Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.
Death valley, known for its extremes in both heat and apathy, so if you’re on the lookout for some excessive heat, then Death Valley is the place for you. The area is rich with wildlife, from mountain lions, to mule deer, its clear that Death Valley – despite its name – is very much alive.
If you’re planning to explore the plains of this valley during the hot months of the year then beware that this is one of the hottest places on the planet, with severe waves of humidity that’ll come soaring at you, draining the water out of your body.
Always come prepared with extra supplies of water to stay hydrated. However staying in Death Valley during the winter is truly a mind-blowing experience, with the cooler temperatures combined with vibrant sunny skies, make winter the perfect season for anyone to go exploring.
Table of Contents
- What Is Death Valley?
- Best Time To Visit Death Valley
- How To Survive During The Summer Months in Death Valley?
- Death Valley Winter Hikes
- Best Places To Visit in Death Valley National Park
- Where to Stay in Death Valley?
- Doom Valley…
What Is Death Valley?
More than just a scorching desert, Death valley offers park visitors a striking contrast of landscapes to explore. From defrosting snow, to lush wildflower meadows. Establishes on October 24, 1994 Death Valley National park is a beautiful but challenging landscape, where unique wildlife have developed incredible adaptations to the arid and harsh environment. Located in both California and Nevada, its the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has almost 1000 miles of roads that provide access to both popular and remote locations in the park. The climate of Death Valley is sub-tropical desert with mild winters and very hot summers, and the sun shining proudly all year round, it’s the perfect destination for those who want to escape the cold, short winter days for a more beautiful, milder climate with sceneries that will quite literally blow you away.
Best Time To Visit Death Valley
The best time of year to visit Death Valley for most people, is during the winter months. If you have planned your vacation in this season, you can enjoy the more milder areas like Zabriskie Point and other treasures scattered around the park without having to surrender to the dry heat that rules the area. Others, however seem to prefer the “mild” climate of autumn and spring.
During winter the weather conditions in Death Valley are comparably mild. Between December and March, low temperatures usually range between 39 and 54° F, while the high temperatures get between 68 and 77° F. In February, the daily peak temperatures can reach 91 to 93° F. By nightfall the temperatures drop and can even go below freezing. I’m sure its quite obvious by now that during this time of year the park receives the most visitors.
In April, however the lowest temperatures are on average around 63° F, maximum temperature reaching 91° F, with peak temperatures above 104° F. In November the low temperatures are between 61 which is the lowest its ever been and 93° F which is the highest its ever been.
Snow in Death Valley is a rare and fascinating event. In winter you can see the highest peaks of the park coated in a blanket of crisp snow. Snow is almost as rare as rain falling in Death Valley. In Death Valley it never rains for more than 10 days a year. The highest concentration of rainfall is in March and December which totals to 2 or 3 days a month.
How To Survive During The Summer Months in Death Valley?
If you are adamant to explore the dusty plains of Death Valley during the summer months, you can follow these tips to avoid being overwhelmed by the intense inferno-like heat of the valley.
- Begin exploring during the early hours of the morning, the best time being from sunrise until 11 am. The most beautiful pocket of serenity you can find during a sunset is at Zabriskie Point. There’s something about the brief orange halo slowly ascending in the sky, that gets your soul fluttering.
- Before arriving at Death Valley, bring plenty of water with you. Don’t forget to fill your indispensable cooler with ice. Fortunately, though, every motel has free ice machines. Rangers recommend drinking at least one gallon of water and taking energy supplements.
- You must dress appropriately, though the sun can be pleasant sometimes, it’s certainly not appreciated when its rays are piercing through your clothes and stabbing into your scalp. Grab a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and light clothing.
- Do not stay out of the car for more than 10 – 15 minutes, fortunately, the places of interest are all close to car parks, so you can just jump out of the car without extra hiking.
- Keep to the main roads and trails, in heat like this its no fun getting lost, and some areas of the park have no phones available, so in any case of emergencies do not leave the car.
Death Valley Winter Hikes
One of the main reasons to visit Death Valley in winter is that it’s the only time of year when hiking is actually possible. But do keep in mind that temperatures have been known to soar during the winter days as well, especially during mid-February, Temperatures can reach as high as 20° C which can make a seemingly easy hike, quite tough, very quickly. Always remember to carry water with you, and avoid hiking in the middle of the day, try to stick to the morning or late afternoon. Naturally you’d expect to find crowds of people scattered across the valley during the winter season. But fortunately, the park is so huge that you won’t find yourself bumping shoulders with another group of visitors. Here are a few fairly easy hikes to visit:
- Zabriskie Point Trail
- Darwin Falls
- Badwater Basin Crossing
Zabriskie Point Trail
As far as Death Valley hikes go this one is quite possibly the easiest, a short 30 minute trail leading to a viewpoint where you can enjoy scenic views over the Badlands section known as Zabriskie Point. Best hiked from November to April, This paved trail doesn’t prevent technical difficulties, but its uphill, with the beaming sun shining directly on to you, so it may be difficult if its hot, don’t forget to take plenty of water, so that you can take a long sip whilst walking, helps keep you dehydrated for the walk.
