This world we live in is jam-packed of National Parks, all unique for the ecosystems and geological masterpieces found there, but there’s one park nestled on the California and Nevada line that is so unique, it even breaks world records.
Death Valley National Park takes up 3.2 million acres of desolate primitiveness that holds secrets to geological processes dating back millions of years, making it a top bucket list destination for travelers around the globe. I had the opportunity to explore around the area a few weeks ago and it’s safe to say this place slid into my top favorites for adventures.
Here’s a 2 Day Adventure in Death Valley National Park:
Most people who visit Death Valley fly into Las Vegas, taking a group tour by bus or renting a car for the 2 hour drive. We came from the Bay area down to Death Valley, taking around 8 1/2 hours.
I definitely recommend spending more than one day in Death Valley to see everything it has to offer!
Since Death Valley’s so big, it’s better to stay within the park or just on the outskirts. Accommodation in this area is pretty scarce so there are only a few options for lodging.
∗ Staying in the Park: Camping is available at various campgrounds, some primitive and some located near visitor centers. There are also 2 resorts in Furnace Creek and lodging in Stovepipe Wells but those will cost you no less than $200 a night.
∗ Staying on the Outskirts: The cheapest option for lodging is in Nevada near Amargosa Valley or Beatty. If you’re looking for something a little more established, Beatty has a couple of fast food restaurants and a bigger variety of lodging options.
We stayed in Amargosa Valley at the Longstreet Inn & Casino. The location was perfect in that it allowed us to make it into the park within 15 minutes but it is in a primitive area so the only food option is within the hotel itself. The entire hotel is in complete 90s Old Vegas style and it has a variety of slots and other computer gambling and a bar to keep you occupied on your evenings.
→ We’ll be using the Longstreet Inn & Casino as our starting point both days for exploring the park
Are you ready to explore Death Valley?!
→ Head 45 minutes south to Salsberry Pass via CA 178.
Salsberry Pass is one of the most scenic entrances into the park as the road descends down into the valley, making it a perfect place to watch the sunrise.
Hands down, the coolest hike we did in Death Valley was Sidewinder Canyon, a 4 mile trek through narrow slots. Prepare to scramble, crouch, crawl and climb your way through gorgeous winding rock walls that shapely tell the story of the flash floods that have been splashing through here for millions of years. At some points, the walls enclose so tightly that only little peeks of sunlight can come through.
Read More: Hiking Sidewinder Canyon in Death Valley
→ Drive the 25 minutes north on CA 178 to…
Badwater Basin holds a great deal of significance to Death Valley.
10,000 to 12,000 years ago, this area was covered in a lake 100 miles long and 600 feet deep. During that time, the environment transformed into a desert, evaporating all of the water to expose its floor at 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America. The only evidence of a lake being here are the minerals, salt and borax that were left behind and dried into the most stunning patterns of this place that maintains the record for the hottest temperature on earth.
Devil’s Golf Course
Northwest of Badwater Basin, about 2 minutes up the road, is the extremely unique Devil’s Golf Course. The salt deposits of this once-lakebed were left behind, transforming into crystallized formations caused by millions of years of rain and wind. Some of the salt formations are so fragile that you can hear them cracking in the heat on a summer day.
This one-way 9 mile road from south to north winds you through elevated colorful mountains with magnificent views of Death Valley. Multiple pull offs exist here so take your time to stop and adventure around the landscape!
I loved walking through and seeing multiple millenias-worth of damage done to the scenery. Ancient stream beds and dry waterfalls are asking to be explored and, with the rise in elevation, you can see some gorgeous views of the valley below.
One of the most distinct areas of Death Valley is the incredible Artists Palette. This colorful mountain range is the result of a 5 million year old geological process: repeated volcanic eruptions spewed ash and minerals onto the landscape and, over time, heat and water chemically altered those minerals, turning them into a rainbow mountain full of red hematite, green chlorite, iron, aluminum, magnesium and titanium.
The most incredible part of the Artists Palette is the purple gravel. As we were hiking through to get to the colored mountains, we literally could not believe our eyes as when the ground gradually turned purple!
I still haven’t quite figured out how this place is even real.
About another 5 minutes north on the road will bring you to a parking lot at Golden Canyon. Three different trailheads begin here but the route we took was the Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral path which is about a 3 mile out and back trip.
This hike is one of a kind as you trek between starkly-colored canyon walls shaped so beautifully by millenniums of water flow.
After about a mile and half of walking through the Golden Canyon, the pathway comes to a “Y”. Take the left side, scrambling over and under ledges and overhangs.
This one in particular was my favorite, the kissing rocks!
After about a half mile, climb up onto the level that completely opens up into the vividly stunning Red Cathedral.
The best part of the Red Cathedral can be found on a steep incline at the back of the wall. Climb up here to the left to get to the most spectacular views of the day.
