— Las Vegas: 1-Day Death Valley Loop —

Leadville ghost town on Titus Canyon Road

Leadville mining ghost town along Titus Canyon Road in Death Valley

Artist's Palette

The colorful mountains along the Artist's Palette scenic drive

Water at Badwater Basin

Yes, there is water at Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in North America

Badwater Basin hikers

Walk out onto Badwater Basin—the lowest spot in North America (282 feet below sea level)

Badwater Basin salt flats

Badwater Basin is a salt flat—where people don't tread the ground is covered in beautiful salt crystal formations

Salt Flats

See the tiny sign on the hillside above Badwater Basin indicating sea level

Water and hikers in Badwater Basin

There's water in Badwater Basin—if you walk out onto the salt flat and dig a 4-inch deep hole it will fill with water.

Badwater Basin near sunset

Badwater Basin at sunset

Borax wagons

These wagons were once used in the Harmony Borax works in the middle of the hottest part of Death Valley

Hotel surrounded by palm trees

The Inn at Death Valley is an unexpected oasis within the park

Mesquite sand dunes

Take a stroll onto the Mesquite Flat sand dunes

Hikers in Mosaic Canyon

Take a short hike through the interesting Mosaic Canyon near Stovepipe Wells

Rhyolite bottle house

The Rhyolite ghost town bottle house

Rhyolite ghost town ruins

One of the Rhyolite ghost town ruins outside Beatty, Nevada

Salt Creek Pupfish!!!!!

Little pup fish live in Salt Creek in the hottest part of Death Valley and in water 2.5 times saltier than the ocean

A Say's Phoebe at Salt Creek

A Say's Phoebe hanging out at Salt Creek

Salt Creek boardwalk

Salt Creek Boardwalk—Salt Creek is 2.5 times saltier than the ocean

spring flowers

These are just some of the spring flowers you may see in Death Valley

superbloom

Every few years if Death Valley happens to get enough rain the desert will come alive with color

Hiker through superbloom

Hiking through a rare spring superbloom will leave your shoes and legs yellow with pollen

Titus Canyon

Titus Canyon will dwarf you and your vehicle as you drive through it

The road to Titus Canyon

If you look closely, you can see the scenic road to Titus Canyon

Zabriske Point at sunset

Zabriske Point at sunset

The badlands around Zabriske Point

The badlands around Zabriske Point—look closely to find the hiking trail through them

Candy contemplating sunset.

Tim's mom taking in the sunset at Zabriskie Point

Colorful Zabriske Point badlands

Colorful Zabriske Point badlands...there's even a trail through them

Las Vegas 1-day Death Valley Loop

Loop Overview:

450 miles, 1 day, 8.5 hours driving

Day 1:  Get up really early and drive through Titus slot canyon, walk on Mesquite Flat sand dunes, hike through a weird Mosaic Canyon, see fish in an extremely salty creek, walk on Badwater Basin (lowest place in North America), take a colorful scenic Artist's Palette loop drive, & see a killer sunset at Zabriskie Point.

— Trip Details by Day —

Day 1:

Head northwest out of Las Vegas on Route 95 by 7:00 A.M. Take 95 to Beatty, NV. Fuel up and use a bathroon in Beatty and follow signs to Death Valley National Park. If you'd like, make a quick stop in Rhyolite, a ghost town, about 6 miles outside Beatty. Then head west and turn onto a somewhat bad 26-mile-long dirt road to go through Titus Canyon. (Note: Don't take any extra low clearance vehicles nor RVs. They will not make it.) A normal car will typically make it -- the Park Service generally will close the road to all traffic if it gets too bad for normal cars.  Just be cautious and make sure your rental car has a spare tire before you go.
 
Explore the old ghost town of Leadville about halfway along this dirt road. The Titus slot canyon is near the end of the 26 mile long scenic drive. 300-foot-tall walls not much wider apart than your vehicle is what you have to look forward to.
 
After you've exited the canyon, turn left onto pavement and follow signs towards Stovepipe Wells. Stop at Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes on the way. Have a late lunch at Stovepipe Wells.  If you want to stretch your legs after lunch, drive up to Mosaic Canyon just barely west of Stovepipe Wells and hike up the interesting water-carved canyon a short distance.

 

Head south and stop in at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and pay your entrance fee. Then head east and south and stop at the Salt Creek Interpretive Center boardwalk. Look closely at this year-round incredibly salty creek which is below sea level -- there are lots of birds feeding in it and pup fish living in it. Yes, there are fish in Death Valley! There's so much more water (undrinkable for us) and life in Death Valley than you ever would have thought. Dragon flies, kangaroo rats, burros, and more can be found in some of the harshest parts of Death Valley.
 
When you've finished the short boardwalk, head south to Harmony Borax Works. This is where Borax used to be manufactured, even during the heat of summer, by boiling. (Glad I don't have that job!) Then take the short drive from the Borax manufacturing remains through the yellow-colored, weirdly eroded Mustard Canyon.
 
