Drive is windy. Be prepared if you get carsick.
Artist’s Palette is one of the most unique and beautiful natural wonders in Death Valley National Park. The Palette is a hillside composed of colorful rocks and minerals eroded over time by wind and rain. Different minerals in the rocks, including iron, manganese, and chromium, create the unique and beautiful colors.
If you stop at Artist’s Palette and you want to get a view from the top, you will need to climb up the hill. And the climb up to the idea scenic spot is steep. Keep your eyes on littles if they are traveling with you. Also, you will want sturdy hiking shoes for this trek – no sandals or flip flops! I wore my Merrell Women’s Siren Edge Hiker Shoes and they held up nicely. I also have a pair of Merrell Women’s Siren Spork Hiking Shoe, which I equally love.
Given its unique beauty, Artist’s Palette is popular destination. Expect to find a lot of fellow tourists exploring in and around the area. When we visited there were a lot of people with tripods and selfie sticks setting up to get that perfect shot for Instagram. In fact, there was a line to take pictures from the most scenic spot in the area. If photo without other tourists in the pictures are important to you, get there early to beat the crowds!
Buddy says, “Enjoy the colorful rocks. I liked the green and purple rocks the best.”
Make a pit stop at Salt Creek Interpretive Trail on your way to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
5. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Just 2 miles east of the village of Stovepipe Wells are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The sand dunes are huge, and the contrast of the sand against the blue sky is simply stunning. About 100 ft tall, the dunes can be seen in the distance when approaching the area.
While the dunes can be seen from your car, it is best to get out and play in the sand! You can walk out as near or as far from the parking lot as you wish. This is a great place to bring the kids of all ages! Just make sure the sand isn’t too hot for some fun in the sun.
For you hikers out there, there is a 2 mile hike that will lead you through the dunes to the largest peak in the park.
I planned for our visit to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, packing a blue plastic sand sled that we bought years ago at White Sands National Park! We were all set for some family fun after our Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Hike. However, as travel teaches patience and to go with the flow, our plans were altered.
We visited Death Valley National Park during a full moon. When we saw the recommendation in the Visitor Center guide to hike Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes under the light of the full moon, we went for it!
Buddy says, “The sand will go in your shoes, so make sure to clean them out after you are done and before you get in the car. I had a good time there. I recommend going at night!”
For our full moon hike, we used these Black Diamond SpotLite 200 headlamps in a red light setting. This headlamp is one of our favorite items for camping and hiking (and even doing work around the house!). We have been using these for a few years now and they are one of our top recommended items for family camping and night hiking!
What to bring
There is no shade at any of these places in Death Valley. That said, you will want to protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen, a hat, or a light long sleeve coverup. Light colors are recommended. Avoid going out in the afternoon heat and it is worth saying again, bring lots of water and refillable water bottles.
Also get a Passport to your National Parks book so you can collect your stamp at the Visitor’s Center.
One way to stay hydrated is to have a few 2.5-gallon containers of water in the back of the car and a cooler with ice. This way you can refill your water bottles at every stop.
Also, consider packing snacks that won’t melt in the Death Valley heat for sustenance during your one day in Death Valley.
Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.
Have you explored these five sites in Death Valley? If so, let us know in the comments below.
Visiting Death Valley?
Stay in Stovepipe Wells! This is where we stayed during our trip to Death Valley and it was the best fit for our outdoor hiking adventures!
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Doing a moonlight hike?
Get your red headlamps!
Planning a trip to Death Valley? Check out our series about the national park!
- Five Things To See in Death Valley in One Day
- Traveling to Dante’s View in Death Valley? Here’s Everything You Need To Know!
- Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Racetrack Playa in Death Valley
- An Easy Guide to Hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley
- 5 Easy Tips for Badlands Loop Hike in Death Valley
- 6 Tips for Hiking the Unique Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley
- Everything You Need To Know for a Fun Time at Death Valley’s Teakettle Junction