desert valley with road in the middle

desert valley with road in the middle

Shaka Guide's Death Valley National Park Itinerary



Death Valley National Park is one astonishing place. Dramatic mountain ranges and the lowest valleys on the continent combine to create a foreboding, desolate desert. It’s the hottest, lowest, and driest place in North America, and it’s the biggest national park outside of Alaska. If you want to check off some superlatives, you’ve come to the right park!

But we think you’ll be surprised by the stunning landscape. Badwater Basin, the lowest point on the continent, sits next to the 11,000-ft Panamint Range–a height difference twice as tall as the Grand Canyon. Even more romantic are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, stretching toward the mountains on the horizon.

Along the way, explore mining ruins at places like Harmony Borax Works and the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. And you don’t want to miss the sky-high panorama from Dante’s View, one of the only places you can see the lowest and highest points in the lower 48 states.

So prepare to be impressed! With 19 stops and 140 audio tracks, there’s plenty to fill the day with our Shaka Guide tour. We take you to the best spots in the park, and fill the driving time with cool stories, historical context, and logistical information.

Important Information

There are two starting points for the tour: the west part of the park near Panamint Springs, and east of the park by Death Valley Junction. From the west entrance, you’ll have to drive further to reach most of the highlights near Badwater Road, so expect to spend at least most of the day on the tour.

From the east entrance, it’s easier to choose one of two options:

  • The first option is a short tour hitting the major stops along Badwater Road, as well as Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.
  • The second option is a longer, more comprehensive tour. From the east entrance, expect to spend at least 4 hours on the short tour, and the whole day on the long tour.

Shaka Guide's Death Valley Itinerary

With two entrances, the tour is designed to be customizable. You can visit the tour stops in any order you’d like. However, we recommend prioritizing the stops along Badwater Road, Zabriskie Point, and Dante’s View, all on the eastern part of the park. The itinerary below is starting from the west, and going east.

The optional drive to the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns is two hours round trip, with only two stops along the way. We only recommend embarking on this part of the tour if you’re prepared for a long drive in the remote desert. 

1. Journigan’s Mill

Approximate Time: 10 minutes

This is the first stop on Emigrant Canyon Rd, the optional detour toward the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. There’s not much left of this former processing plant from the early 20th century, but the foundations, empty tanks, and other relics may interest photographers and history buffs.

2. Wildrose Campground

tent campsite on death valley during sunriseImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 5 minutes

The second stop on Emigrant Canyon Rd, this former campground for the Civilian Conservation Corps is a good place to stretch your legs as you make the long drive toward the charcoal kilns. Walk through the remaining campground buildings, located right off the road.

3. Wildrose Charcoal Kilns

igloos with a person walking on the sideShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 10 minutes (more for hiking)

Ten unusual, beehive-shaped charcoal kilns are lined up in a row thousands of feet up in the Panamint Range. Step inside one and you may still get a whiff of that charcoal! This is also the trailhead for the Wildrose Peak trail. This 8-mile, or 13-km round-trip hike heads up to a high elevation view of Death Valley. It’s probably too long to include during your tour day, unless you plan to split the tour between two days. But, the first section is relatively easy, and a nice view after a long car ride to the kilns. Who says you have to hike the whole thing?

4. Stovepipe Wells

gasoline station in death valley national parkImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 30-60 minutes

If you plan to eat a meal or buy gasoline within the park, we recommend doing it in Stovepipe Wells, a wayside with visitor services and accommodation. The prices are better here than at Furnace Creek. And the food at the Toll House Restaurant and Saloon is delicious. You can also do some souvenir shopping at the General Store, and purchase your park pass at the ranger station.

5. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

sand dunes in death valley national parkShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 15-45 minutes

The only sand dunes you’ll see on the tour! You can view the dunes from the parking lot, but it’s more fun to explore the dunes on foot and wander among the mesquite trees for some social media-worthy pictures. This is a top pick for sunsets and stargazing, too. 

6. Devil’s Cornfield

brown mountains on a desert in death valley national parkImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 5 minutes

There’s a peculiar patch of Arrowweed near the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes that appears like bunches of corn in a field. There’s not much to look at, but a small parking area allows visitors to safely park and get a closer look.

7. Salt Creek Interpretive Trail

Approximate Time: 15-30 minutes

A 0.5-mile boardwalk runs along the Salt Creek wetland, a critical watering hole for critters and home to the endangered Salt Creek Pupfish. The easy trail is down a dirt road.

8. Harmony Borax Works

old carts in death valley national parkImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 15-30 minutes

Explore what's left of the earliest mining operation in Death Valley. Placards throughout the short path interpret the various buildings and mechanisms required to process borax. You'll also see one of the wagons pulled by the famed 20-mule teams.

