Las Vegas to Death Valley Day Trip

Death Valley National Park is just a few hours from Las Vegas. While there’s a ton to discover, from slot canyons and moving stones to Star Wars filming locations and extinguished volcanoes, you don’t have enough time for everything. Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska! Here, we’ll outline the perfect route for a Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip, which hits the hottest place on earth.

Death Valley Highlights

The route takes you from Las Vegas to the heart of Death Valley, including:

  • Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America
  • Zabriskie Point
  • Furnace Creek Visitor Center
  • Devil’s Golf Course

Additionally, you can stop at Dante’s View, a short drive from Badwater Basin’s parking lot and easiest to integrate into your trip. 

The drive alone will take about 5 hours. If you leave at 8 AM, you’ll enter the park around 10 AM, and you’ll want to leave around dark, which can be anywhere from 4-6 PM, depending on when you go. That gives you about 6-8 hours to explore the park and still be back in Vegas in time for dinner.  

When to Take Your Las Vegas to Death Valley Day Trip

The best time to go to Death Valley is in the late winter or fall. Death Valley’s spring starts in February. If there’s been plenty of moisture over the winter, whether through rain or snow, visitors in February and March may get to see wildflowers, and sometimes even a superbloom of these flowers, when the valley floor turns gold from petals. 

April already starts to see high temperatures. Avoid visiting in the summer months from June through September. The park’s highest temperatures are in July and August, hitting 130F/54.4C in both 2020 and 2021. While these daytime temperatures are no joke, night brings little relief. October starts to get tolerable. 

Death Valley visitation hits its peak around the holidays. The winter months of December and January are incredibly popular, so plan for parking limitations at Badwater Basin and lots of people at Zabriskie Point. Also, even the desert gets cold in the winter. Convertible pants will be perfect, and bring a sweater or jacket for wind and variable temperatures. Snow gear is usually not necessary.

How to Get There

This Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip route is fully accessible with a standard rental car. You don’t need a Jeep, a 4WD vehicle, or any special features, as this road trip doesn’t include a dirt road at all. While I’m listing this Death Valley day tour via the north first, you can also run it heading south first if you prefer.

Las Vegas To Beatty and Rhyolite

The first section of our Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip is a drive north to Beatty, NV. Whether you’re coming from the Strip or Downtown, head to US 95 North. It will feel like a long drive, as there isn’t much to see on the way except a few brothels. But you’re getting the most boring part out of the way first. Beatty itself is tiny, and the main street is rustic. One highlight is the Death Valley Nut & Candy Co, housed in a modern castle. Gas prices at the castle are relatively high, so maybe hit the Mobil gas station across the street before you leave for the next trip highlight.

Rhyolite

Your first major stop on your one day Death Valley itinerary is the ghost town and art installation at Rhyolite. I wanted to do this first, so it’s not too hot out for you to enjoy. The town popped up in the early 1900s, and was abandoned within 15 years. The ruins of this gold rush town are still there to walk through, and it’s totally worth it. Remnants of a bank and a fully complete house made of beer bottles give a glimpse at turn-of-the-century living. As it’s all outdoors, Along with the historic town, there’s massive pieces of modern art. You’ll see the massive Lego woman before you’ll notice the drab ruins. That piece isn’t the only one, though – a ghostly rendition of the Last Supper is another highlight. The area is great for selfies and will delight Insta-fans and influencers.

Rhyolite to Furnace Creek

From Rhyolite, continue on the 374 to the park entrance. If there’s no pay station or if it’s not working, don’t worry – you can always pay the entrance fee at the ranger station at Furnace Creek. The hour drive passes through an otherworldly landscape. While you’ll have seen plenty of desert on the way, getting into the valley takes it to another level. 

Furnace Creek

Stop in Furnace Creek for a mining museum with turn-of-the-century apparatus, an air-conditioned gift shop, and a restaurant. A massive steam engine is a great photo op for kids and adults alike. Furnace Creek is also home to a hotel and campground with a swimming pool, if you did want to take extra time to spend the night. It’s the best place – and only place! – to get some refreshment before completing the day’s drive. 

