California is well known for Hollywood, and picturesque beaches. However, I would argue the most stunning parts of the state are to the east, well away from the ocean. I’m talking about the beautiful National Parks of Joshua Tree, and Death Valley. Offering some of the most stunning landscapes known to man (especially Death Valley), these two parks along with the Mojave National Preserve and Red Rock Canyon make for the perfect short road trip through the Southwest.
I’ve been to the Southwest many times before including a trip to Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon which funny enough is my most popular post with 100+ views a day and it has nothing to do with international travel. I tell all my foreign friends that this is the most stunning and unique part of the country. A road trip through this part of the country is the quintessential America!
I could easily spend a few weeks in this area of the country that includes Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, visiting the many many national parks. Sadly, I only had five days (Friday to Tuesday). This itinerary will mostly focus on Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley. I also made short stops in the Mojave National Preserve and Red Rock Canyon.
If you have closer to two weeks or more to travel, then make sure to read my ultimate american road trip itinerary which combines this itinerary, Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches national park, Canyonlands, Antelope Canyon, and Monument Valley in the best American experience you can have!
2020 and Beyond: Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, make sure to check the websites of the national parks for any extra requirements or restrictions before visiting! These can and will change at any time!
- 1 Five day Itinerary For Joshua Tree and Death Valley
- 2 Day 1-2: Joshua Tree National Park
- 3 Day 2: Joshua Tree Full Day Itinerary
- 3.1 Hidden Valley – 8:00am to 10:00 am
- 3.2 Jumbo Rocks/Skull Rocks – 10:00am to 12:00pm
- 3.3 Arch Rock – 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm
- 3.4 Cholla Cactus Garden – 2:00 pm to 2:30 pm
- 3.5 Cottonwood Springs – 2:30 to 3:30 pm
- 3.6 Hall of Horrors – 4:00 pm to 4:30 pm
- 3.7 Keys View – 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm
- 3.8 Pappy and Harriets – 7:00 to ???
- 4 Day 3 Morning: Mojave National Preserve
- 5 Day 3 Afternoon: Death Valley
- 6 Day 4: Death Valley
- 6.1 Zabriskie Point and Hike – 6:30am to 10:30am
- 6.2 Devil’s Golf Course – 11:00am to 11:15am
- 6.3 Natural Bridge – 11:30am to 12:30pm
- 6.4 Badwater Basin – 1:00pm to 2:00pm
- 6.5 Relaxed at the Oasis Inn – 2:30 to 4:00pm
- 6.6 Artists Drive and Artists Palette – 4:00pm to 5:00pm
- 6.7 Zabriskie Point Sunset – 5:30pm to 6:30pm
- 6.8 Dinner at the Oasis Inn
- 7 Day 5 Morning: Death Valley
- 8 Day 5 Afternoon: Red Rock Canyon
Five day Itinerary For Joshua Tree and Death Valley
Full disclosure, we are a couple in our early 30s and would consider ourselves quite active/fit. We had hiked Machu Picchu right before this trip no problem and we are totally okay with a fast itinerary. If you have kids, or are not as keen for such an involved itinerary, this itinerary may seem rushed to you!
Note that this itinerary will go into an intense amount of details and pictures so you have been warned now!
Best time to Visit Joshua Tree and Death Valley
Death Valley is famous worldwide for setting record breaking temperatures. During the summer months, temperatures will regularly eclipse 120F (49c) and hiking in this temperature is a surefire way to severe dehydration. Joshua Tree is nearby and is slightly cooler but will see temperatures regularly above 100F (40c).
While it is definitely not advisable to visit these parks in the summer months, people still do it. Obviously extreme hydration is a necessity but also you should just call it quits between the hours of 11am and 4pm. Go relax at your hotel in the A/C to prevent anything disastrous from happening.
I visited Joshua Tree and Death Valley in late October which is a great time of year. Temperatures were a much more manageable 90F (32c) in Death Valley and 80F (27c) in Joshua Tree. Night time temps were even chilly at times, especially in Joshua Tree given its elevation. Spring time is also a great time to visit these parks as the winter rains usually bring about beautiful flowers that dot the barren landscapes.
