If you are looking for a fun weekend trip, look no further than our Nation’s largest National Park – Death Valley! Death Valley is about 270 miles from Mission Viejo and under a 5 hour drive time. There are various ways to get there by car, but I recommend heading out on the 1-15 and going through Baker, CA. In Baker, you can enjoy a quick stop at Alien Fresh Jerky, a really bizarre road side stop that houses a beef jerky shop and all the alien encounters you never wanted to experience. It’s basically just a cool store to look around, stretch your legs and maybe buy a quick snack, but definitely a fun experience. Once you reach Death Valley you’ll want to make sure you have a pass or purchase one there. After that, it’s up to you what to do. There are many interesting parts of the park to experience and all have their own unique features.
Furnace Creek is the main tourist area in the park with 2 different hotels, The Ranch and the Inn. There are very few places to sleep and eat in the park so be prepared to spend a lot of money if you want to do either. I do suggest bringing as much of your own food and drinks as possible. Furnace Creek also has the Visitor Center where you can learn the history of Death Valley and talk to a park ranger to get information on the best places to visit during your trip.
There are many points of interest in Death Valley and you could spend way longer than a weekend there, but I’d recommend starting at the Borax Museum where you can learn about how Death Valley was mined for Borax before it was a National Park and the company and people who pushed for it to become one. From there you can visit Zabriskie Point that overlooks a row of peaks and ridges that are multicolored and the Badwater area deep down in the canyon below. Then you’ll want to drive down into Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in North America at -282 feet below sea level. While there you can take a walk out to the salt polygons which are the result of the bottom of the lake that once was and is now all dried up.
After visiting Badwater Basin, you’ll want to head back North where you can drive through Artists Drive which is a 9 mile scenic one way loop drive through a lot of canyons where the hillsides are all sorts of colors. There are also some fun dips and narrow canyons to drive through on the way. If you are inclined to take a steep hike, you can stop at Artists Palette, named because the mountains look like an Artist just walked away with his empty color palette. They are actually truly amazing and like nothing you’ve probably seen before. On the same drive you can also stop at Golden Canyon or Natural Bridge, both of which are amazing short hikes of 1-4 miles where you can take a deeper look into the canyon walls and experience bridges carved out of rock and ancient petro glyphs.
On the other side of Furnace Creek from Badwater area is Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes which is another area you won’t want to miss. It’s almost like a scene from Star Wars with sand dunes reaching out as far as you can see. You can walk out as far as you want and run, slide and even roll down the dunes if you want to. Near Mesquite Dunes is the turn off towards Scotty’s Castle and a whole lot of other more off road vehicle type roads, many of which are currently closed due to flash floods that washed out roads this past summer.
As a last note, you’ll want to visit all these amazing places when you can actually walk around enjoy them without it being 120+ degrees outside. The weather in Death Valley can change quickly so definitely be prepared for anything that might come by checking the weather ahead of time and always carry lots of water and snacks, just in case. Death Valley is also known as the hottest place on Earth with the all time recorded temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913, so the best time to visit is now, or any other time between November to March.