Los Angeles to Death Valley road trip

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Driving from Los Angeles to Death Valley? Make the most of your journey with this complete itinerary, containing not only the best stops along the way but also all the must-see spots within Death Valley National Park.

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Head north from LA — supercharging the itinerary with otherworldly Vasquez Rocks, Red Rocks Canyon State Park and Trona Pinnacles — before entering Death Valley via State Route 178 on the park’s west side. Continue by ticking off the biggest Death Valley attractions and, preferably, spend your night(s) at the heart of the massive park.

When it’s time to leave, exit Death Valley through State Route 190 in the east. There are fewer attractions on the way back, but the itinerary’s loop shape keeps things interesting until you’re back in LA.

Map showing the scenic route from LA to Death Valley National Park
Click for interactive mode.
  • Total distance: 644 mi / 1,036 km
  • Total driving time: 12 h 45 min

1. Los Angeles

Los Angeles offers myriad world-class experiences. If you’re down for it, tick off some of the city’s best sights before taking off for Death Valley.

  • Santa Monica Pier: This pier jutting out from Santa Monica Beach is more than a landmark. You can, of course, come only to soak up the salty views, but the array of eateries, iconic rides, street performers and the sign marking the end of Route 66 may distract you.
  • Universal Studios: Hop between themed lands loaded with thrilling attractions. The big-ticket item is the Studio Tour, taking you behind the scenes of some of your favorite movie classics.
  • Disneyland: It’s called the “Happiest Place on Earth”. Bring the kiddos — or just your inner child — and embark on a fun-filled adventure with some of the world’s most famous characters.
Blue lifeguard station on an empty Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles
Unwind on Santa Monica Beach.

2. Vasquez Rocks

45 miles (72 km) / 1 h

Wanted and highly dangerous, bandit Tiburcio Vasquez used these inclined sandstone rocks in the Sierra Pelona to remain a free man in 1874. Star Trek, The Flintstones, MacGyver and The Big Bang Theory — to name a few — include the classic productions having featured the location.

Tilted Vasquez Rocks showing off shades of orange and pink under a cloudy sky
Discover Vasquez Rocks.

3. Red Rock Canyon State Park

76 miles (122 km) / 1 h 15 min

California’s Red Rock Canyon (don’t confuse it with Nevada’s) wows you with towering red cliffs reaching for the sky. Step out of the car to gaze at massive geological masterpieces in never-ending shapes, colors and textures.

Towering red rock formations in Red Rock Canyon State Park, California
Lift your gaze at Red Rock Canyon SP.

4. Trona Pinnacles

54 miles (87 km) / 1 h 15 min

Stop in the middle of nowhere to find a scene like no other. Survey over 500 peculiar tufa spires formed tens of thousands of years ago when their nowadays dry home, the Searles Lake Basin, was under 640 feet (195 m) of water.

Note: The final five miles (8 km) are on a dirt road that is usually 2-wheel-drive accessible but may be closed during winter or after heavy rainfall.

Peculiar tufa spires protruding from the Searles Lake Basin against the backdropped of rising mountains
What planet is this?

5. Mosaic Canyon

88 miles (142 km) / 2 h

You made it. This is your first Death Valley stop!

Polished smooth by rainstorms, Mosaic Canyon has all that makes a great hike great. Feel the excitement as it narrows and opens and, if you feel adventurous, continue past the blocking boulders after 1.3 miles (2.1 km).

Narrow path through the silky-smooth Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley
Enter Death Valley’s Mosaic Canyon.

6. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

4 miles (6 km) / 15 min

Hiking, sandboarding and rolling are all ways to experience these 100-foot (30 m) Sahara-like dunes. If you have time, the 2-mile (3.2 km) return hike to the tallest dune is the one to try; because of its soft nature, allow 1.5 hours.

Hundreds of footprints in the sand of Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley
Feel sand under your feet in Death Valley.

7. The Oasis

23 miles (37 km) / 30 min

When you need to power up, The Oasis has you covered. Choose from two places to stay — the casual Ranch or upscale Inn — eateries, a general store and a souvenir shop.

