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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!

scenic view along a road - desert scenery alongside and snowy mountain peaks in the distance, grey storm clouds overhead
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One of the things I love about the desert is that you can see for miles! Plenty of snow on the peaks here at Death Valley during our visit.

 

Furnace Creek

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!

family at a campsite - tent, picnic table, minivan, fire ring
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Enjoying a quick breakfast and the morning light in our campground near Furnace Creek.

 

overlooking a desert valley - a handful of buildings in the foreground and mountains in the background
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Overlooking the Furnace Creek valley in the morning light

 

The next morning finds us back at the visitor center with more time to learn about the park.

three children posing in front of a digital thermometer display showing 62 degrees outside Furnace Creek visitor center brick building
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You haven’t been to Death Valley unless you’ve posed in front of the famous Furnace Creek thermometer! It was already 62° at 9 a.m. in late November.

 

Right next to the visitor center is the Borax Museum with lots of old mining equipment and informational signs outside.

rusty metal and weathered wood on an old steam tractor used to mine boron
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Old Dinah, a steam tractor that pulled ore carts, replaced the 20 mule team wagons that had been used before that. This was eventually replaced by a railroad before the entire mining operation was abandoned.

 

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.

 

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.

three children posing next to sign that says Badwater Basin 282 feet below sea level. salt flats and mountains in the background.
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A stop at Badwater Basin requires a picture next to the sign to commemorate your visit 282 feet below sea level!

 

salt crystals and other minerals mixing with dirt on the ground at badwater basin
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Salt crystals mix with the dirt here on the edges of the Badwater Pool. Farther out into the basin, you can find a variety of continually changing crystal formations.

 

wide landscape view showing snowcapped mountains in the background and salt flats in the foreground
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You can hike about a mile out into the middle of the salt flats of Badwater Basin. Ryan ventured the farthest. Can you see him in the photo?

 

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…

 

salt flats image behind text of reviews for badwater basin "salty, flat & awesome" "amazing" "Tastes good" "salty! cool sea level sign high above us" "everything looks so tall from down here at the bottom"
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It’s a family tradition to tell our favorite part after visiting a museum or other attraction. Sometimes we mix it up by telling something we learned. What do you think? Would you visit Badwater Basin after reading our reviews?

 

 

Artists Drive

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.

Mounded dirt hills in a variety of colors - brown, red, blue, white - all caused by various minerals
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Artists Palette is the most colorful spot along the still very colorful Artists 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!

 

roadside vista - open, flat desert with mountains in the background
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Views for miles… just look at that blue sky!

 

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

 

Sharing is Caring

 

3 photos of scenery from death valley and text that says "must see winter in death valley national park". Photo of salt flats and mountains, photo of desert and mountains along the road, photo of colorful mineral-laden dirt mounds
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Pin it to spread the word of the wonders of Death Valley National Park in winter.

 

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Death Valley is the lowest, hottest, driest place on earth but if you visit in the winter, you may see snow!  Death Valley National Park is the largest park outside of Alaska so it requires several days to see everything but even with a one-day visit you can still see many highlights including Badwater Basin, Artists Palette, and Furnace Creek. via @behindeveryday
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7 Comments

  1. I love the family tradition of sharing something about a new experience! “Tastes good” made me laugh out loud! Did you guys actually try the salt water? Great post (as always)!

    1. We pinched a bit of the salt crystal to taste. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and thanks also for writing a great article about your visit to Death Valley so I could link to it.

  2. Interesting and drew us in. Did you ever watch Death Valley Days hosted by Rosemary DeCampe and sponsored by 20 Mule Team Borax?

    1. I haven’t seen that. We did visit the 20 Mule Team Museum in Boron and I still need to write that one up to post here.

  3. Thanks for sharing my video on The Borax Museum! It’s always incredibly fun to see one of my videos featured somewhere 🙂 Heather of “Travel Small Live Big”

    1. You’re welcome! It was perfect to show more about that part of the park that I didn’t take many pictures of myself. 🙂

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