Death Valley: A beginner's guide
Death Valley might have the coolest name of any national park (or area in America). Death Valley… it just sounds scary. Located between the Panamint and Amargosa Range, Death Valley got its name from some pioneers in the 1800’s. Seeing people drop dead from the heat and dehydration in Valley, it is said that someone stated, “This place will be the death of me.” Considered to have the hottest temp ever recorded @ 56.7°C (134°F) it is not recommended to visit during the summer months. However, since it is the lowest point in the North Western Hemisphere, there is some interesting landscapes to observe.
When to go:
Late Winter/Early Spring or Late Fall/Early Winter are your best windows. It can get cold in the valley in the Winter and extremely hot in the summer. I went in early March and the temperature was already in the high 70’s Fahrenheit. But it was perfect for hiking all day and the night skies were so clear, I have never seen so many stars in my life.
Where to stay:
The one and best choice in the middle of the valley is the ‘Oasis at Death Valley’. There are two separate hotels here which are about a 2-minute drive apart. The more luxurious side is called The Inn at Death Valley. Here you will find lush grass, babbling creeks, nice pool and restaurant. It is also a little more expensive. The other hotel is called ‘The Oasis at Death Valley.” A steakhouse, small convenience store, ice cream shop, swimming pool and games… This side is a little more laid back and family friendly. It is also closer to the Furnace Creek Golf Course. Book in advance since it will sell out.
What to do:
1) Badwater Basin – 20 miles from the hotel you’ll pass some other sites along the way. But you can’t come out to Death Valley and not visit the lowest spot in America. This is where the record temperature was set. It is ¼ hike from the parking area out to the middle of the salt flats. Great spot to catch a sunset.
2) Artist’s Palette – A road winds through the rocks in a one-way direction off the main road. You’ll have stunning views and chances to get ou
t and hike. It is called Artist’s Palette, because a lot of the rocks look “painted” due to different minerals oxidization.
3) Zabriskie Point – you will pass this if you come from Vegas. Great views of the different rock formations and at the top, you look down through the canyons.
4) Devil’s Golf course – Extreme terrain that only the Devil would want to play on. It’s off the main road so if you don’t have time, a picture in front of the sign is still pretty cool.
5) Mosaic Canyon Trail – a lot harder than was advised. There are points that you are using your hands to climb up some rocks. And the trail isn’t well defined, luckily some previous hikers left rock “arrows” to point you in the right direction. Recommend for a sunrise hike!
6) Sand Dunes – Probably the 2nd most famous landmark in Death Valley behind Badwater Basin.
7) Ghost towns – there are a few located in Death Valley National Park. Depending on how much time you have, these fun little side trips. Old mining towns that have since been abandoned. I checked out Rhyolite which is just passed the boarder in NV. It was cool, but most of the buildings had a fence around them. Not sure if that was because of Covid or not?
When I go back, there are jeep rentals from Farabee’s Jeep Rentals. This is located near the hotel, and you’ll get a jeep and some off trail maps. Some people I met did it and highly recommended it.
How to get there:
I recommend coming in from Vegas if you have the choice. The drive was really easy and fast, it took about 2 hours from Vegas vs 5-6 from Los Angeles. I live in Long Beach, CA and flew to Vegas to start my trip from there. Plus, you get 1 night out in Vegas… why not?! I rented a car from the airport, spent the night in Vegas, got up and drove at sunrise the next day.
If you have never been a trip solo, couples or with the family is totally worth it. Your biggest battle will always be the elements, so make sure you are prepared and stay away from mid-summer… It’s not worth it!