The trip starts in the Los Angeles area and ends in Las Vegas. I booked my rental car to drop off at a different location which sometimes can cost much more, but I used Rental Cars 8 with no extra costs. Alternatively, you can do this itinerary in reverse no problem. As well, you can start and end in Los Angeles (or Las Vegas), but just be prepared to drive 5 hours at the end of the trip to get back.
|Start||End||Park visited||Where to Stay|
|Day 1||LA Area, CA||Joshua Tree||Joshua Tree National Park||Flying Point Homestead|
|Day 2||Joshua Tree||Joshua Tree||Joshua Tree National Park||Flying Point Homestead|
|Day 3||Joshua Tree||Death Valley||Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley National Park||Death Valley Inn|
|Day 4||Death Valley||Death Valley||Death Valley National Park||Death Valley Inn|
|Day 5||Death Valley||Las Vegas, NV||Death Valley National Park, Red Rock Canyon National Park|
Day by Day Breakdown
- Land in LA Area
- Drive 2 hours to Joshua Tree National Park
- Arrive at the Park around 4pm, and enjoy a quick drive around the park and sunset
- Dinner at Joshua Tree Saloon
- Start early in the morning
- Hike Hidden Valley
- Hike Jumbo Rocks/Skull Rock
- Hike Arch Rock, have lunch here
- Visit Cholla Cactus Gardens
- Drive to Cottonwood Springs
- Sunset at Keys View
- Drive to Mojave National Preserve
- Hike Kelso Dunes
- Visit Kelso Visitor Center, continue to Death Valley
- Sunset hike at the Mesquite Sand Dunes
- Dinner at Stovepipe Badwater Saloon
- Zabriskie Point for sunrise
- Hike Golden Canyon Trail at Zabriskie Point
- Natural Bridge walk
- Visit salt flats at Badwater Basin
- Artists Palette drive
- Zabriskie Point for sunset
- Dinner at the Oasis Inn
- Sunrise at the Badwater Basin Salt Flats
- Ubehebe Crater
- Dante’s View
- Drive to Las Vegas and the Red Rock Canyon
- Flight home from Las Vegas
|Mojave National Preserve||Free|
|Death Valley National Park||$30|
|Red Rock Canyon||$15|
Day 1-2: Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a landscape rich with beauty and plenty of adventure. For those looking to fall off the map or get a little lost, whether in thought or in destination, Joshua Tree has this in excess. It is one of the most popular parks and it’s easy to see why.
It’s home to the famous Joshua tree, which grows plentiful among the otherwise baron High Desert terrain. The plant’s name is said to have come from a group of Mormons who were traversing the High Desert in the mid 19th century. The shape of the tree reminded them of the Biblical tale of Joshua, as the branches seem to mimick his motion of reaching his arms to the sky in prayer.
Joshua Tree, nicknamed “J-Tree” by locals, lies at an ecological crossroads, where the high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado Desert. The result is amazing desert flora, including those wacky namesake trees (actually a type of yucca). Joshua Tree’s beauty shines around the clock, with vibrant sunsets melting into nights filled with uncountable stars.
An Instagrammable Park
Nowadays, Joshua Tree is the de-facto National Park for the Instagram generation. The Joshua Trees, perfectly arranged boulders, and natural landscapes make for the perfect backdrop to have eclectic photoshoots embracing their inner hippie haute lifestyle. It’s no surprise that the Coachella festival is next door. I can’t compete with the cute blondes and their white vintage dresses posing next to a Joshua Tree but I will take a picture the old school way and put them up on my travel blog.
Getting to Joshua Tree
The closest airport to Joshua Tree is Palm Springs, CA. However, any of the LA area airports are decently close enough to Joshua Tree, including LAX, Orange County – Santa Ana, Long Beach, and Ontario. As I was flying from New York, there is a direct flight to Ontario which is the second closest airport to Joshua Tree after Palm Springs.
Like all the National Parks in the US, the tourism infrastructure here is top notch. The roads are perfectly paved, sights and signs are clearly marked everywhere, and bathrooms exist in the most unexpected and deserted of places. As we had two days here, we visited all the main sights that Joshua Tree has to offer.
Staying in an Airstream Airbnb
While looking for accommodations in and around Joshua Tree, I quickly ruled out hotels as there is nothing inside the park, and the nearby hotels were mediocre at best. Airbnb is my preferred way of travel and oh my goodness does the Joshua Tree area have some absolutely stunning options for the wanderlust deprived traveler.
