English (UK)
Max Whittaker

Discovering Death Valley

The drive from Los Angeles to this majestic national park will leave you stunned by its massive scale, endless views and otherworldly beauty.

Start:Los Angeles
End:Furnace Creek
2 - 4Days,10Stops,462Miles
Los Angeles
Ron and Patty Thomas/Getty Images
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park
Tom Grubbe/Getty Images
Red Rock Canyon State Park
Laurin Rinder/Adobe Stock
Trona Pinnacles
Nick Fisher/Getty Images
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Manuel Sulzer/Getty Images
Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
Nstanev/Getty Images
Oasis at Death Valley - STAY
Courtesy of Xanterra Travel Collection
Zabriskie Point & Golden Canyon
Armin Adams/Getty Images
Badwater Basin and Devils Golf Course
Bianca Katteler/Getty Images
Furnace Creek
Rémi Lasseron/Getty Images
Stop 1

Los Angeles

200 N Spring St, Los Angeles

California’s largest city, Los Angeles, has non-stop action and countless things to do.

Start in coastal Santa Monica, with its wide beach, a lively pier topped with an amusement park and outstanding shopping at Third Street Promenade. Legendary Beverly Hills is home to Chanel and other deluxe boutiques lining Rodeo Drive. Continue to Hollywood to wander along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and visit the TCL Chinese Theatre.

Explore historic Downtown Los Angeles (or simply DTLA), with attractions like contemporary art museum The Broad and Grand Park, an urban oasis with views stretching from the Music Center (including the Walt Disney Concert Hall) to City Hall.

Buildings have been transformed, including the ornate 1927 United Artists building, where the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles offers stylish digs and a restaurant, and the food hall Grand Central Market, which dates back to 1917. Crowds flock to the sports and entertainment complex of the Staples Center and L.A. LIVE, where you can also see musical artefacts at the Grammy Museum and catch concerts at the Microsoft Theatre. Finish your trip with a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood, with film-themed rides and backlot tours.

video

Los Angeles’s Perfectly Prepared Eggs
Stop 2

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park

10700 Escondido Canyon Rd, Agua Dulce

Even as you zip by at 65 mph along State Highway 14 near Agua Dulce, the 150-foot/45 metre tall tilted sandstone formations of Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park might just inspire a sense of déjà vu. That’s because these distinctive, ruddy formations, uplifted by an offshoot of the San Andreas Fault to an angle of 45 degrees or more, have served as a backdrop for numerous films—everything from Blazing Saddles to a pair of Star Trek films. Vasquez Rocks just looks like the sort of place where the bad guys might hang out. And indeed one did: the formations are named for the legendary Californian outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez.

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    Stop 3

    Red Rock Canyon State Park

    37749 Abbott Dr, Cantil

    Once a popular backdrop for Hollywood westerns, Red Rock Canyon State Park protects some of Southern California’s most spectacular geology. Eroded by wind and water the park’s multi hued cliffs, buttes and outcrops rise dramatically from the desert. Photographers gather at sunrise and sunset to capture these red and pink rocks at their most brilliant. Palaeontologists flock here, too. In the cliff’s sediments are the remains of prehistoric animals three toed horses, sabre toothed cats and alligator lizards. The 27,000-acre park offers several short hikes, including into the formations of Hagen Canyon and Red Rock Canyon. Thanks to the park’s distance from city lights, nights can be spectacular and astronomy enthusiasts often set up telescopes here to take advantage of Red Rock’s dark skies.

    Stop 4

    Trona Pinnacles

    Trona Pinnacles

    Bizarre. Surreal. Weird. Those are just a few of the reactions that visitors have when they first see the Trona Pinnacles, a cluster of 500 oddly shaped spires and towers that seem to pop up out of nowhere east of Ridgecrest. From State Highway 178, a five mile long track (suitable for all vehicles except after rain) leads to these mineral outcrops that originally formed underwater. From a distance, the pinnacles don’t look that big but the tallest actually rises 140 feet/43 metres above Searles Dry Lake. Film crews love the formations, which have appeared in vintage sci-fi flicks and more recently in a Rihanna video and the HBO series Westworld. Back on the road after exploring the pinnacles, treat yourself to a cheeseburger and a cooling chocolate dipped soft serve ice cream cone at Trona’s Trails Drive In, a popular stop for Death Valley bound travellers since 1958.