And finally, drive to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America -- 282 feet below sea level. Be sure to notice the sign on the mountains above the parking lot that indicates sea level. It's way up there! As you walk around on the salt flats, dig a small hole -- it will fill up with water almost instantly because the salt flats are so low that they sit right next to the water table.
 
When done exploring the salt flats, drive north and take the side road through the colorful hills of the Artist's Palette scenic loop.
 
Turn right back onto the main road and head north and then east towards Las Vegas. On the way, stop at Zabriske Point for the perfect sunset vantage point -- just make the short walk up to the overlook. And then head east, directly back to Las Vegas just in time to hit the clubs.  If you're starving on the drive back as I usually am, you can stop in Pahrump, Nevada for a quick bite to eat.  We recommend not eating at any of the casinos but just going through a quick drive-thru.

 

Lodging: N/A since it's a one-day trip
Camping: N/A since it's a one-day trip
Food: Stovepipe Wells has a decent bar/restaurant that even has gluten-free bread.  There's a small market across the street where you can get some more drinks and snacks. On the drive back to Las Vegas there's food in Pahrump, NV.  Just don't eat at any casinos or you may have a bad night based on our past experience.

Heather's Trip Tips:


1) Print out or purchase a map, check for road closures, and check the weather before you go to Death Valley. Cell phones don't work in the park and there isn't a visitor center anywhere near where you'll be entering the park.  
It's not that unusual for the slot canyon or other roads to get washed out and closed due to flash floods.  And you definitely don't want to be caught in Titus Canyon if it's going to rain!
2) Fill up your tank before you get into the park. Otherwise you may pay $5.81 a gallon. Really.
3) Take snacks and lots of water. Food and drinks are not readily available many places in the park and the park is larger than some states, so take this seriously.
4) Do NOT hike at all if it's 115+ degrees in Death Valley. The sand dunes and salt flats reflect most of the sun so they feel even hotter than what your car registers. People die just about every year, so don't do it. It's so hot your body doesn't know how to regulate temperature. We walked 100 feet on the sand dunes when it was 122 degrees and it felt like my eyeballs were cooking and I alternated between feeling really hot and shivering. That's a warning sign of impending heat stroke, so just don't do it. The risk is too high.
5) Go to Death Valley during the week (not weekend) when there's a "superbloom" going on in the spring. They only happen every few years, but they transform the desert into a sea of colors! And a sea of tourists tourists on the weekends.

Tim Says:

 

 

 

It's long fucking day—but so worth it!

— Recommended Trip Variations —

Add The Racetrack

Extend the trip by a day and drive out 26-miles on a dirt/stone road to see The Racetrack after going through Titus Canyon. No, it's not an actual racetrack and driving on it is a Federal offense.  The Racetrack is the location of the rocks that mysteriously move once every decade or so and leave "wakes" across the dry lake bed.  It's an amazing site and one of the flattest places on earth!  (Note: In 2017 scientists finally saw how the rocks moved. See the article here.)

After making the trek out to The Racetrack, walk on the Mesquite Flat dunes and spend the night in StovePipe Wells.  After that, follow the remaining instructions for the 1-Day Death Valley Loop trip.  And maybe drive to Dante's Peak instead of Zabriske Point to watch the sunset.  Then head back to Las Vegas.

Add Telescope Peak

Add an extra day and see Telescope Peak, the highest peak in Death Valley--just over 11,000 feet elevation. From it's peak you can see both the highest and lowest points in the lower 48 states - Mt. Whitney and Badwater Basin. (Fun fact: They're both in the same county!)
 
The hike is 14 miles round trip, but if you don't want to hike that far, the drive to the trailhead is still worth it because you can look down onto Badwater Basin from the 8500 foot high trail and neighboring Mahogany Flats campground. Also, you can get to see some cool ghost mining towns, beehive kilns, and possibly some wild burros on the way up to the trailhead.

Notes: The road to the Telescope Peak trailhead can be closed due to snow, so check before you go.  Also, take warm coats and rain gear—we have been sleeted on while hiking this trail in August when it was 110+ down below at Badwater Basin.

Add Eureka Dunes

On the northwest side of the park is Eureka Dunes. Some days navy pilots fly fighter jets through "Star Wars Canyon" and around the dunes. If you sit on top of the highest dune you can watch the fighter planes fly around below you -- a very unique experience.
 
To work the dunes into the trip you'll have to stay an extra day. Once through Titus Canyon, take a right instead of a left and take Big Pine Road, a well-maintained dirt road over towards the Eureka Dunes.
 
There's a primitive campground at the dune's base. Or you can stay somewhere along Route 395 in Lone Pine before heading back towards Stovepipe Wells to finish up the loop. Make hotel reservations in advance -- Lone Pine is the portal to Mt. Whitney so it's booked up most of the warmer months.