What caught my eye immediately were the Airstreams that have been converted into Airbnb rentals. There are a ton of these airstreams in the Joshua Tree area for rent, along with trailers, RVs, and other van type hippie style accommodations. It’s comical to think that back int he 60s, people staying in Airstreams were considered outcasts and generally strange people in society. Nowadays, my millennial brethren will pay upwards of $300 a night for the novelty of staying in one of these things.
I am also guilty as charged. There are a large concentration of airstreams in the town of Yucca Valley. I found an Airstream in this guy’s housing complex up in the hills in seemingly the middle of nowhere. I had no idea what to expect at first as the Airstream was only $80/night (as compared to others that were going for over $200). Safe to say, I absolutely loved staying in Tao’s complex.
He has a property just outside of the National Park where he’s converted two airstreams, an old school bus, a trailer, a van, and a boat for people to stay in. They were placed all around his property with views galore and he also has his own house in the middle where guests can use to relax. It’s a 10 minute drive on backroads from the freeway and is literally in the middle of nowhere.
I absolutely loved coming back to his house after a long day in the park and enjoy some wine while talking to the other guests and watching the stars. There are no worries and no judgement here. Also, the airstream was much more comfortable and spacious than I thought. It’s a price I’d gladly pay again and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to stay in one!
Day 2: Joshua Tree Full Day Itinerary
In addition to exploring the park the previous late afternoon, I dedicated an entire day today to exploring Joshua Tree. We woke up before dawn to witness the sunrise from our airstream trailer (which was epic). We went to breakfast at Crossroads breakfast for a delicious breakfast, got a breakfast burrito to go for our lunch, and made our way to the entrance of Joshua Tree at 8am.
Joshua Tree National Park has one main road that goes from the west entrance to the south entrance. Most of the main sights are along the main road, or a short drive on a smaller side road. I wouldn’t call many of the main stops “hikes”, but rather trail-walking (1 to 2 miles round trip) along mostly flat and comfortable roads. We focused our day on the hikes around the park. There were a few sights I wish I had visited like Key’s Ranch and the abandoned mill but next time!
Hidden Valley – 8:00am to 10:00 am
Driving in from the main west side entrance, you’ll see Hidden Valley as one of the first main stops along the main road. The trail is located opposite the Hidden Valley campsite where we saw loads of people with their tents and RVs camping in the park. What a great place to camp!
The hike itself is just a 1 to 1.5 mile loop and is mostly flat. As such, this trail attracts many visitors so we decided to come here first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Once you have crested the ridge you will feel totally isolated from the humming roadway. Next, you’ll enter Hidden Valley and be treated to beautiful rock towers and cliffs on every side. Made of monzogranite rock, these formations are the most well known part of the park! They where formed over 100 million years ago when magma cooled into monzogranite beneath the surface of the earth.
There is an abundance of Joshua Trees here so any picture you take will likely turn out fantastic.
Jumbo Rocks/Skull Rocks – 10:00am to 12:00pm
Jumbo Rocks starts off with a marked trail but like most hiking trails in Joshua Tree, it turns into a choose your own adventure type hike. A lot of the hikes involve climbing the rocks in some capacity and I just chose which rock looked the most climbable. The rocks here are incredibly grippy making it easy to climb with even tennis shoes. Any problems that arise normally do not come with climbing up, but with climbing down! It is more difficult and scarier to come down!
Jumbo Rock and Skull rock are located next to each other and are one of the highlights of the park. Like its name, Jumbo rocks is a formation of larger than normal rocks and skull rock is simply a rock shaped like a skull.
Arch Rock – 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm
Following the main road, the next stop is Arch Rock. It is located at the White Tank campground (not labeled on any of the official maps). It is a short 0.5m hike to the arch rock. We also had lunch here which was a treat.
As the name suggests, the sight to see here is the arch rock formation here. Great for pictures! I also climbed on top of the arch which is a much scarier experience than it looks.
Cholla Cactus Garden – 2:00 pm to 2:30 pm
They are everywhere. On both sides of the road. There is a designated area with a 1/4 mile loop on one side of the road, which I highly recommend sticking to. We decided to be renegades and go to the other side of the road to avoid the crowds. These cactus might look cute and unassuming but they are the complete opposite.