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      Stop 5

      Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

      Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley

      Just outside Stovepipe Wells, the Mesquite Flat Dunes are the most accessible of the five major dune systems in Death Valley National Park. Rising to a height of 100 feet/30 metres, they’re far from the tallest in the park but include three different kinds of dunes. This undulating sea of sand is positively gorgeous, especially in early morning or around sunset when the light accents the dunes’ contours and wind carved ripples. The mesquite trees that give the dunes their name also provide shelter and habitat for wildlife. Come out in the morning and you might see tracks etched in the sand by a host of nocturnal desert creatures.

      Stop 6

      Salt Creek Interpretive Trail

      Salt Creek National Park, Death Valley

      Most people wouldn’t expect to see fish in Death Valley, except maybe on their plate at a restaurant. After all, the valley is the driest spot in North America and averages less than two inches of rain annually. But follow the 1-mile circular Salt Creek Interpretive Trail and from late winter into April you can watch tiny Salt Creek pupfish spawning in the shallow stream. The pupfish survive from a time when 600-foot/182-metre-deep Lake Manly covered the valley floor and are one of five distinct species of pupfish found in the park.

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        SPOTLIGHT

        Oasis at Death Valley - STAY

        CA-190, Death Valley

        Arrive at the Oasis at Death Valley. In the resort’s more casual Ranch at Death Valley, enjoy baby-back ribs in a prickly pear barbecue sauce at the Last Kind Words Saloon.

        Stop 8

        Zabriskie Point & Golden Canyon

        CA-190

        One of Death Valley National Park’s truly iconic experiences, you won’t want to miss sunrise from Zabriskie Point as the rugged badlands below the point turn to gold with the first light of day. Paths lead down from the point and wind through the badlands, which, though stark and virtually devoid of vegetation, are absolutely beautiful. You can also explore the badlands from Badwater Road, where short adventures include the 1-mile round-trip to see the rock span at Natural Bridge and the 3-mile there-and-back hike through Golden Canyon to the dramatic formations at Red Cathedral.

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          Stop 9

          Badwater Basin and Devils Golf Course

          Badwater Road, Death Valley

          From Furnace Creek, Badwater Road runs along the base of the mottled Amargosa Range and past the craggy, crunchy and crystalline mineral formations of the Devils Golf Course to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet/86 metres below sea level. A boardwalk leads out onto the valley’s salt flats, and for some perspective of just how low this spot is, look up from the parking area to a small sign on the cliffs. It marks the height of sea level. Another highlight of any drive on Badwater Road is to follow the one-way, 9-mile Artists Drive as it meanders through colourful badlands to Artists Palette. With rocks ranging in hues from green to red to violet, Artists Palette is especially beautiful when lit by the late afternoon sun.

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            Stop 10

            Furnace Creek

            California Highway 190, Death Valley National Park

            Furnace Creek is the centre of Death Valley. Here you’ll find Death Valley National Park’s primary visitor centre—the place to visit to get your bearings in this massive park that’s larger than several states. You can also take your pick of the two hotels that comprise the Oasis at Death Valley. At the more casual Ranch at Death Valley, enjoy horse riding or golf at the Furnace Creek Golf Course and then end your day with a whiskey and the tomahawk ribeye at the Old West–style Last Kind Words Saloon. Just down the road, the luxurious Inn at Death Valley, which debuted in 1927, has recently undergone a major renovation and offers pleasures such as a spring-fed pool that perpetually remains at about 85°F/29°C—perfect for the valley’s surprisingly chilly winter nights.

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            Road Trip Snapshot

            Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

            Stop 1Los Angeles
            200 N Spring St, Los Angeles
            Stop 2Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park
            10700 Escondido Canyon Rd, Agua Dulce
              Stop 3Red Rock Canyon State Park
              37749 Abbott Dr, Cantil
              Stop 4Trona Pinnacles
              Trona Pinnacles
                Stop 5Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
                Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley
                Stop 6Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
                Salt Creek National Park, Death Valley
                  SPOTLIGHTOasis at Death Valley - STAY
                  CA-190, Death Valley
                    Stop 8Zabriskie Point & Golden Canyon
                    CA-190
                      Stop 9Badwater Basin and Devils Golf Course
                      Badwater Road, Death Valley
                        Stop 10Furnace Creek
                        California Highway 190, Death Valley National Park

                        Car & RV Hire

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