Death Valley: there must be a reason this park in California is called that! Often one of the factors that most frighten people hoping to visit the West Coast is the arid climate of Death Valley. The scorching temperatures and warm winds, especially in summer, are unbearable to most people. Since the summer is a popular time to visit California, the weather in Death Valley becomes a real problem for many visitors.
In this article I want to give you tips to understand the best time to visit Death Valley harsh desert area, adding some practical advice on how to survive if you happen to visit when the heat in the so-called Furnace Creek is really intolerable.
Death Valley Temperatures: An Inhospitable Wasteland
When the American poet Thomas Stearns Eliot titled one of his poems”The Waste Land” he was not referring directly to Death Valley, but in my opinion, it seems to a very fitting definition. To make you understand what to expect from the climate and landscape of this valley, remember that the immense, arid saline depression of Badwater Basin is 282 ft below sea level. Death Valley has some incredible views not to be missed, but in the summer months, you won’t be able to stay out of the car for more than a few minutes.
Death Valley temperature record
To say that that the temperatures are high is an understatement. In the summer, the peak temperature of the day is 113° F or above, and it often reaches 122° F. The record is still that set on 13 July 1913: 134° F, but it was nearly broken in August 2020, when the temperature rose to 131°F. The heat, fortunately, is dry and not humid, which lowers the perceived temperature a bit.
The lows in July and August are between 60 and 65° F at night, which is why I always recommend going for a drive around the park during the early morning hours.
Fun fact: The world record almost doesn’t belong to Death Valley, but to El Azizia, a town in Libya (136°).
Best Time to Visit Death Valley
The best time of year to visit Death Valley for some people is the winter. If you have planned your vacation in this season, you can enjoy Zabriskie Point and the other beauties of the park without succumbing to the dry heat that characterizes the area. Others prefer the relatively “mild” climate of fall and spring.
- In 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 to be between 68 and 77°. In February, the daily peak temperatures can reach 91-93° F. During the night, temperatures drop even below freezing. As you can imagine, this is the season this national park receives the most visitors. In fact, we also talked about it in our article on visiting California in winter.
- As previously mentioned, fall and spring are also popular times to visit Death Valley. Keep in mind that in April, however, the low temperatures are on average around 63°F, the maximum temperatures exceed 91° F, with peak temperatures above 104°. In November, the low temperatures are between 61° (min) and 93° F (max).
Snow in Death Valley is a rare and fascinating event. In winter you can see the highest peaks of the park covered by a blanket of snow. It is just as rare that it will rain. In Death Valley, it never rains more than 10 days a year, and the highest concentration of rainfall is in March and December (2-3 days a month).
Death Valley Warmest Months
The best months, after all, are November, February and March, during which you can also dare to venture along somewhat longer trails, such as the Golden Canyon Trail or the Mosaic Canyon Trail (among others). In the winter it might be useful to bring an anorak for when the temperatures drop, especially at night. In the spring you can see some desert plants in bloom.
Death Valley Summer Months: How Do You Survive?
If you are one of those who will visit Death Valley in the summer months, you can follow these tips to avoid being overcome by the infernal heat of the valley:
- Concentrate your visit in the early hours of the morning. The best time is from sunrise until 11:00 cam. The sunrise is really beautiful at Dante’s View, at Zabriskie Point, or on the dunes of Mesquite Flats.
- Before you arrive at Death Valley, get plenty of water. Don’t forget to fill your indispensable cooler bag with ice. Every motel has free ice machines. Rangers recommend drinking at least one gallon of water, and recommend taking energy supplements.
- You must dress appropriately. A hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and light clothing are a must during a visit to the park.
- Do not stay out of the car for more than 10-15 minutes. Fortunately, the places of interest are all close to parking lots, so you can just get out of the car without hiking.
- Stay on the main roads and trails: In this kind of heat, it is not worth the risk of getting lost. In addition, in some areas of the park there is no phone, so in case of emergency it is best not to leave the car.
In light of these recommendations (especially the first one) a good solution is to stay in the lodges inside the park or in the hotels located in the immediate vicinity of the park (In Beatty, for example). Clicking on link below you will find some tips for overnight stays in the area.