While walking along the cactus, I felt something on the back of my shoe and my natural inclination was to brush it off. Not thinking it could be a rogue cholla cactus, I somehow swatted the cactus onto my calf! I was shocked! It didn’t actually hurt while it was on my leg but it did not want to come off my leg. Pulling on it was extremely painful and felt like it made it just sink into my flesh more.
In the end, the trick is not to panic, take two rocks, and give one hard pull. It will be painful, there is no way around that, but it will come off.
Cottonwood Springs – 2:30 to 3:30 pm
As evidenced on the map, most of Joshua Tree’s most iconic spots are on the west side in the upper Mojave desert. This is where you see the big rocks and clusters of Joshua Tree. The eastern side is a totally different landscape, taking on a more arid desert like feel similar to what we’d see in Death Valley. There are not many stops to be made here besides a few lookout areas.
This area also sees far less visitors as traffic was almost non-existent.
Hall of Horrors – 4:00 pm to 4:30 pm
Hall of Horrors is a group of rocks across the road from Saddle Rocks which are arranged in parallel fashion forming a series of “halls”. This is a fairly popular area but it holds large numbers of people fairly well with the various faces of the formations acting as a natural buffer. Whatever sort of climbing you’re looking for, be it moderate cracks, difficult sport routes or even runout slabs look no further.
Keys View – 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm
For sunset, I decided to head up to Keys View, one of the highest and most popular viewpoints in Joshua Tree. You can even see Palm Springs and Coachella from here. The crowds all came in for sunset as the sun sets directly in front of the viewpoint here.
There are no Joshua Trees around Keys View however, and I think the sun setting over a forest of Joshua Trees perched up on a high boulder is actually more picturesque than Keys View. Nevertheless, we very much enjoyed this sunset with our bottle of wine.
Pappy and Harriets – 7:00 to ???
One of the top restaurants that was recommended to us was Pappy’s. No trip out to Joshua Tree is complete without a night at Pappy And Harriet’s. The iconic restaurant/saloon/outdoor music venue has history dating back to the 1940s when the original building (and the surrounding Pioneertown) was designed to be a 1800s frontier set for Hollywood movies.
Nowadays, it’s no longer used as a film set but is a restaurant and live music bar that welcomes all travelers and locals alike. They had decent food here and a wide selection of beers. It seems like in a town as small as Joshua Tree, Pappy’s was the main spot in town for everyone to congregate on a Friday and Saturday night.
The previous night we ate at the other famed establishment, Joshua Tree Saloon. I’d recommend both restaurants but be prepared for heavy, unhealthy, and large portioned American food in these joints.
Day 3 Morning: Mojave National Preserve
After a fun night at the famous Pappy and Harriet’s bar in Pioneer Town, we woke up early again to catch another beautiful sunrise over our airstream trailer. Like all our days, we wanted to get an early start on the road as Day 3 included a lot of driving as well as sights to be seen.
We had our breakfast at the Natural Sister’s Cafe which is a popular breakfast cafe for the crowds looking to hike Joshua Tree early. While I’m not a big fan of vegetarian dishes, I needed a slight detox from the heavy meaty food I’d consumed the past few days. It’s strange enough to find a vegetarian restaurant in the middle of the desert but the food here was actually quite good.
From Joshua Tree, it is a relatively straight forward drive to the Mojave National Preserve. We passed through the town of 29 Palms at the northern entrance of Joshua Tree. I’d highly recommend filling up gas here as well as buying any snacks/supplies because it is quite remote going from here and the gas will be much pricier once you do find some.
Arriving at the Kelso Dunes around 10:30, we didn’t have much time to see all the wonderful sights of the park. We chose what I thought is the highlight of the place at Kelso dunes. Like the Mesquite sand dunes we’d see in Death Valley, these are even larger dunes in the middle of the Mojave.
They are almost twice the height of the Mesquite sand dunes and offer views of the entire park. We didn’t have time to hike up to the top because we parked at the wrong area unfortunately but the views and pictures from other people seem fantastic. If you have 2 hours or so, it is easy to summit the dunes and back as the sand is harder than a place like the Sahara.
