How to Travel From Las Vegas to Death Valley by Bus, Car, and Helicoper

Two people Looking into Golden Canyon from Zabriskie Point, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Death Valley
Ed Freeman / Getty Images

Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth, with some of the most unforgiving terrain and certainly the most ominous name. What’s the attraction for the thousands of people who journey here from Las Vegas each year? Drama. Death Valley is the wild, surreal lunar landscape of your dreams (it was the setting of Tatooine in "Star Wars" after all). This is the desert at its most stark—and its most lush: eroding sandstone cliffs, salt flats, volcanic craters, Technicolor rocks, canyons, and “super bloom” wildflower events that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Located approximately 130 miles (209 kilometers) from Las Vegas, the easiest way to get to Death Valley is by car but you do have some options for different routes and other modes of transportation.

   Time  Cost Best for
Car 2 hours, 20 minutes 130 miles (209 kilometers) Those who want to explore on the way
Bus From 4 hours From $89 one way Those who don't want to drive
Helicopter 1 hour From $4,840 one way Those looking for the most scenic route and a splurge

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Las Vegas to Death Valley?

If you already have access to a car, your cheapest option will be to drive since you only need to pay for gas. If you don't have car access, then the Bundu Bus will be the next cheapest option. The bus travels through Death Valley on its way from Las Vegas to Yosemite and the $89 one-way fare includes a guided tour of a portion of the park. A major downside of the bus, however, is that they depart for Vegas at 2 p.m., seriously limiting your time in Death Valley.

What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Las Vegas to Death Valley?

If you're feeling spendy, a helicopter charter can with Las Vegas-based Maverick will get you to Death Valley in an hour. Helicopters can fit seven passengers but it will cost a whopping $4,840 each way. There are also small private aviation airstrips located near Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells for those flying themselves.

Otherwise, driving gets you to Death Valley the fastest. There are three routes you can take. The shortest is to take Highway 160 through Pahrump and Death Valley Junction (122 miles). You can also take I-95 to Amargosa and then 373 to Death Valley Junction. At 140 miles, it’s a longer trip but puts you on a wider freeway and allows you to see some sights, such as the strange Amargosa Valley (with its oases of endangered pupfish and the notorious Alien Cathouse brothel). Consider also staying on I-95 after Amargosa and visiting Beatty, where you can take Highway 374 into Death Valley National park. This will allow you to see the Rhyolite ghost town and is a good way to get to the Mesquite Dunes.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to Death Valley?

There’s a reason Death Valley got its name; it’s the hottest and driest place in North America. So it's needless to say, the summer heat is punishing. The spring, between March and April, is one of the most pleasant times to go and if there was rain in the winter months, you’ll catch fields of neon-bright wildflowers. Daytime temperatures in the winter can be around 65 to 70 degrees (it gets cold at night), and Death Valley is generally least crowded between Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the winter break between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the crowds show up, but it’s still less crowded than other parks like Zion and Bryce. September and October have warm temperatures

What Is the Most Scenic Route to Death Valley?

Of the three routes to Death Valley, the one that takes you from Highway 160 to 127 through Tecopa is the most scenic. It's also the longest of the three, but well worth the extra hour or so. You’ll drive over the Salsberry Pass, reaching 3,315 feet, and then drive down into the salt-crusted flats of Badwater Basin, which is the lowest part of Death Valley (282 feet below sea level). You’ll also drive to some of the most popular sites in Death Valley: The Devil’s Golf Course (a field of halite salt crystals where it’s been said that “only the devil would play golf” and the 9-mile loop of the Artists Drive formation, made of wildly colored, eroded hills that appear to be painted.

What Is There to Do in Death Valley?

You won’t be able to see all of Death Valley in a single visit—or even several. The area is 3 million acres, located in both California and Nevada, and the largest national park in the lower 48 states. It also has nearly 1,000 miles of roads. While you won’t be able to explore the entire park on the drive, you’ll get to see some of its highlights: Badwater Basin, the second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere; a ghost town; dramatic sand dunes, and more.

Some of the most important attractions in Death Valley are Badwater Basin and Artists Drive. An hour northwest of Death Valley Junction, you’ll find the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, some of the most popular and easiest-to-visit dunes in the park. The highest dune is only about 100 feet high, but they cover a vast area. And unlike the wilderness-protected dunes of Eureka, Hidden, Panamint Valley, and Ibex, you can sandboard here, if you’re into that.

The view from the top of the Black Mountains, at Dante’s View, is one of the most stunning photographic spots in Death Valley. (For Star Wars fans, this is the Mos Eisley overlook, from "Star Wars: A New Hope.")

To see more of Death Valley on your way back, consider taking a different route out than you followed in. You might consider exiting through Beatty to check out the Beatty Museum and Historical Society, and then drive through the well-preserved ghost town of Rhyolite. Traveling the I-95 south through Amargosa, you could detour to Devils Hole, a water-filled cavern just south of Amargosa where the endangered iridescent blue pupfish swims in 93-degree F waters and make your way back to The Strip.

Tip: GPS-guided mapping is notoriously unreliable here since flooding can wipe out roads and there are sometimes closures the maps don’t know about. Visit the National Park Service site to get the latest on road closures.