Straddling eastern California and Nevada, Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest and lowest national park in North America. Its close proximity to Las Vegas makes it a great day trip destination for visitors to Vegas. But be warned – visiting Death Valley in a single day will make you want to come back and see more of this incredible land of extremes.
Related: Check out our post about Bryce Canyon, another great national park that can be explored in a single day.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Walking into the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, we couldn’t help but notice two young men carrying what looked like snow boards. The dunes at this particular spot in the park are a popular spot for sand boarding. Only a small amount of the park is covered in dunes that are constantly changing as the wind moves and shapes them. It’s a spot you shouldn’t miss when visiting Death Valley. There are several other sets of dunes in the park, but these are the only ones where sand boarding is allowed.
Harmony Borax Works
The discovery of borax near Furnace Creek Ranch led to the development of a borax plant in late 1883 or early 1884. The plant was only in operation for about five years, but it made a lasting impact on the industry. The Harmony operation used 20 mule teams to haul borax to the railroad. The image of a 20 mule team became the symbol of borax in North America. You can see the remains of the borax plant t this site when visiting Death Valley.
Furnace Creek Visitor Center
While visiting Death Valley, we stopped in at the visitor center to get some advice on the top sites to see in a day. Death Valley is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and you can’t cover everything in a single day. The visitor center also has great displays that help you understand more about the park. There’s even a 20-minute orientation film.
The sunrise or sunset at Zabriskie Point is incredible, but it’s a spot you’ll definitely want to see when visiting Death Valley – regardless of the time of day. The views of the Panamint Range across the valley are stunning.
We experienced this nine mile one-way road in late afternoon while visiting Death Valley. The road weaves through some incredible sedimentary rock formations. The highlight is a spot called Artist’s Palette, where the rocks are colored in hues of green, yellow and pink.
Devil’s Golf Course
If you think you hear something when you’re standing at the edge of the Devil’s Golf Course, you probably are. The soft popping sound is caused by tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat. The Devil’ Golf Course is an immense area of eroded rock salt formations. They say it’s so incredibly serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.” Even if you’re not a golfer, it’s a spot you shouldn’t miss when visiting Death Valley.
Visiting Death Valley absolutely must include a stop at Badwater Basin. At 282 feet (86 m) below sea level, it is the lowest point in North America. Follow a road of salt to a vast landscape of salt flats left by an ancient evaporated lake.
Visiting Death Valley is a night photographer’s dream. With very little light pollution and vast clear skies, the stars are incredible. Come during a new moon for the best stargazing and night photography. You absolutely have to have a tripod to get good night shots. We always keep a mini tripod in our camera bag. It’s lightweight, small and convenient and it cost under $30. It’s handy for those times you just don’t want to lug around the big tripod.
What We Missed
If you are visiting Death Valley in a single day, you’re going to miss a lot. It’s one of the world’s largest national parks. We plan to go back and see Titus Canyon, Dante’s View, more sand dunes, spring wildflowers and photograph more of the night sky. Our one-day visit to this unique land of extremes was incredible.