If you want to hike deeper into the Badlands, at Zabriskie Point there is also a 2.7 mile loop departing from the viewpoint, taking you towards rock formations. With yellow and brown striped hills that had been shaped by the powerful forces of water, which is simply mystifying. Knowing the power of water and gazing beyond the Badlands views of the salt flats covering the floor of Death Valley, is enough to have your heart fluttering in admiration.
Wasn’t Death Valley National Park famous for its desert plains? Apparently this 1.5 hours trail, promises a trickling waterfall. You’ll find yourself coming face to face with a small but eternal flow of water, surrounded by lush vegetation, which stands proudly amid the hottest and driest place in North America. To see it, drive to the Darwin Falls car park, just off Old Toll Road, which is only 3 miles from Panamint Springs. The trail is only a mile away but it requires some scrambling and creek crossing. You’ll see vegetation stretch gradually, you’ll hear the tranquil sounds of water streaming, before you discover a crystal waterfall right in front of you at the end of the trail. Thick, bulky rocks stand proud, whilst crippled branches stretch out desperate for a brief touch of the water.
Badwater Basin Crossing
This trail allows you to cross the vast depression known as Badwater Basin which kind of makes you feel like you’re stood in a giant’s empty cereal bowl; it is one of the lowest places in North America. The total length of the trail is 6.5 miles point-to-point, and it does get a little tiring after a while, so it’s probably best if you don’t hike all of it. Just turn back when you can’t take another step forward, or arrange for someone to pick you up.
The trail starts at the car park along Badwater Road, and the first mile or so is well beaten, as this is what most people hike. Soon after, the path will become narrower and less clear, until it disappears completely. The complete crossing will take a full day so beware, as it can get very hot.
Best Places To Visit in Death Valley National Park
Part of the fascination of visiting Death Valley in winter, or any other season is the tremendous landscape variety, and the opportunity to see several different scenic locations within quite a short driving distance. Despite it’s forbidding name, Death Valley is a beautiful area of desert wonders, with sand dunes, salt flats, mountains, craters and the lowest lake in North America, combined together to make some of the most spectacular scenery in the Southwest. With roadside lookouts offering stunning panoramas, and hiking trails allowing easy access into the terrain.
The main service center in the park is the centrally located Furnace Creek, where you’ll find the park visitor center, campgrounds, restaurants, a store, gas station, and the Furnace Creek Resort. On the west side of the park is Panamint Springs, with a restaurant, gas station, and some limited accommodation. This is a great convenient stop for those who plan to enter the park from the west side, with a good lunch option if you are visiting Father Crowley Point and Darwin Falls, the two main attractions on this side of the valley. Below are some of the great places you must plan to visit in Death Valley:
- Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells
- The Racetrack
- Dantes View
- Artists Drive and Artists Palette
- Devil’s Golf Course and Artist’s Drive
- Twenty Mule Team Canyon
- Keane Wonder Mine
- Father Crowley Point
- Ubehebe Crater
- Rhyolite Ghost Town
- Natural Bridge
- Spring Wildflowers
Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells
One of the most serene sites, and most photographed landscapes in Death Valley is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, just east of Stovepipe Wells. In the morning and late afternoon when the sun bounces off of the dusty dunes, creating arched shadows – the views are tremendous. Mountains rise on the horizon providing the perfect backdrop, which is enchanting for photographers.
You can meander the dunes, clamber to the highest point, or set up a lawn chair and absorb the desert’s scenery. On busy days in the spring, there is rarely a dune without a person climbing up or running down, but on quiet days, particularly in January or February, you will likely have the dunes to yourself. If you arrive at the dunes after a mini storm, the dunes will be untracked.
With a four-wheel-drive vehicle you can take a rugged road that leads to one of Death Valley’s most mysterious sights known as The Racetrack. This area is huge crusty mud bed, where stones of all shapes and sizes can be seen with long tracks trailing behind them, as if they had been dragged through the mud. You’ll find yourself speculating on how the stones were moved. Many people think that the stones were pushed with the powerful winds after rain. Regardless of the theories, there’s no denying the underlying fascination once you’re met with these stones.
The view from the top looks out onto the valley floor, as far as your eyes will allow you to see, and across to the magnificent mountains that protrude along the far side of the valley. This lookout is a little out of the way but worth the effort. From Zabriskie Point head east on highway 190 to the signposted turn to Dantes View, it is a 16-mile drive along a twisty, paved road to the top, which stands at 5,478 feet above sea level. The temperature here is considerably cooler than the valley floor, which can be a refreshing treat on much warmer days.
