Seasons Make a Big Difference Here
Choosing which season to visit Death Valley National Park is important. While the best weather is during the winter and spring months, there are visitors who come to the park even during the most intense heat – the summer. We took our trip during April (late-spring) and temperatures were already reaching high 90’s to low 100’s.
If you plan a trip to Death Valley and would like to enjoy cooler temperatures, I would recommend going during late November – early March, as it can make visiting the sites and trails which are primarily in the sun (as there isn’t a lot of shade from trees), more bearable.
Our experience, although not in the winter months was enjoyable and memorable for the whole family, including our 5 year old twin boys. We drove into the park using highway 127 and stopped briefly at the Zabriskie Point. There was a small hike from the parking lot to the top of the hill to see both the view of the valley floor and also some interesting land formations. After leaving there, we continued to the Furnace Creek Visitors Center to grab our maps and find out where we could stay overnight.
Camping in Death Valley National Park
The ranger at the visitors center gave us a junior ranger guidebook and some information on camp grounds nearby that would likely have spots open. In all, there are 12 camp grounds in Death Valley (9 of which are run by the National Park Service). It was between Furnace Creek and Texas Spring.
We drove to Furnace Creek first which is almost 200 ft below sea level (within California, this is the lowest elevation). There were a few camp sites available still but all the shaded ones were taken. We put our stuff down to claim one of the best sites available and headed to Texas Spring (at sea level) to see if the camp site there was any better.
Texas Spring was much less busy but the sites are really close together and there was virtually now shaded sites. We opted to go with our first choice there in Furnace Creek.
Must See Places in Death Valley if You Only Have One or Two Days
Bad Water – After we set up camp and made a few sandwiches for lunch, we were off to see our first sites in the park. If you head south down 178 you’ll eventually reach Bad Water. This is actually the lowest point in North America at over 200 ft below sea level. This is a salt flat that you can wander on and explore. If you look at the hillside, you’ll notice a sign that shows sea level (it is high up on the hill).
Devil’s Golf Course – On our way back up the road off to the left is a gravel road that will lead you about a mile down until you reach the Devil’s Golf Course. It doesn’t resemble any golf course that I have ever visited. There are rigid salt spires that protrude up to 2 ft out of the ground all over. It’s interesting and quite a bit different than the Bad Water area salt flats.
Artists Palette (**Top Pick**) – Heading back north on 190 off to the right is Artists Palette, one of my favorite places in Death Valley. Showing some of the best and unique colors, like an artists paint palette. I mean the colors are incredible from green to purple, it’s really something to behold. The road gets really narrow at some points and the rock walls seem to be within arms reach as you dip down a gully.
Sunsets and Star Gazing in Death Valley National Park
By the time we finished the loop, it was starting to get late so we drove back to camp to get dinner ready (hamburgers and and an assortment of vegetables). Of note, if you need supplies, there is a store in the Furnace Creek area that has just about everything you need including camp fire wood, skewers for making smores, etc.
As the sun began to set between the mountain ranges on each side, the sky turned brilliant hues of orange, reds and purples with deep blue accents displayed for all to see on the horizon.
It didn’t take much longer before we saw the stars, more brilliant than ever fill every inch of the sky. Death Valley is known for it’s untainted dark sky. The city lights are a good distance away so the sky is darker than ever.
With the rest of the United States loosing their night sky to city lights and suburban development, the undeveloped wilderness in the park makes it ideas for star gazing. Visible in the night sky is the Milky Way Galaxy and even another galaxy over 2 million light years away (Andromeda).
Continuing the Adventure the Next Morning
(**Top Pick**) – Once we packed up camp in the early morning, we headed north to Mosaic Canyon for a stroll through the most amazing polished marble wall cliffs.
The drive up to the trail head is bumpy and there are many pot holes and rocks on the gravel road. It also takes you about 2 miles back before you reach the parking area. Don’t let this deter you from trying it out. We saw vehicles of every type (RVs, minivans, luxury cars, trucks and SUVs) travel the road, the trail is worth it.
If you plan to hike this trail during the late spring or summer months, I recommend that you go early in the morning. There are sections of the trail that open up and the sun can be pretty intense in that area. The beginning of the trail is cliff walls, you’ll get some shade there and if you have kids, they will likely enjoy climbing on the walls as well.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
The sand dunes are just below the Mosaic Canyon near Stove Pipe Wells Village. I couldn’t resist the urge to go running down the sand dunes. It was intensely hot (around noon) and the sand seemed to radiate the heat even more than the other areas around the park, so we only spent at most 30 minutes there running around and checking out the snake and scorpion tracks on the sand.
That wraps up our two day adventure in Death Valley National Park. We initially didn’t have high expectations, but ended up loving the unique features of this desert landscape.