If you’re looking to hike the Badlands Loop, Gower Gulch Loops or Full Circuit, click here for more info.
By this time, the sun should be setting so snag a good spot to watch the nightfall and head on back to the hotel for some relaxing before getting an early start on the day tomorrow!
We’re going to enter the park from CA 190 today, taking about an hour to get to our first location from the hotel.
Get up extra early to make it to Dante’s View for the sunrise. To get here, take CA 190 into the park, taking a left at the Dante’s View signs on the Furnace Creek Wash Road.
Located 5600 feet above Badwater Basin, Dante’s View provides the best panoramic views of Death Valley.
Twenty Mule Teams Canyon
This one way road running west to east is an area is so significant to the old west. The Harmony Borax Company used twenty mule teams to haul their wagons of borax from here to the railroad near the Mojave desert, a 10 day 165 mile trip.
A famous viewpoint in Death Valley, Zabriskie Point overlooks the back portion of Artists Palette, displaying rolling hills of gold and red badlands. A couple of trailheads exist here and you’re actually able to hike to the Red Cathedral starting at the bottom of Zabriskie.
This is also a popular area to watch the sunrise or sunset so plan accordingly to get here during that time!
→ Head northwest on CA 190 through Furnace Creek, stopping by Mustard Canyon and the Harmony Borax Works. Take the Beatty Cutoff road to T into CA 374, taking a right for about 22 miles until you see signs for…
Rhyolite Ghost Town
While it’s not within the limits of Death Valley, the Rhyolite Ghost Town is a must stop! In the early 1900s, 2 men discovered quartz on the mountains here so they developed a town of which the population soared to nearly 5000. Mills, a school, banks, hotels, a train station and even a red light district sprung up in Rhyolite.
The town bustled until the financial panic of 1907 took its toll and within 10 years it was abandoned. The old train depot is one of the only buildings still standing today.
Goldwell Open Air Museum
Probably the most bizarre thing you’ll see all year! This place had some pretty unique pieces of art that artists began bringing here in the early 1990s.
→ Head back southwest on CA 374 for a couple of miles to reach the entrance to…
Titus Canyon Road
By far, my absolute favorite part of our trip to Death Valley was this trek down Titus Canyon Road.
Rated as “America’s most beautiful backcountry road,” is a 27 mile gravel (more like large rocks) narrow one-way road that’s been traveled since the early 1920s. Getting through Titus Canyon takes no less than 3 hours and must be done with the appropriate vehicle– I definitely wouldn’t recommend driving it in a car!
In this primitive area in the middle of nowhere is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve been. Back in the canyon, old Native American symbols are etched into the side of boulders and the desert cacti tipped with pink spines pricking out the top begin to take hold to the landscape.
The beginning of the trek leads you through colorful mountains rich in different minerals but the end of Titus Canyon Road is where it really earns its name. The narrows that stretch for 1.5 miles through limestone walls 500 feet high give the canyon a beautiful shape only wide enough to fit a car.
Leadfield Ghost Town
About halfway down the Titus Canyon Road is the remnants of the reason why the road was built: it was used as a route to Leadfield, a town where over 300 investors came to strike it rich on mining. Not even a year after establishment it shut down, leaving behind an eery ghost town that sits on the mountainside.
→ After coming to the end of Titus Canyon, take a left at the T on Scotty’s Castle Road. Once you come up to the T at CA 190, take a right until you arrive at the…
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
The mountains and canyons along the Mesquite Flat in Death Valley have eroded over time into sand, blown by treacherous winds for millions of centuries and became trapped in a concentrated area, creating 100 foot sand dunes.
This is a beautiful area to explore, especially at sunset, to see the clay left behind by an ancient lakebed, the mesquite trees that shield desert-specific wildlife and the gorgeous linear ripples in the sand.
If you have time, a couple other worthy things to see are Mosaic Canyon, Emigrant Canyon Road and Scotty’s Castle.
And, if you do NOTHING ELSE while you’re in Death Valley, you MUST do this one activity:
Stargazing at Dante’s View
Seriously, this will absolutely blow your mind. Head up to Dante’s View sometime after 10 pm to see why Death Valley is rated an International Dark Sky Park. We drove up here where the winds were blowing about 50 miles per hour so it was almost impossible to stand outside of the car or use my tripod BUT it was the most incredible thing we have ever seen.
Millions, billions, no, trillions of stars completely engulfed us and, at this elevation, the sky is literally below your feet; it feels like you’re standing in space! We got lucky enough to visit during the New Moon so, for the first time in my life, I was unbelievably blessed to see the Milky Way, amongst some shooting stars! It just about brought me to tears, one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen!
Check this website to see what the sky will be like when you’re visiting and GO STARGAZING at Dante’s View!
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