8. Badwater Basin

18 miles (29 km) / 30 min

No Death Valley road trip is complete without a stop at Badwater Basin. The lowest point in North America — 282 feet (86 m) below sea level — boasts otherworldly salt plains stretching some 200 square miles (518 km).

Tip: Stop up the road to marvel at the salt formations of Devils Golf Course too.

Salt dusting the ground in Badwater Basin, Death Valley
The USA’s salty, lowest point.

9. Artists Drive

8 miles (13 km) / 15 min

Take a delightful mini road trip on Artist’s Drive. The 9-mile (14.5 km) route is framed by red eroded hills, and that it’s one way, from south to north, adds to the enjoyment. Be sure to pull over at Artist’s Palette, where nature has splashed unlikely rainbow colors across the slope, rivaling all-time greats Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Road sign saying "Artist Drive" under a clear blue sky
Don’t miss Death Valley’s most scenic drive.

10. Zabriskie Point

17 miles (27 km) / 30 min

How to approach Death Valley’s maybe most famous viewpoint? At a minimum, go on the 5-minute walk to the elevated viewing platform, affording brilliant vistas of striped badlands changing color with the sun. But also consider hiking to the valley floor for as marvelous views but much fewer fellow admirers.

Wavy badlands lit up by the sun at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
Be wowed at Zabriskie Point

11. Dante’s View

20 miles (32 km) / 30 min

Nearly 6,000 feet (1,829 m) above Badwater Basin, Dante’s View provides a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of Death Valley. Soak it all up, from the reflecting salt plains at the valley’s bottom to the imposing Panamint Range.

12. Los Angeles

291 miles (468 km) / 4 h 45 min

After saying goodbye to Death Valley, a drive of just south of 5 hours takes you back to Los Angeles.

The glittering Hollywood sign through the branches of a tree and bushes
Welcome back to Hollywood!

Where to stop on your way back from LA

About 2.5 hours into your drive from Death Valley to Los Angeles, the historic Route 66 town of Barstow makes a nostalgic stop. Check out the adjoining Route 66 Mother Road Museum and Western America Railroad Museum followed by a diner-style meal at Roy’s Cafe, set right on America’s most famous highway.

Route 66 shield on the road in Amboy, California
Pay Barstow a visit for Route 66 nostalgia.

Where to stay in Death Valley

With over 3 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous USA. To make your experience as pleasant as possible, avoid tiring back-and-forth drives by bedding down inside the park.

In Furnace Creek, Death Valley’s epicenter, the Oasis is an elegant resort comprising two separate lodging options: The Ranch (casual) and The Inn (upscale). Each facility features a spring-fed pool and on-site dining.

Best time to go from Los Angeles to Death Valley

Summer in Death Valley can be outright dangerous, with daytime highs regularly climbing above 110°F (43°C). If you can’t avoid the summer, though, bring plenty of water and avoid hiking during midday.

To dodge the extreme heat, visit between late fall and early spring. Winter in Death Valley means pleasant days in the mid-60s (18°C) but chilly, sometimes freezing nights. Typically running from mid-February to mid-April, the wildflower season can add extra color to your Death Valley adventure.

Desert gold wildflowers blooming by the roadside in Death Valley National Park
Visit Death Valley in spring for wildflower sightings.

LA to Death Valley road trip FAQ

How long is the LA to Death Valley road trip?

This ultimate Los Angeles to Death Valley loop is 644 miles (1,036 km) long, taking 12 h and 45 min excluding the time you need for the stops along the way.

Is it worth driving through Death Valley?

Death Valley features all the ingredients that makes a great road trip great. Conquer 100-foot (30 m) tall sand dunes, hike past unique geological formations and absorb epic views from roadside overlooks.

Where do you enter Death Valley from LA?

Death Valley has sixed paved entrances. The closest from Los Angeles is the one used one this itinerary, on State Route 178 / Panamint Valley Road, 214 miles (344 km) and 3 h 30 minutes away.

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