Unlike most National Parks, the best time to visit Death Valley is during what’s usually considered the “off-season” for other national parks—from late Fall to early Spring. That’s because Death Valley is the hottest place in the world, and temperatures soar in the summer. There’s so much to explore in this park, which is the most expansive in the lower 48 states. Austin Adventures runs adventure trips in Death Valley, and this is the span of the year we’d recommend
The best time to visit Death Valley is generally considered to be from roughly October to May. Spring and Fall are the best. Winter is still comfortable and the park is less crowded, but there’s a higher likelihood of bad weather.
There’s room to build your itinerary around your preference here. Spring brings with it beautiful wildflowers, especially when the Winter has been wet. The Death Valley Dark Sky Festival is also a big Springtime draw. Since most people consider Spring the best time to visit Death Valley, visitors need to book accommodations months (or even a year) in advance. Of course, if you travel with an adventure company like Austin Adventures, we can handle those nuts-and-bolts considerations, leaving you free to focus on the experience.
Fall brings clear skies and warm but pleasant temperatures, making it the second most popular season to visit. Autumn is also the beginning of both the camping season and the Ranger Programs. In recent years, sometimes Ranger-led tours have started later—as late as December. Many of the Ranger-led hikes are so popular that an annual lottery is held for a spot, but our adventure groups have their own experts that know the park like the backs of their hands, offering opportunities year-round.
The Austin Adventures Death Valley experience, starting out in Las Vegas, is perfect for the adult solo adventurer, or a couple looking to go on the vision quest of a lifetime. Austin Adventures’ inspired, thoughtful service will guide you through this once-in-a-lifetime communion with some of the most breathtaking natural scenes you’ll ever lay eyes on.
From the golden hues of Mesquite sand dunes to the otherworldly moonlike terrain of Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States at 282 feet below sea level, prepare for an adventure with sights unlike anything you’ve ever seen before or will see again.
A Brief History of Death Valley National Park
Given that Death Valley is one of the most extreme landscapes on Earth, it may be surprising for many to learn that it has quite the history of human habitation. Around 1,000 years ago, we know that the ancestors of the Timbisha Shoshone tribe made Death Valley their home, and there’s evidence that scavenging populations, who foraged for pine nuts and other fruits of this incredible land, made what we now call Death Valley their home as many as 9,000 years ago. Archaeologists and geologists have discovered remnants of this history, including petroglyphs, fossils, and other artifacts. Be sure to ask your well-prepared, always curious Austin Adventures’ guide about this ancient history, since they’re full of information.
The first people of European descent to visit Death Valley did not arrive until 1849 and are said to have been the folks who came up with the ominous name “Death Valley.” Headed to California seeking prosperity, they tried to take a shortcut to their destination across the valley and ran into several unexpected obstacles, including the towering Panamint Mountains. It’s said that their travels were so treacherous that, upon finally making it through the long ordeal, one of the emigrants looked back over their shoulder and said, “Goodbye, Death Valley!”
The end of the 19th century brought a number of folks looking for silver and borax, and in 1883 the Harmony Borax Works was established, bringing a number of energized young workers to the Valley until the factory closed in 1888. Tourism to the area did not begin to hit its stride until the 1920s, and the Death Valley National Monument was declared in 1933, however, the land was not actually declared a National Park until 1994. As part of the 1994 declaration, part of the park’s mission was to protect the area from light pollution, calling it a dark sky preservation, so get ready for some of the best stargazing of your life. Don’t forget to ask your guide if you have trouble distinguishing Orian from the Big Dipper!
Interesting Facts about Death Valley
- Death Valley National Park spans 3.4 Million miles, making it the largest national park in the lower 48. The other large parks are in Alaska. Just imagine being one of the ‘49ers making your way across this vast terrain in the middle of winter—their fortitude is truly remarkable.
- The highest temperature on earth was recorded in Death Valley—134 degrees Fahrenheit in July 1913 at Furnace Creek. There was a short period where this record was contested, but at the end of that dispute, the record remains. Unsurprisingly, Death Valley is also the driest place in the United States, and in 1929 there was no recorded rainfall in the area for the entire year.
- The lowest point in the US, Badwater Basin, and the highest point are both located in the park, less than 100 miles from one another.
- There are over 1,000 species of plants growing in the park. The biodiversity of Death Valley, given its reputation of being a craggy wasteland, is truly wondrous!
- Many of those incredible desert scenes from Star Wars were filmed on location in Death Valley, specifically in Artist’s Palette, the Flat Sand Dunes, and Golden Canyon, to name just a few.
Attractions and Accommodations
If you’re traveling with Austin Adventures, an experience might look like this. On the first night of your trip, you’ll meet your guide who will lead you on a hike through the beautiful golden canyon to The Oasis at Death Valley. Truly a top-of-the-line resort experience, The Oasis boasts a pool and spa, a full state-of-the-art golf course, and world-class dining options. The cuisine at The Inn Restaurant leans Southwestern and is always made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, and thoughtful inspired touch.
One of the reasons the best time to visit Death Valley is in what’s normally considered the off-season is that you can partake in all the park’s outdoor activities without being chased away by the Summer heat. During your stay you’ll ride bikes through the black mountains, stopping at world-famous Zabriskie Point, the namesake for Antonioni’s 1970 masterpiece. One of the loveliest aspects of the Austin Adventure trips are the thoughtfully planned picnic lunches that allow you to dine leisurely in nature. After lunch, you may continue on your bike ride through the “natural museum” of Mosaic Canyon, whose variegated incrustations are intricate and awe-inspiring. You’ll explore the Ubehebe Crater, thought to have been created as recently as three-hundred years ago by the Maars volcano, which is no longer active.
You’re sure to have a transcendent experience of self-discovery and communion with nature, whether you choose to take the Death Valley Austin Adventure’s trip alone or with loved ones. The park is shrouded in lore about vision quests, ghosts of the old West, and revelations about one’s own role in the cosmos and relationship to nature—just ask your tour guide, if you’re interested in some of the more far-out history of the park! Regardless of what you’re looking for on your adventure, you’re sure to find it, as the park—and your Austin Adventures guide—is here to thoughtfully accommodate every visitor to Death Valley National Park.
The Best Time to Visit Death Valley Is…
To reiterate, October through May is usually considered the best time to visit Death Valley. Mid-Spring or Mid-Fall are probably truly the best times, offering a great combination of positives without any of the extreme temperatures the valley is known for. Given that Death Valley is one of the most interesting and historically-rich National Parks in the country, we hope you’ll explore it with us. You’re going to love it.