There is so much to explore here and I think the sunset at the top of Kelso Dunes would have been stunning.
Lunch in Baker, CA
I wish we had more time in the Mojave as there is so much more to explore. The Joshua Tree forest looks incredible, even though we had just been to the Joshua Tree National Park for the days prior. There are actually many more Joshua Trees in the Mojave National Preserve than the park itself!
Nevertheless, we exited the northwest side of the park to the town of Baker. We weren’t planning on stopping here as we had enough lunch snacks to power us through to Death Valley, but we saw an enticing Mexican restaurant in front of us at a 4-way stop. I couldn’t say no. We walked in and it was mostly people speaking Spanish, along with tourists road tripping like us which is a good sign. Tacos are only $2 each and I ended up having 5 or 6 tacos Al Pastor which was just what I needed after frolicking in the sand dunes.
Gas here is considerably more expensive than near Joshua Tree but I’d recommend filling up the tank here as it is even more expensive in Death Valley.
Day 3 Afternoon: Death Valley
After a delicious lunch of tacos, it was time to head to Death Valley. From Baker, CA it is a two hour drive to Death Valley. Our plan was to spend the remaining hours at the Mesquite Dunes after reading that sunsets here are gorgeous.
The drive from Baker, CA to Death Valley couldn’t be more beautiful. The drive touches on the outer ranges of Death Valley with towering and steep mountain ranges greeting us the entire way. The road is sparsely used and at times, it felt like I was the only person left in the world.
Describing Death Valley
Describing Death Valley is an essay in and of itself. Most people think of Death Valley as just a really hot place but it is so much more. To summarize as elegantly as possible, it is the ultimate display of nature’s superlatives. Extremes on all ends colliding in one small park in California. From dramatic mountain ranges, to volcanic craters, to rolling sand dunes, to salt flats, to stunning badlands, this park as extremes of all ends colliding in one park. You can drive a few minutes and be in a completely different landscape, all more stunning than the last.
Personally, it reminded me a lot of previous places I’d been to. Namibia’s landscapes really resonate with me here, especially the drive around the Fish River Canyon. Bolivia’s Salt Flats are an obvious comparison to the much smaller Badwater Basin, and Zabriskie Point is so similar to Rainbow Mountain in Peru. Death Valley truly is a mind blowing place.
Where we stayed
Within the National Park, there are essentially two “villages”, Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek that are more or less just hotels with a gas station. There are only 3 hotels in the entire National Park: The Oasis Inn, The Furnace Creek Ranch, and Stovepipe Wells Hotel. The Oasis and Ranch are located next to each other in Furnace Creek and are owned by the same company.
The Oasis Inn is incredibly nice, with high end dining, rooms, and a big pool area. The Ranch is slightly less luxurious but offers everything you need. We stayed at the Ranch as the rooms were much cheaper ($175/night vs $400+ at the Oasis). There are many accommodation options in the towns directly outside the park. Because the park is so big, we wanted to stay inside the park to avoid driving for so long to get in and out every day.
I would recommend booking accommodations at these two hotels in advance. They can book up quickly during the peak season months as there are literally only these three accommodation options and tourists want to stay inside the park.
Mesquite Sand Dunes for Sunset – 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm
We arrived at the south entrance near Death Valley Junction around 4pm. The Mesquite Sand Dunes are about 30 minutes inside the park so we drove straight to it. While the dunes are nearly as big or expansive as other deserts I’ve been to like in Morocco, or Egypt, the surrounding landscapes of Death Valley give it that otherworldly feeling.
Most people park their cars and walk a few minutes out to snap some pictures. I wanted to hike deeper into the dunes and get away from the crowds. The dunes themselves are not too intimidating. The sand is pleasant to walk on but not sink to your knees soft like the ones in Sossusvlei, Namibia that made climbing them incredibly difficult. The highest dunes here are probably 30m/100ft in height making them totally manageable, especially during the cooler sunset hours.
We walked for about 30 minutes until we pretty much got to the tallest dune in the area. We chilled here and watched the sunset over some wine. There was no one around us anymore and the views were totally worth it. As the sun set, the pink aura around the sky gave way to the moon rise which is just an amazing experience made even better.
And finally playing around with my drone yielded some great pics!