Furnace Creek to Badwater Basin

After you’ve stocked up on water and sunscreen for the rest of the trip, head south on Badwater Road with Badwater Basin as your destination. You’ll pass by Golden Canyon and Desolation Canyon trailheads. With this quick visit, you won’t have much time to explore these trails. Then you’ll see the Devil’s Golf Course, notable for the black “tees” dotting the plain. Finally, you’ll see the parking lot for Badwater Basin. 

Badwater Basin: High Point of your Las Vegas to Death Valley Day Trip

The lowest elevation point in the United States, over 200 feet below sea level, is one of the park’s salt flats. It’s also one of the hottest points in the park, so do be careful if you’re going at the edge of summer. It’s a short walk from the boardwalk to the salt flat. When you’ve hit the small clearing, turn around and look east. You’ll see a “SEA LEVEL” sign on the cliff face. Imagine how it might have been back in the days of the dinosaurs, when the area actually was a lake! Take a few photos and enjoy this unique spot. Fun fact: the highest point in the US is Mt Whitney, just about 2 hours away. But the adventure’s not done yet!

Sign at Badwater Basin, the midpoint of your Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip

Badwater to Zabriskie Point

Dante's View is an optional detour on your Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip.

You’ll head back to Furnace Creek, but not exactly the same way you came. If you are pretty good on time, check out the Natural Bridge hike. This mid-grade hike leads you to a bridge carved from the hills by wind, water, and time. The next stop isn’t a stop at all. It’s Artist’s Drive, a one-way road that’s of the most popular spots in the park. This 23-mile scenic drive replaces Badwater Road, giving you excellent views of the colorful hills. You’ll rejoin Badwater Road just before Desolation Canyon, and then return to Furnace Creek. At the junction, turn right onto 190 heading south, towards Zabriskie Point. 

Zabriskie Point to Death Valley Junction

Zabriskie Point is a great place to get an aerial view of the park. If you’re short on time, stop by Zabriskie and go straight to Death Valley junction. If you still have time and desire, take the hour detour to Dante’s View. Dante’s View is directly over Badwater Basin, so you get the best photos there. As it’s a detour, there’s also often fewer people. From there, it’s another half hour to Death Valley Junction, your next stop.

Death Valley Junction

Death Valley Junction would just be a point on the map if it wasn’t for Marta Becket. The multi-talented ballerina/artist/writer passed by the Amargosa Hotel in the 60s and knew even back then, that it was something special. She bought the dilapidated theater and slowly but surely brought it back to life, fixing the roof and the stage, getting new seats, and eventually hand-painting the entire interior. Her one-woman shows drew crowds into the 2000s, and her hard work is still visible today. The attached hotel is rumored to be haunted. The site has drawn so much attention, Peter Lik had a small installation there for a bit. 

Amargosa Opera House interior, a stop on your Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip

Death Valley Junction to Las Vegas

Now we’re in the final stretch. Take Ash Meadows Rd out of Death Valley Junction towards Pahrump, NV. There may be a brothel or two along the way. Pahrump itself is a quick stop to get gas. If you’d rather not get back to the hubbub of Vegas right away, then stop at the winery for a tasting and a snack or dinner. Then it’s over the hump to Vegas itself, about an hour drive.

Las Vegas to Death Valley Day Trip Tips

I have a few tips for you to get the most out of your Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip. 

  1. Gas is cheaper in Nevada than California, and the most expensive gas is inside the park. There is gas at Furnace Creek, but it’s usually $2 per gallon more than outside the park! 
  2. Water. Even in the winter, bring lots of water on your Death Valley day trip. The area is dry year-round, and water is the best option for these long trips.
  3. Connectivity. Be prepared to unplug! We’re so used to being connected 24-7. Death Valley and the surrounding area is one of those rare spots where signal drops out entirely. Even FM radio can be spotty, so download your favorite music or podcasts, or leverage satellite radio. Also, download any maps, or have a paper map. GPS is usually pretty good, and there aren’t a lot of options for roads, but have a backup plan for navigation. This route sketches out the main roads but is not a comprehensive set of directions.
  4. Enjoy! The beauty of the desert doesn’t always hit at first glance. Look at things close up as well as from a distance. Take some time to get not just the first impression, but how the scenery works on you. What details do you see when letting yourself relax and focus?

Once you’ve taken your Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip, let me know how it went! If this is too much driving, then consider Red Rock or Spring Mountain Ranch day trip, which are much closer to Las Vegas.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top