Death Valley is a land infamous for extremes and intensity. The name of the park speaks for itself. Despite the morbid sounding name, Death Valley is a fantastic desert landscape that is teeming with a surprising amount of life. Record summer heat and droughts that seemingly never end are a welcome contrast to the surrounding snow-covered peaks. Depending on the time of year you visit, both flora and fauna indigenous to the area will be ever-present and visible.
Straddling the California and Nevada border, Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in North America. The park itself also houses over 3.4 million acres of wilderness. This acreage makes it the largest contiguous wilderness in the continental United States. Within this expanse of wilderness hides many tiny desert oases providing a home for a diverse population of wildlife and plants. When the sun goes down, the night sky lights up, unlike anywhere else in the country. Beyond its landmass, Death Valley is certified as the largest Dark Sky National Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.
No matter the time of year you visit Death Valley, you are in for an unforgettable introduction to a genuinely diverse desert landscape. The vistas seem never to end, and hikes bring forth the parts of the land’s geological and historical history often forgotten by man. Death Valley is a landscape filled with adventure that will bring you off the beaten path and into places that seem like another world.
When to Go
Death Valley has long been known as a winter classic for adventure travel and outdoor history tours. The park offers an amazing array of landscapes to hike through and to view from afar, including canyons, sand dunes, mountains, and desert oases. While the valley is gorgeous at any time of year, there are a few particular reasons why it is known as a world-class winter adventure.
December to April are the busiest months to visit Death Valley National Park. Spring is arguably the most popular time to go. Some years, the valley is in bloom with fields of gorgeous wildflowers, drawing swaths of tourists from all over the world. Still, the entire winter remains popular as the days are the perfect temperature for hiking, backpacking trips, and sightseeing.
The snow-covered mountains surrounding the valley make winter an ideal time to see the desert colors contrast with the peaks of snow. Not only that, but the low angled winter light makes winter months a good time of year for photographers to visit the area. Rare desert rainstorms are most likely to occur during the winter – specifically during February. So, check the weather before you plan to leave on a winter backpacking venture because you may be lucky enough to experience a desert storm.
If the valley gets enough rain in the winter months, the Spring often produces a fantastic array of wildflowers. The desert can yield a breathtaking floral display of colors in contrast to the harsh landscape. The flowers are usually in bloom from March to early April. The National Park Website will publish wildflower updates during this time to let visitors know when the flowers have started blooming. They do not bloom every year as their productivity is highly dependant on the amount of rainfall.
Throughout the winter and especially during the months the wildflowers are in bloom, you should plan on making early reservations a few months in advance for any campgrounds, lodging, or guided trips. The daytime temperatures and the aesthetic contrast of colors bring in visitors from all over the world, and the park amenities get booked fast.
October and November are another excellent time of year to visit but are not quite as popular as the months that follow. Fall brings cooler temperatures and strikingly clear skies. Camping areas and Ranger programs open up at the beginning of October, and the park stays relatively uncrowded until Thanksgiving.
In the first part of November, the park is home to the week-long Western festival known as the 49er’s Encampment. This festival can bring in many visitors at one time, but the majority of them are isolated to areas of the park that are accessible by motor vehicles.
Death Valley’s summer season takes place from May to September. The summer is the low season for a good reason: extreme summer heat. According to the National Park website, “In the summer months (May-September) temperatures average over 100°F (38°C), and often exceed 120°F (49°C).”
Despite these scorching temperatures, many park visitors still tour during this time but do so strictly by car on paved roads, or quickly head towards higher and cooler elevations. Vehicle touring allows visitors to stop at iconic viewpoints along the way. Hiking at lower elevations is not advised throughout the summer months due to the extreme temperatures, although some visitors choose to hike on shorter or higher elevation trails. The most popular summer trails include the Telescope trail and Wildrose Peaks. In fact, we take advantage of the higher elevation and lower temperatures on our Telescope Peak backpacking/basecamp style trips that run through these summer months.
Camping and lodging are still available during this time, and established lodging is more popular than the campgrounds.
