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.
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.