The largest national park in the contiguous United States, Death Valley National Park has no lack of unique attractions and things to do. This is a place of extremes, which doesn’t mean that visiting needs to be a challenge. In fact, there are plenty of visitor facilities in this iconic park. In this article, we’ll offer an itinerary for 4 days in Death Valley National Park.
How to Spend 4 Days in Death Valley National Park
4 days in Death Valley National Park is plenty of time to explore even the littlest known corners of the park. It’ll allow you to go to places few visitors ever go, to experience all and everything Death Valley has to offer.
With its foreboding name, Death Valley calls into mind images of harsh and hot landscapes, fata morganas and fearful environments. And while this is, in fact, one of the most unforgiving places in North America, there’s absolutely spectacular nature to be found here as well. Death Valley National Park encompasses the driest desert, the lowest point and the hottest place on the entire continent. Make no mistake, though, this landscape does provide a habitat to a wide variety of life.
The best time of year to visit Death Valley National Park is spring. After the winter and early-spring rains, the desert plains teem with life. This is when millions of colorful wildflowers carpet the desert floor and hills, creating a mesmerizing natural spectacle. Spring is also when the temperatures are at their most pleasant, allowing you to explore the park on foot.
Day 1: Golden Canyon Trail, Baldwater Basin & Artist’s Drive
Pitch your tent at one of the park’s multiple campgrounds. Furnace Creek Campground is operated by the National Park Service (book a spot at Recreation.gov). Other, privately managed, campgrounds such as Furnace Creek Ranch, Panamint Springs Resort and Stovepipe Wells RV Park are good options as well. Furnace Creek is the park’s commercial center, home to stores, restaurants, accommodations and other facilities. I recommend, however, staying at Stovepipe Wells, the park’s original tourist hub. This smaller village also has all convenient facilities, but is quieter and lies near a few epic attractions.
After setting up camp, drive your rental car 26 miles southeast to Furnace Creek, where you can stock up on information and maps at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. There, you can also watch a 20-minute park film and visit the museum exhibits. It’s the perfect place to get a feel for the park and check up on trail and road conditions.
Grab lunch in Furnace Creek and, in the afternoon, head out on the 2-mile Golden Canyon Trail. This flat self-guided interpretive trail takes you through Golden Canyon and ends at the marvelous cliffs of Red Cathedral. Adventurous visitors might even want to consider continuing on toward Zabriskie Point. Doing this makes for a 4-mile roundtrip.
After this hike, drive south on Route 178 toward Badwater Basin. Situated 282 feet below sea level, this is the lowest point in North America. This flat expanse of salt plains is a unique sight and one of the highlights in Death Valley National Park.
Drive back north, stopping on the way at points of interest such as the Natural Bridge and Devils Golf Course. Also don’t skip Artist’s Drive, a scenic loop road through the park’s badlands. Head back to your campsite for a well-deserved meal and an evening of relaxation.
Day 2: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Devil’s Cornfield & Mosaic Canyon Trail
Spend the second of your four days in Death Valley National Park exploring the area near your campsite. The biggest attraction in that part of the park is, unquestionably, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is the park’s most expansive field of dunes. It features three types of dunes—star-shaped, crescent and linear. Definitely take the time to hike the 2-mile Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Trail. There is no formal trail, though, but this fun hike leads one mile to the summit of a large sand dune. This is makes for a superb morning activity. (It’s also nothing short of spectacular as a night hike, with thousands of stars twinkling in the sky above.)
After lunch, go and take a look at nearby Devil’s Cornfield, which is filled with clumps of arrow weed. Spend the rest of your afternoon hiking the 4-mile out-and-back Mosaic Canyon Trail. The trailhead for this beautiful hike lies at the end of a 2.3-mile gravel road just across from your campground in Stovepipe Wells. This challenging trails runs through a sharp canyon and requires you to do some serious rock scrambling. A couple of boulder jams and dryfalls make this quite the adventure. (You can turn around anytime.)
In the evening, settle in for a night sky you’ll remember for the rest of your life. You might even consider heading back to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes to watch the stars.
Day 3: Salt Creek, Twenty Mule Team Canyon, Dante’s View & Zabriskie Point
On the third of your four days in Death Valley National Park, take your time cooking breakfast in the morning. Slowly make your way back to Furnace Creek. Stop to walk the short 0.5-mile Salt Creek Interpretive Trail and visit the ruins of Harmony Borax Works.
Follow Route 190 and drive the 2.7-mile one-way road through Twenty Mule Team Canyon. This is an unpaved road, though, so check the road conditions before you go. Snaking through moonlike badlands, this is a particularly scenic drive.
Continue toward Dante’s View. With an altitude of 5,475 feet, this is arguably the most spectacular lookout point in all of Death Valley National Park. The view takes in Badwater Basin and, in the far distance, Mount Whitney, respectively the lowest and highest point in the contiguous United States. This is definitely an extraordinary view.
Retrace your steps and head toward Zabriskie Point, offering a view of the most well-known landscape in the park. Make sure you’re there around sunset, which is spectacular. I recommend hiking the 2.7-mile Badlands Loop while you’re there. (Both Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View are also a great spot for sunrises, so you might want to go there early in the morning.)
Day 4: Wildrose Peak Trail
The last of these amazing 4 days in Death Valley National Park is arguably the most active one. This is when you’ll hike the 8.4-mile Wildrose Peak Trail. This out-and-back trail lies off Wildrose Canyon Road near the Charcoal Kilns and takes about six hours to complete. This is a phenomenal spring hike to the 9,064-foot summit of Wildrose Peak. With an elevation change of 2,200 feet, it’s a moderately challenging hike.
The views will start presenting themselves about halfway to the top. They’ll only get better as you climb your way upward. From the summit, the views are jaw-dropping, taking in pretty much the entire national park, including Badwater Basin, the Mojave Desert and the Panamint Mountains.
Spend your last night enjoying the night sky once again. After 4 days in Death Valley National Park, exit the park and make your way to the next California national park on your list.
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