The exploratory backpacking adventures in Death Valley bring you through expansive canyons or up iconic peaks. We will guide you through the historical and geographical histories of the land on foot. Camping next to springs or in secret desert oases will give you a truly intimate glimpse into the desert of Death Valley and surrounding peaks.
Death Valley is best discovered in hiking boots. Hike through narrow canyons and over vast sand dunes to experience the spirit of the American West, but still have the chance to kick back at a prepared campsite in the evenings. After each day in this diverse wilderness wonderland, we’ll head back to camp to relax and enjoy a camp-cooked meal along with a cozy campfire.
Being a National Park that is home to such an expanse of untamed wilderness, there are endless trails, canyons, and peaks to explore. See the best of Death Valley’s backcountry during the day and return to the comforts of contemporary lodging and cozy meals each evening. You’ll still have a chance to enjoy the unforgettable Death Valley night sky beside the fire each night after dinner.
Basecamp And Backpacking Hybrid Tour
Like the idea of backpacking, but also appreciate the appeal of day hikes from an established camp? Why not combine the two with our basecamp and backpacking hybrid tour! We’ll spend the first two days of this tour completing beautiful day hikes from our basecamp, returning in the evening for delicious guide-prepared meals. Then, on day three, we’ll pack our overnight bags and head off into the backcountry for a two-day adventure where we’ll enjoy breathtaking summit views.
Need to Know
Although we will cover the logistics of your tour for you, there is still some planning to do on your part before you leave.
Primary Departure City For Death Valley
All Death Valley tours will meet and depart from Las Vegas, Nevada. One of your guides will contact you about ten days before your tour date to arrange for a pre-trip meeting time and place. The orientation will take place at the Tuscany Hotel in Las Vegas. On the morning of your tour, your guide will pick you up from your hotel and bring you to the trailhead.
For more information about your tour specific travel arrangements, visit the “trip logistics” tab on your chosen tour’s webpage.
Book in Advance
After you’ve chosen the Death Valley trip that you think you’d enjoy the most, you will want to book it as soon as you can. There will never be a shortage of lodging options in Las Vegas, but depending on the time of year you want to complete your trip, our tours could fill up fast.
Once we have confirmed your trip dates, you can make other necessary travel arrangements. Your lodging and transportation will be included during your tour, but pre and post-trip lodging will be up to you. You will also need to book your flights to Las Vegas and transportation to and from your hotel.
Wildland Trekking recommends booking your stay at the Tuscany Hotel in Las Vegas. This option is a clean, off the strip hotel that is easy for our guides to get to, even in heavy Las Vegas traffic. There are many lodging options in the Las Vegas area, but depending on the time of day and traffic considerations, our guides may require that you take an Uber, Lyft, or taxi to and from the Tuscany Hotel for your pre-trip meeting.
Most hotels in the Las Vegas area offer shuttle transportation to and from the airport. Remember, if you’re not staying at the Tuscany Hotel – the location of your pre-trip meeting – you may be required to arrange your transportation to and from the pre-trip meeting. However, we’ll pick you up for your Las Vegas hotel the following morning when we begin the trip.
When you’re traveling on any of the Wildland Trekking tours, there are many pre and post-trip logistics for you to consider. We advise that you book your flight with at least one day of wiggle room before and after your trip dates. We never expect trip delays, but they happen. Our guides work hard to ensure that all of our trips start and end at the booked times, but life can bring on unexpected challenges and delays.
For more detailed information about Death Valley travel information, visit our Travel Resources page and select the Death Valley specific travel section. If you have any questions or concerns before your trip, feel free to contact Wildland Trekking at 1-800-715-HIKE (4453).
Voila! You’re ready to explore the beautiful desert landscape of Death Valley National Park. Pick your trip style, book with us, heed our travel advice, and you’ll be soaking in some of the most breathtaking views we have to offer in no time.
Have more questions? Send us an email or call us at 800-715-HIKE (4453). We’re here 7 days a week from 9:00 to 4:30 Mountain Time to make sure your trip planning goes as smoothly as possible.
For more information about all your options, check out our Death Valley page on the website with the button below! Individual trip pages have detailed itineraries, trip specifics, travel information, and more.