The distances inside Death Valley National Park are enormous, so this is merely a guideline. If there's a destination you don't want to miss, you'll have to pass up something else in the interest of time.
If you have only 1 day and want to get a sampling of the park's best-loved spots, start at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, at the center of the action in Furnace Creek. View the slide show (shown throughout the day) for an overview of the park. This advice holds even for visitors with several days. Step over to the center's museum for a look at the 10*20-foot relief map of the park, which will give you a feel for where your destinations are in the context of the region, including the all-important elevation factor. If you have time, check out the tiny Borax Museum, in an old miners' boardinghouse at the nearby Ranch at Furnace Creek. Admission is free.
Scotty's Castle is a must-see for most people, but you need to plan ahead because of the popularity of ranger-guided house tours. Even if you want to explore only the grounds, the castle is 53 miles north of Furnace Creek, over an hour's drive each way. A good plan is to make the castle your first activity after breakfast, avoiding the crowds and freeing up the afternoon for seeing other sites or squeezing in a short hike. If it's hot, reverse course and hit Scotty's in the afternoon. Easily reached spots are Artists Palette (I especially recommend taking Artists Drive), Harmony Borax Works, Badwater, Devil's Golf Course, Zabriskie Point, and Dante's View.
If the weather is agreeable, replace one or two of these with a short hike (such as Golden Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, Sand Dunes, or the Salt Creek Nature Trail) -- for details,
Because each gateway to Death Valley has its own features, visitors with time limitations can maximize their experience by choosing a different entrance and exit route. If you drove in on Calif. 127 through Death Valley Junction, try leaving on the scenic route west through the Panamint Valley. If you entered from the Panamint side, try following Badwater Road (aka Calif. 178) south from Furnace Creek, across the Black Mountains and Greenwater Valley, to pick up Calif. 127 at Shoshone.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.