Artists Drive and Artists Palette
Artists Palette is an area located along Artists Drive, a short scenic road that takes you up close to a section of the black mountain. Artists Palette is a colourful section of hillside with splashes of orange, and pink, from brown to turquoise or green created by metals in the rock. Artist’s Drive is a one-way, nine-mile paved loop, accessible to vehicles under 25 feet in length. This is a trip worth your time and a popular thing to do on the way from Furnace Creek to Badwater, located right off Badwater Road. Try to do this drive during late afternoon when the colours are especially vibrant.
Devil’s Golf Course and Artist’s Drive
Devil’s Golf Course is a flat expanse of sharp crystals that form a huge field of jagged salt boulders. Located south of Furnace Creek, just off the main road heading towards Badwater. From the parking area you can walk right out onto the field if you want. It may seem like there isn’t much to see but vastness, solitude, and pin drop silence, along with unusual sights, creates a unique experience.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon
This is a 2.7 mile one-way dirt road that runs through some incredibly magnificent scenery. The road is barricaded in some areas by rock walls on either side, barren flats, and colourful hills similar to those found just down the road at Zabriskie Point. The terrain here is much different from other parts of the park revealing the ruggedness of the region.
Keane Wonder Mine
The remains of this historic gold mine can be difficult to get to but worth the effort if you’re interested in this type of attraction. You can catch a glimpse of the still in tact old aerial tramway, along with other structures. The mine is set on a hillside and views extend across the valley.
You can get to the site by driving down the rough dirt roads, which is usually possible in a larger vehicle. With a short but moderately strenuous hike from the parking area. The road is just under 3 miles, and the hike is a quarter of a mile to the lowest section of the tram.
Father Crowley point
Father Crowley Point is a high lookout on the west side of the park that offers a different perspective than viewing areas on the busier east side of the park. If you are entering Death Valley from the west, Father Crowley Point should be your first stopping point before the long stretch towards Panamint Springs. This place offers a stunning view into Rainbow Canyon, a colourfully striped canyon created by ancient volcanic activity – fascinating.
This crater measures about half-mile wide and 400 feet deep, and it is the only crater in the area that resulted from a volcanic eruption. It is located at the north end of Death Valley in the general vicinity of Scotty’s Castle which is closed due to flooding. The ground is marked with lava flows and cinders, if you’re up for a walk the trails lead down into the crater.
Rhyolite Ghost Town
Rhyolite is an abandoned mining town, with remnants of its glorious days visible in the crumbling and decaying old buildings. One of the highlights of this ghost town is a unique art installation of ghostly figures erected on the edge of the town. One large piece, standing before a vast expanse of golden desert plains, displaying ghosts arranged in the form of The Last Supper.
Other pieces are also found here in what is now called the Goldwell Open Air Museum, including a giant pink lady made of blocks, called “Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada.”
Natural Bridge, is a large natural bridge set in a canyon, not far from Badwater. an easy two-mile round-trip hike leads to the end of the canyon, but only if you want to see the bridge, it is located about half a mile from the parking area. In the midday heat, this can still feel like quite a tiring journey, and it’s likely you’d prefer to tackle it earlier in the day.
One of the parks most appreciated attractions is the spring wildflower bloom, which usually peaks in March. Depending on the year, the conditions, and the extent of the bloom, this event can draw thousands of people to the park. It is quite spectacular that anything can grow in these super hot and dry conditions. On weekends, during the bloom, it’s not uncommon to see people pulled off to the side of the road all over the park, picnicking on the naked ground, meditating amidst the flowers or ambling through the fields.
Where to Stay in Death Valley?
The most affordable way to stay inside Death Valley National Park is camping. There are several campsites around the park, varying in terms of facilities, and opening times. The campsite at Furnace Creek is the only one that can be reserved in advance, all the others are available on a first come first served basis.
The Oasis at Death Valley Resort is located in Furnace Creek is definitely the best place to stay in the national park. It is made up of two separate properties – The Inn at Death Valley which is a luxury hotel dating back to the early 20th century with a spring-fed pool, and The Ranch at Death Valley, which offers slightly more affordable motel-style accommodation.
Explore magnificent desert plains, with trails leading to a heavenly waterfall, complete with lush greenery that’ll have you wondering if you had stepped through an enchanted portal. The sights are serene, though the seasonal changes in temperature can transform a cool tranquil moment in the valley to a sudden inferno, scorching your backs and bellies. Take a trip to Death Valley during the colder months where the days are filled with bright sunny skies, though you may feel a pinch of heat here and there, but as long as you’re smartly prepared nothing can phase you.
Is Winter a Good Time to Visit Death Valley?
Winter months are colder but still great in terms of weather and least crowded which means that you’ll have lots of moments of seclusion in the vast desert plains.
Is Death Valley Cold in Winter?
Winter daytime temperatures are mild in the low elevations, with cool nights that only sometimes reach freezing.
Is Death Valley Open in Winter?
Death Valley is open all year round, though the best season to visit Death Valley National Park is during winter, bringing cooler and more manageable days for hiking, or exploring. December and January may have spots of rain, February and March are delightful.