Death Valley National Park 2 Day Itinerary

A dazzling, clear galaxy overhead at every turn. Diverse landscape from desert slot canyons to lush waterfall.  Just 2 hours from Las Vegas, you can find it all here at Death Valley National Park.

The Details

Location: 2 hours from Las Vegas or 3.5 hours from Las Angeles.  If you are considering a California national parks road trip, Death Valley is 4 hours from Joshua Tree and about 5 hours 15 minutes from Sequoia National Park.

When to visit: The heat dangers here are real.  Death Valley has one of the world’s highest recorded temperatures at 134 degrees fahrenheit.  The desert heat is no joke here over the summer, therefore visiting during the winter or spring is advised.  My time over the winter was spent with 40 degree nights and day hikes with a high of 60 degrees.

How many days: No less than 2 full days, but it all depends what you are looking for.

Parking: Plenty!  Your campground, hotel, or trailhead.  Not an issue at all.

Please note you can change this itinerary in any way based upon your preference!  Recommendations are location and time based, taking into account difficulty of hikes with rest time, combined with location proximity and golden hour views.

Day 1

Mesquite Sand Flat Dunes- Sunrise

There are SO many incredible sunrise and sunset locations recommended throughout the park, as visitors find the beauty of the desert from shadows cast to neon pink mountain tops most dramatic during golden hour.  A personal favorite (and a must visit) on my list is Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

It’s about a minute away from Stovetop Wells and about a 30 minute drive from Furnace Creek.  When I arrived just before 7:00am, there was about 16 cars but still plenty of parking.  There is a bathroom here as well.  There is no labeled tral- simply walk as far as you like.

The further you walk, the more smooth and untouched the dunes will be.  There was a dramatic difference when I visited during Golden Hour, and just after.

Mosaic Canyon

I’m not sure if there are quite enough words to describe all of the beauty and spontaneity I felt on this hike!  This trail is rated as moderate.  Many hikers were stopping at various points when the scrambling became too significant.  Some of the scrambles are over smooth, almost granite like rock so definitely talk caution because slipping is quite possible.

I ultimately had a LOT of fun on this hike and found it quite different than others in the park.  It begins very vast and open, and slowly takes on more of a slot canyon appeal the further you continue onward.

Towards the end there is a cliffside with a trail but caution is advised.

Enjoying the views leading up to the cliff side
Aside from the views around you, take a look downward- it’s no wonder the canyon gets its name

Lunch or rest break

Pack your lunch to enjoy on a shady portion of the trail, back in the van, or make a stop at a restaurant/shop in Stovetop Wells just 2 minutes away.  My lunch spot of choice is usually enjoying views from the back of my cozy open Jeep- sometimes all it takes is a few pillows to get you moving onto the next leg of your trip.

My cozy rental Jeep! Just what I needed to decompress in between hikes

Artists Drive

An absolute MUST visit!  Some recommend visiting during golden hour, but with only two days it’s hard to hit every location at that specific time!  The sweeping 15-20 minute drive takes you through the colorful mountains and drastic landscape.  There is a viewpoint where you can choose to hike and explore.  There is no marked trail.

Artist’s Palette Viewpoint
Exploring into the Badlands of Artist’s Palette Viewpoint
Artist’s Drive

Badwater Basin

Make a left and end your day with sunset at the lowest point in North America.  Seriously, I was like, am I on the MOON?  After parking your car, make your way to a boardwalk with a sign.  This ramp is ADA accessible.

Continue walking along the white salt.  The further you go, the trail eventually ends and the salt dramatically changes.  The furthest out you will find the most hexagonal and crystalized salt formations.

Many photographers love this point for galaxy photography as well.  I DID however find the drive back to Furnace Creek very scary in pitch dark.  I generally do not like driving through national parks past dark!

Day 2

Zabriskie Point- Sunrise

This was quite a crowded sunrise point for good reason.  The Badlands Mountains have a vibrant pink hue on top while the sun makes its way up from the opposite direction.

A short incline walk up the parking lot takes you to a viewpoint.  Explore further by taking a small trail to a lower viewpoint.  Zabriskie Point does start as a trailhead for a couple of hikes within the park, such as leading into the Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral hike (outlined below)

Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral Hike

This hike was a 10/10!!   It’s a 3 mile out and back, but consider time to explore incredible slot canyons throughout the start of the trail.  It took me about an hour to get to the time with some fun stops and photos in between.

Trail starts as vast and open- don’t miss the narrow canyons built into the sides

Exploring a side canyon shortly after the start of the trail

Scrambling and climbing is necessary towards the approach of the Red Cathedral (viewpoint!)  I would recommend the start of this hike for most all hiking levels.  Proceed with caution if you have any known injuries or difficulties with light climbing or scramble as you reach Red Cathedral.  As always, it is OK to turn back if needed.

Red Cathedral

Natural Bridge Hike

As with Mosaic Canyon, I definitely recommend 4X4 or all wheel drive to access this trailhead.  There is a bathroom at the trailhead.  It took about 15 minutes to walk through the rocky, gravelly canyon to reach the hole in the rock view.  If you continue up a scramble (seemingly slippery smooth, granite type rock) there is supposed to be one more view but I did not make it there.  This is a fairly simple trail.

Natural Bridge, approximately 15 minutes from start of hike
Dry waterfall- I can’t even!


You have a couple of options here.  Since we made the start of your trip top-heavy with your more difficult hikes and packing it in on day 1, you have a few choices depending what you are feeling up to for the rest of the day:

  1. Ouch!  My legs are sore.  Take a rest until sunset at 5:50.  Then, stargaze and enjoy the views.
  2. Just one more?  If you’re staying at Furnace Creek, Old Harmony Borax Works is just a 2mn drive away.  Check out some views, or take a walk.

Other ideas

Have longer at the park, or want to prioritize other areas?  Check out some other ideas:

  1. Darwin Falls.  Check out an active waterfall.. In the desert national park!  4X4 or all wheel drive is recommended to access this point.  It is on the opposite end of the park, a more traditional starting point for visitors arriving from Los Angeles.
  2. Dante’s View
  3. Devil’s Golf Course
  4. Ubehebe Crator
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As a full time employee who loves her job, learn how I honor my wanderlust while working a 9:00-5:00 (because I want to!) This blog welcomes all, and specifically provides resources for those seeking travel intertwined into a busy schedule (3 days to 5 weeks).