Death Valley, an Exhilarating Day trip

Seeing Death Valley is an experience on many a bucket list, yet often goes unfulfilled. It shouldn’t, because one can pack several of its highlights into one exhilarating day, yet get back to Las Vegas in time for dinner.

Depending upon where you start in Las Vegas, it will take less than two and one-half hours to reach the hub of the park, Furnace Creek. Here you can visit a well-designed museum, grab a map and a post card or two, then off you go.

badwater
Hiker begins trek to explore Badwater
Photo by Deborah Wall

Drive south from the visitor center on Route 190, about 1.25 miles and go right onto Badwater Road. Continue about 17 miles to the Badwater parking area.

Badwater salt flat is Death Valley’s must-do, for those who visit it will stand 282 feet below sea level, the lowest elevation in North America. Yet looking west, they can see the Panamint Mountains and their highest summit, Telescope Peak, 11,049 feet above sea level This is one of the greatest variations in elevation visible anywhere. In winter, when the sun-warmed surface isn’t too hot, you can walk barefoot onto the flat; it’s like walking on warm snow.

Backtracking north from Badwater, 3.8 miles will bring you to the access road for Natural Bridge Canyon. Driving 1.5 miles to the trailhead requires good off-road tires. Once out of the car, it’s an easy one-mile roundtrip to the bridge. If you like, you can extend the hike upstream another half-mile to a dry fall.

Ordinarily I would recommend a nine-mile side road through Artist’s Palette, but it is closed for repairs through late March 2017, so save this one for late spring.

About 11 miles north of the Natural Bridge turnoff, you’ll notice the Golden Canyon parking area on the right, just off the road. Golden Canyon is a good hike for all ages. Be sure to grab the interpretive brochure at the trailhead as it reveals the area’s rich history. You can travel up this badland canyon as far as you choose, but one mile will bring you to a view of the prominent formation, Manly Beacon, and Red Cathedral with its extremely steep cliffs.

Returning to Badwater Road and turning north once more, two miles leads to Death Valley’s main road, where a right turn will bring you eventually to that promised dinner in Las Vegas.

Directions to Furnace Creek: From Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 south a few miles and exit onto Blue Diamond Road, Nevada Route 160. Drive west about 53 miles to Pahrump. Proceed through Pahrump on Nevada Route 160 another 4.5 miles and turn left (west) on West Bell Vista Avenue (there are brown National Park directional signs). Continue on Bell Vista Road about 20 miles, at the California/Nevada border the road name changes to State Line Road. Follow State Line Road another 6 miles to Death Valley Junction, California. Take California Route 190 west for about 29 miles to the hub of the park, Furnace Creek.

Deborah Wall

Deborah Wall

Deborah Wall is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in both adventure travel and family excursions. She is the author of "Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 Hikes in the Southwest (2017)." A lifelong hiker, she has been a ski racer and has taught skiing and sailing. A former television producer and news anchor, she also worked as a model for skiing and outdoor publications. Ms. Wall's other books include "Access for All: Touring the Southwest with Limited Mobility" (2014), "Base Camp Las Vegas", (2010), and "Great Hikes: A Cerca Country Guide" (2004). She has a Nevada Press Association award for excellence and writes periodic columns about little-known hiking routes in the Southwest and tips for taking fun and safe trips.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In order to comment, we have to collect some data:
This form collects your name, email and content so that we can keep track of the comments placed on the website. For more info check our privacy policy where you will get more info on where, how and why we store your data.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.