Dinner at Badwater Saloon
The Mesquite Sand Dunes are located next to the Stovepipe Wells Village. We had dinner at the old school bar and saloon here. The food was decent for what you could get being literally in the middle of nowhere. We shared a burger and some local beers before calling it an early night.
Day 4: Death Valley
This day is dedicated entirely to exploring Death Valley. We wanted to get up early enough to see the sunrise at Zabriskie’s Point. As with Joshua Tree, we packed our breakfast and lunch with us in the form of snacks/leftovers from previous dinners.
Zabriskie Point and Hike – 6:30am to 10:30am
One of the most renowned vistas in Death Valley National Park can be had at Zabriskie Point, which features an impressive nest of badlands. These are heavily eroded and barren sedimentary formations, most famously associated with certain parts of the Great Plains but found in many dry regions of the globe. Set along Furnace Creek, the Zabriskie Point badlands, carved out of mudstone, are particularly scenic against the blank flats of Death Valley and the mountains looming beyond.
Some of Death Valley’s most iconic pictures are taken here. For the sunrise, there were 15-20 people perched at the lookout with their tripods waiting for the best picture opportunities.
After sunrise, I was about to leave until I saw signs near the parking lot for hiking trails. I had no idea you could walk onto these rocks but I’m glad I saw the sign!
This is where the real magic is. It’s one thing to look at these badlands from afar but walking through them is special. We did the Golden Trail loop for about 5 miles round trip. Climbing up and down the rocks was not as difficult as I expected as the elevation is not so extreme. The views and picture opportunities here are effortlessly picturesque and it’s hard to take a bad picture.
The trails are marked as one way distance, NOT round trip. It said 3.5 miles for the Golden Canyon hike but that means 7 miles for the loop!
Although there are no bad pictures here, I think the coolest way to take a picture with someone in it is to take it from a distance. Zoom in on the person from afar with the background in the picture. Something like this:
Devil’s Golf Course – 11:00am to 11:15am
After Zabriskie Point, our plan was to drive to the Badwater Basin to look at the Salt Flats. Along the way, there are a few other sights to see including the Devil’s Golf Course. Located nearby to the Salt Flats, the Devil’s Golf Course is a salt pan covered with lumps and spires of crystalline salt.
These clumps are incredibly sharp and there are warning signs all over saying do not fall, otherwise these incredibly sharp salt rocks will maim you. There isn’t much else to do here besides take a picture and check it off the list. You really will mess yourself up if you make one wrong turn. The pictures are worth a visit though!
Natural Bridge – 11:30am to 12:30pm
Or take a one-mile round-trip hike to Natural Bridge, a dramatic rock formation that spans a wash. And an unpaved road leads to Devil’s Golf Course, a jagged expanse of eroded rock salt. (Note that hiking is not advised during summer months.)
Badwater Basin – 1:00pm to 2:00pm
No trip to Death Valley would be complete without a visit to the Badwater Basin. Located at the southern part of the park, this is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.
From the plaque at the entrance of the park:
“Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 282 ft below sea level. At Badwater, significant rainstorms flood the valley bottom periodically, covering the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water. Each newly-formed lake does not last long though, because the 1.9 inches of average rainfall is overwhelmed by a 150-inch annual evaporation rate. This means that even a 12-foot-deep, 30-mile-long lake would dry up in a single year.”
From the parking lot, it is about 20 minutes walking to the whitest part of the salt flats. Most people didn’t even walk to the expansive part of this attraction, but I would highly recommend walking past the brown part of the salt flats at the beginning of the park.
It is remarkable that something like this exists in a desert and mountainous area like Death Valley. It is very similar to the Uyuni Salt Flats of Bolivia, although only a fraction of the size. The salt crystals are much bigger than those in Uyuni which is why you see many cars driving through the Uyuni salt flats. Nevertheless, the surrounding dramatic mounts of the Badwater Basin makes this place very unique.
Relaxed at the Oasis Inn – 2:30 to 4:00pm
After Badwater Basin, it was getting very hot out (90F+/32C+) and we had been out since dawn so we decided to take a break at the Oasis Inn. We weren’t staying here (but at their other resort The Ranch) but no one seemed to mind. We took a dip and then a nap by their pool which was nice and refreshing.
