Death Valley is the hottest place on earth so definitely not where you would expect to see snow but I’ve been there twice in my life and I’ve seen snow both times.
What’s the secret? Visit in the winter!
We checked in at the Furnace Creek visitor center (home to the famous Death Valley thermometer) around 3:30 p.m. then headed over to the campground to pick out our home for the night. (There are three campgrounds in this area of the park but I don’t recall which one we stayed in.) Despite our mid-afternoon arrival, we barely managed to get our tent set up and dinner cooked before dark. Early winter sunsets are no joke! It was pitch dark by 5:30 p.m. so we hunkered down in the tent for a few card games then an early night.
I guess that’s one of the trade-offs of a winter visit to Death Valley National Park. Less extreme heat (good!) but also fewer daylight hours (bad!). Although, if you really think about it, you wouldn’t be using most of the daylight hours in the summer anyway since it’s so hot. That sounds to me like another vote for a winter visit!
The next morning finds us back at the visitor center with more time to learn about the park.
Right next to the visitor center is the Borax Museum with lots of old mining equipment and informational signs outside.
Learn more about the history of borax mining in Death Valley and how it became a National Park in this video.
(Did you know there’s also a borax museum in nearby (nearby being a relative term when you’re talking about the desert!) Boron? Click here to read more about our visit to the Twenty Mule Team Museum.)
Fortified with our knowledge, we head out for the 30-minute drive to Badwater Basin.
Our drive to Badwater starts with a few posted warning signs- Flash Floods, next 55 miles; No Services, next 72 miles; Stay on the Road. Okay then. This is clearly a remote area and we would be wise to be cautious!
Do you know how Badwater Basin got its name? Well apparently the surveyor’s mule wouldn’t drink the water so it was marked on the map as “bad water”. The water isn’t poisonous though. Just REALLY salty! You can even walk pretty far out onto the salt flats here. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near this area in the summer heat but in the winter, it’s great! We read all the informational signs at the beginning of the boardwalk then walked out onto the flats before getting back on the road.
One of our family traditions when out on a road trip is to record either favorite parts of a stop or something that we learned. Just for fun, I’ll share our reviews of Badwater Basin…
Artists Drive is one-way road so on our way back out of Badwater Basin we enjoyed this 9-mile scenic drive. The rocks are quite colorful and I bet if you catch it in good light, it’s gorgeous. Even in average mid-day light it’s very pretty. The view at Artists Palette shows the most colorful portion of the drive.
More Things to See in Death Valley NP
Death Valley is the largest National Park outside of Alaska which makes it hard to see everything, especially if you only have one day. The Death Valley National Park website lists the following main attractions:
Level 1 (a little time)
- Furnace Creek Visitor Center (you should always stop at the visitor center to learn about the park and to get your Passport Stamp)
- Badwater Basin
- Artists Drive
- Devil’s Golf Course
- Golden Canyon
- Zabriskie Point
Level 2 (more time)
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
- Dantes View
- Keane Wonder Mine
- Charcoal Kilns
- Rainbow Canyon
- Ubehebe Crater
- Scotty’s Castle and underground tunnels (closed due to flood damage in 2015 but hoping to reopen in 2020)
Are you a Star Wars fan? Episode IV and VI (or Star Wars and Return of the Jedi for those of us who remember the first movie release!) were filmed, in part, in the park. Ask a ranger for tips about viewing different film locations and enjoy a visit to outer space during your time in the park as well.
Be sure to check out the printable newspapers on the park website full of tips for planning either a summer visit or a winter visit. So much good information there!
As you can see, we barely scratched the surface of this giant park which means we’ll have to go back another time. And maybe it’ll be snowing again – for the third time!
More resources for planning a trip to Death Valley
Death Valley In One Day – an article by Britney of Park Trips and More about how to maximize your visit if you only have one day.
Winter in Death Valley – an article by Tom of Travel Past 50 with more info about a winter visit to the park (spoiler -they saw snow too!)
Death Valley NP page – always check the official NPS page for the park before you visit
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