9. Mustard Canyon

gray canyon on death valley national parkImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 5 minutes

Though there’s no actual stop, you can take a detour into a small canyon with an unusual yellow tinge. Before driving this road, check with the park for the road's current conditions. In normal circumstances, this dirt road is reasonably well-maintained but still bumpy, and not advisable for vehicles with low clearance.

10. Furnace Creek Visitor Center

outside of furnace creek visitor center with signboard of temperatureImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 30-60 minutes

A must-stop for information, flush toilets, a water refill station, and a museum with excellent displays on the natural and human history of Death Valley. Be sure to watch the 20-minute film narrated by actor Donald Sutherland, and to get a picture next to the gigantic thermometer displaying the day's temperature. If you didn't already purchase a park pass, you can do so here. Open 8am-5pm daily.

11. Ranch at Furnace Creek

furnace creek ranch entrance with car going outsideImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 15+ minutes

Other than Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek is the only place to eat a meal and get gas within the park. Prices are higher here, but you’ll find an ice cream parlor, buffet-style restaurant, and Wild West-themed saloon. There’s also an excellent General Store with souvenirs and a small grocery section. And if you want to know more about the area’s mining history, you can visit the Borax Museum.

12. Devil’s Golf Course

rocky terrain with brown mountains at the backImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 10 minutes

Enjoy the otherworldly shapes of Death Valley’s salt flat, down a short dirt road from Badwater Road. There’s no trail, and you’ll want to make sure you have sturdy shoes if you wander into the ‘golf course.’ That salt can hurt!

13. Badwater Basin

basin with people walking in the morningImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 30-60 minutes

The lowest point in North America, and the highlight of a trip to Death Valley. There's a boardwalk by the parking lot, but you're welcome to wander into the valley on the Badwater Basin trail. Go as far as you'd like into the interior of Death Valley's famed salt flats, but it's about 1 mile in to reach the cool geometric shapes in the salt, making this a 2-mile round trip hike.

14. Natural Bridge Trail

pathway with walls of rack beside located in death valley national parkShutterstock Image

Approximate Time: 30 minutes

The trail to the natural bridge rock formation is flat, but rocky. It's about 1 mile round-trip from the parking lot to the bridge and back.

15. Artists Drive/Palette

black asphalt road in the middle of a desert with mountains in the horizonImage from Flickr by Thank You (23 Millions+) views

Approximate Time: 30 minutes

Artists Drive is a one-way road that ascends up toward the Black Mountains into a twisty canyon. The drive itself is fun, as you maneuver through a tight desert landscape. But the highlight is a stop along the road called Artists Palette, where minerals in the rock create a colorful cliff. You can explore on foot for a closer look.

16. Golden Canyon Trail

people walking in the middle of wall of rocksImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 1-2 hours 

This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, taking hikers through a lifeless canyon. It's about 3 miles, or 5 kilometers round-trip to the Red Cathedral cliff formation. 

17. Zabriskie Point

pink sunset at Zabriskie Point with one person standing watching itImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 20 minutes

One of the most iconic views in the park, overlooking rock formations Red Cathedral and Manly Beacon. This spot is also noted for its film history and its role as the album cover for U2's Joshua Tree. The walk from the parking lot to the overlook is short and paved, but steep.

18. Twenty Mule Team Canyon

brown-colored pointy mountainImage from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 15 minutes

Like Mustard Canyon, this is a dirt road adventure into a tightly curving canyon. And there’s no specific stop, but it’s about a 15-minute detour from the main tour route. Before driving this road, check with the park for the road's current conditions. In normal circumstances, this dirt road is reasonably well-maintained but still bumpy, and not advisable for vehicles with low clearance. 

19. Dante’s View

view of a valley from atop Image from Flickr by 

Approximate Time: 15-30 minutes

A truly stunning sight to behold. Ascend over 5,000 feet to this overlook directly above Badwater Basin. From here, you’ll see the lowest point in North America with the dramatic Panamint Range looming over it on the other side of the valley. And on clear days, you can see the Sierra Nevada beyond, including Mt. Whitney–the highest point in the lower 48 states. This is a popular sunset and stargazing spot.

Death Valley Tour Stops Map

Ending the tour

Exploring Death Valley National Park has two options for concluding your tour. If you've entered from the west, you can drive back through the park, experiencing the ongoing narration until you reach the west entrance where your journey began.

Alternatively, if you're driving from west to east, you can choose to wrap up the tour after visiting the awe-inspiring Dante's View.

Whichever route you choose, you will experience the park's captivating landscapes and left with unforgettable memories of your Death Valley adventure.

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So are you ready to explore Death Valley National Park? Shaka Guide’s got you covered.

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