Death Valley National Park is unlike any place you've ever been, ever.
With neighbors like Hollywood, the Vegas strip, and the Grand Canyon, it's easy to understand why people don't always take the opportunity to visit Death Valley National Park - there is just so much competition when it comes to nearby amazing sites and experiences. But there is literally nowhere on Earth that is quite like it and, if you're one for making travel lists, Death Valley crosses off a lot of milestones. It's the driest place in North America, as well as the hottest - and, with older records from other countries disqualified, it holds the record for the hottest recorded natural temperature in the world. Let's just go ahead and declare that Death Valley reigns supreme! Which is exactly why I went there in July!
1.) Ask the Death Valley park rangers for suggestions
Rural travel activities should always be undertaken with a safe and sensible outlook and no where is this more important than Death Valley in the summer. Finding yourself unprepared can be life threatening. But we stocked up on water and other beverages (stored in a disposable cooler filled with ice), plenty of snacks, a map, a park guide, an SUV filled with gas, and wore moisture-wicking clothing, sun hats, and sunscreen. Our preparation paid off and we felt healthy and comfortable. So embrace the hottest place on earth during the hottest time of year by following 5 of my favourite ways to enjoy the park.
All National Parks are staffed by park rangers and nowhere is their advice and guidance so valuable as in Death Valley National Park. Changing weather and ground conditions may impact your travel plans and it's best to seek the advice of the experts for both your own safety and to have a minimal impact on the park itself - especially in the intense heat of summer which can reach over 122°F / 50°C.
But speaking with the rangers is much more than a safety measure- it's also a way to have a lot of fun! Park rangers lead special talks, presentations, and excursions, making your time more insightful and enjoyable one.
2.) Check out the golf, devil style.
Believe it or not, there is a gorgeous, lush, green golf course in Death Valley National Park, right beside Furnace Creek. Ryan golfed it and he loved it! And yes, you CAN do it in the summer, as long as you're willing to get up super early and take precautions against the heat.
But you don't have to enjoy any sport to love the Devil's Golf Course! This is not an actual golf course but instead the affectionate name of a natural feature. The Devil's Golf Course is an unearthly looking soil and salt formation and it doesn't take much imagination to envision it as the world's most hellish golf course.
3.) Badlands Basin: salt or snow?
Death Valley isn't just North America's hottest and driest location. At Badlands Basin, it's also the lowest point on the continent. Driving down to the Badlands parking lot, you'll be looking over what appears to be a valley of snow but in fact it's a giant salt flat. Until the moment I set foot on it, I couldn't reconcile the fact that what I was seeing was anything but an endless expanse of snow! It really is a sight to be seen! Just be careful as you walk across the salt flats. They can be slippery, just like the ice they resemble, and the distances can be deceiving. Never go anywhere, even for a tiny walk, without water and provisions.
4.) Go for a drive
You would have to be superb physical condition to attempt hiking in Death Valley National Park in the summer (heck, really at any time of year). And even then it's likely the rangers would advise against it. But driving, especially on the main scenic routes, is safe and comfortable. You should still check with the staff to ensure your intended route is safe for the day and you should still take generous water provisions in your road-worthy vehicle, but overall this is a low stress and very comfortable way to explore the park.
Two of my personal favourite drives are Mustard Canyon and the Artist's Pallet and, while there are some places where you can't easily stop for fear of blocking the road, there are plenty of scenic lookouts where you can pull over, take tons of photos, and walk a few steps to enjoy the silence of the park.
5.) Explore history
Death Valley is more than amazing land formations or natural phenomena - in many ways it is an open air museum. The conditions that visitors find so inhospitable were endured by thousands of pioneers, who made their way across the country with very few material comforts, and later by the Borax miners who did exhausting manual work under the harshest of conditions.
Their survival and their ability to carve a home and employment out of the most brutal and unforgiving circumstances is an inspiration and will certainly put any temporary heat discomfort you have into perspective!
Death Valley may just be my favourite park.
A visit to Death Valley National Park isn't something to take lightly, especially during the extreme conditions of the summer. But it is my favourite National Park and one of the most special places I've ever traveled to. It has a still, eerie beauty that I've never encountered anywhere else. Being here really reinforces how we are all at the mercy of nature and it forces you to slow down and enjoy the simple, small moments. Perhaps what I love best about Death Valley is how you can look at something that appears dead, like a canyon, a cliff, a rock, and suddenly see such vibrant life. Like the daintiest wildflowers, the quirkiest birds, maybe even a rascally coyote - they call Death Valley home and it's such a privilege to peer inside their world.
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