Artists Drive and Artists Palette – 4:00pm to 5:00pm
The Artists drive is a scenic side road near the Natural Bridge and the Badwater Basin. It goes through a series of colorful mountains hence the name Artists Drive. It culminates at the Artist’s Palette, a mountain that looks as if someone with a giant paintbrush dipped it in many different colors painted the mountainside. With shades of green, white, pink, brown and, yellow, this is one of the most iconic places in Death Valley.
Also coming here at different times of the day and of the year will yield a different image as sunlight, rainstorms, and windstorms re-arrange the color palette of the mountain.
Zabriskie Point Sunset – 5:30pm to 6:30pm
I was so impressed with Zabriskie Point that I wanted to go back and catch it at sunset. As with all of Death Valley, it’s all about time of day as different positions of the sun bring out different colors and hues. Zabriskie is a shining example of this. The colors at sunset were more pronounced as the sun made its way over the horizon. Was it better than sunrise? It’s hard to say but I can safely say it is a great place to drink some wine and enjoy nature at its finest.
Dinner at the Oasis Inn
We made reservations at the Oasis Inn for dinner. As it is by and far the nicest hotel in the park, and probably within many zip codes, the food here was fantastic. The menu changes seasonally but we drank cocktails and ate a shortrib dish that was absolutely delicious. A welcome reprieve from the countless burgers, fries, jerky, and random snacks we had been eating.
Day 5 Morning: Death Valley
The next day, we woke up early again to catch the sunrise. This time, we decided to go to the Badwater Basin and watch the sunrise over the Salt Flats.
Sunrise at Badwater Basin – 6:30 am to 8:00 am
We arrived here around 6:30 and walked 30 minutes from the parking lot until we were far out into the salt flats. There were a few other people here taking pictures but it never felt crowded at any point. The morning hours are a fantastic time to come to the Salt Flats and a great time to make photographs.
Ubehebe Crater – 9:30 am to 10:00 am
Ubehebe Crater is a giant crater located near the northern part of Death Valley National Part. It is the starting point of the dirt road that leads to some of Death Valley’s best spots such as the racetrack, lost burro mine and teakettle junction; however, the crater itself is worth a trip to in itself.
We hadn’t even heard about it until our waiter from the Oasis from the previous night told us about it. I guess I am a fan of giant holes in the ground so we had to come here.
Ubehebe Crater is a maars volcano that was created by a phreatic eruption two to seven thousand years ago. Hot magma converted groundwater into steam, which created an intense pressure and an intense explosion. The result was a half-mile wide crater surrounded by a large cinder field.
The crater is half mile wide and about 700 feet deep. You can actually climb down to the bottom of it but the thought of climbing back up was not appealing. As we did so many hikes already on this trip, we walked to the first peak of the crater and called it a day as the views won’t really look much different from anywhere else (it is just a giant crater).
Dante’s View – 11:30 am to 12:30 pm
Similar to Keys View in Joshua Tree, Dante’s View is at the peak of a mountain overlooking the entire valley. The views here are quite insane and you don’t need to hike at all to get there (just drive). If I did this itinerary again, I would come here for sunset next time as the sun sets directly in front of the viewpoint.
Day 5 Afternoon: Red Rock Canyon
After visiting Dante’s View, it was time to exit the park and drive towards Las Vegas. Make sure you have enough gas to make it at least until the town of Pahrump. If you’re visiting from Death Valley from Las Vegas, this is the last town you will see so make sure to stock up on supplies and gas here.
From Pahrump, it is just 1 hour to the Red Rock Canyons.
Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop – 2:30 to 5:00 pm
Red Rock Canyons really reminded me of the Isalo National Park in Madagascar. Sure there are no lemurs here, but the canyons, rock formations, and colors are exactly like the canyons hike in the Isalo National Park.
Because Antelope Canyon is located in Navajo territory, it is 100% mandatory to book a tour through the local operators in the area. The cost is around $30 per person. All tours essentially take the same route walking through the slot canyons. There are two areas, the upper Antelope canyon and the lower Antelope Canyon. I elected with the upper canyon but I’m told both will blow your mind (and I believe it).
The light beams in Antelope Canyon are, to me, what makes this place is so unforgettable. They only occur at certain times of the day and only last for a short while but when they shine through the openings up top it’s truly a sight to see.
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