Sitting at the edge of the Nevada border and within the Mojave Desert, Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes.
That said, don’t let the ‘Death’ part of the name deter you from stepping in. For centuries, the Timbisha Shoshone Indians thrived there. It was only in 1849 that the white settlers gave it the ominous moniker.
Yes, Death Valley can be deadly with extreme temperature swings. After all, it is a desert.
But beyond the scorching desert heat, there is a striking contrast of landscapes ranging from sweeping meadows of wildflowers to snow-covered peaks and small oases and undulating sand dunes.
If you are planning to visit Death Valley National Park anytime soon, this month-by-month breakdown of the best time to visit Death Valley will help you in planning your trip.
Image Credit: Photo by Kyle Glenn | Unsplash
Spanning over 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the largest national park in contiguous America.
Death Valley was declared a National Monument in 1933, and a national park in 1994.
It is home to North America’s lowest and western hemisphere’s second-lowest point – Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level.
93% of Death Valley is designated wilderness, and the park is home to a wide range of flora and fauna, such as the Joshua tree, creosote bush, bighorn sheep, Death Valley pupfish, and coyotes.
For the best stargazing conditions, visit Death Valley during the new moon of any month. Summer is best for viewing the Milky Way.
To enjoy the best camping conditions visit Death Valley between October and April.
To witness wildflower blooms and enjoy perfect weather for hiking, plan your trip to Death Valley in spring (March to mid-May).
Death Valley National Park experiences four seasons:
- Spring (March to early May): The average daytime temperature ranges between 27.8°C in March and 38.1°C in May. But early May is pleasant. The average nighttime temperature ranges between 12.7°C in March and 22.6°C in May.
- Summer (mid-May to September): The average daytime temperature ranges between 38.1°C in May and 41.4°C in September. July and August have blistering average daytime temperatures of 46.9°C and 45.9°C, respectively. The average nighttime temperature ranges between 22.6°C in May and 24.2°C in September. July and August will have average nighttime temperatures of 31.1°C and 29.8°C, respectively.
- Autumn/Fall (October and November): The average daytime temperature ranges between 33.8°C in October and 25.1°C) in November. The average nighttime temperature ranges between 16.4°C in October and 8.9°C in November.
- Winter (December to February): The average daytime temperature ranges between 18.4°C in December and 22.9°C in February. The average nighttime temperature ranges between 3.5°C in December and 7.9°C in February. January is slightly warmer than December but cooler than February.
From the tourism aspect, Death Valley’s climate is divided into:
- High Season (Spring: March to early May): This is when most people visit the national park because of the pleasant temperatures.
- Low Season (Summer: mid-May to mid-September): Most visitors avoid the summer months to escape the blistering desert heat.
- Shoulder Season (Fall: late September to November): This period can also get busy because the infernal summer heat is gone, but late September is still pretty warm for many.
What about the winter months? Some include it in the low season because there are fewer visitors, while others consider it a part of the shoulder season.
There is no good or bad time to visit Death Valley. It’s all about your personal weather preferences.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of the best time to visit Death Valley National Park:
January is a comfortable winter month with the maximum daytime temperature reaching 19.4°C, and nighttime temperatures hitting 4.4°C.
Nights and early mornings can be cold. So, carry warm clothes.
Expect soaking rain. Higher elevations like Telescope Peak can get a snow coating. This is when low-elevation attractions like The Racetrack and Badwater Basin are popular.
Badwater Basin is the famous salt flat with polygonal salt patterns, while The Racetrack is where mysterious rocks slide across a dry lakebed of their own volition.
According to park rangers, accessing the Racetrack will be a difficult journey.
Devil’s Golf Course is another attraction in January. The sunrises and sunsets here are particularly enticing for photographers.
January is also the best time to visit Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and avoid extreme heat.
Stargazing is a popular activity in January. There are some night sky ranger programs in winter.
January will have very few tourists, but there will be a swell on Martin Luther King Day weekend.
February is another winter month offering the same set of activities as January. Daytime temperatures are agreeable, but nights will be chilly. Expect winter rain!
Visit the famous salt flats, Valley floor, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Furnace Creek Campground will stay open, but if you are not okay with the chilly nights, consider staying at a hotel.
For a comfortable stay, I will recommend Oasis at Death Valley which was previously known as Furnace Creek Inn or Furnace Creek Ranch.
The annual Dark Sky Festival in February is a major attraction and will be held over Presidents’ Day weekend.
It celebrates the park’s designation as an International Dark Sky Park and offers activities like astronomy presentations and science talks at Furnace Creek Visitor Center, stargazing parties, and ranger-led hikes.
March marks the beginning of the spring break season. Expect large tourist crowds. Wildflower blooms are a major attraction in early spring, but that depends on previous winter rain.
If you are lucky, you may witness a Superbloom that occurs once a decade. Late March and early April are the peak times for wildflower blooms, though flowers start blooming mid-March.
It is also a good time to explore the park’s ghost towns. Moderate hikes are also popular with Mosaic Canyon and Natural Bridge trails being famous.
Zabriskie Point is another attraction offering sweeping views of the park. It is also known for its breathtaking sunrise and sunset.
Nothing changes in April. Warm and sunny days are perfect to explore Death Valley.
Colorful wildflowers are in full bloom and crowds gravitate to Mosaic Canyon and Nature Bridge trails, Zabriskie Point, ghost towns, Eureka and Mesquite Sand Dunes, and Darwin Falls – a small desert oasis with an 18-foot waterfall bordered by lush greenery.
Darwin Falls is just past the Panamint Springs Resort at the far western edge of Death Valley.
Major attractions to explore include the salt flats of Badwater Basin, Devil’s Golf Course (where you can find nearly vertical salt crystals), and Artists Palette on Artists Drive (where you can find the green, blue, pink, and orange rock formations resembling an artist’s palette).
May is the last leg of spring, but by mid-May, it will be early summer and temperatures will start soaring. I strongly suggest that you explore Death Valley in early May.
Camping after sunset is a great choice, especially during the night when you will get ample stargazing opportunities.
Summer is already here and temperatures swell above 40°C. Tourist inflow dries up and the low season begins, meaning everything is cheaper now, and you can enjoy some sweet deals in Las Vegas.
Extreme temperatures make camping and hiking dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Most summer visitors will prefer car tours along paved roads to the main points of interest.
If you want to hike, the Telescope Peak and Wildrose Peak hiking trails at higher elevations are most suitable.
Image Credit: National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
July has even fewer crowds because of the scorching summer heat. Early morning outdoor activities like viewing & photographing sunrise at Dante’s View, Mesquite Flats, and Zabriskie Point are okay but return to shade within 11 AM.
You can venture into the Golden and Titus Canyons to enjoy some shade and marvel at incredible rock formations. But stay in your vehicle.
Titus Canyon is popular for its Rhyolite ghost town, rare desert plants, petroglyphs, rugged mountains, and colorful rock formations.
Image Credit: Milky Way Arch Over Badwater Salt Flats
This is another worse month. The intense heat can be deadly. Stay hydrated. Limit outdoor activities till 10 AM and don’t think beyond a road trip or two with a climate-controlled vehicle. Thunderstorms and flash floods can happen. So, be prepared.
The International Dark-Sky Association has awarded Gold Tier designation to Death Valley, which means it is the darkest of the dark.
So, just like June & July, August is perfect for stargazing, especially the Milky Way. Badwater Basin, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Harmony borax works, and Ubehebe Crater are all great places for stargazing.
September is the last summer month, but the daytime temperatures will still breach the 40°C mark. Staying out for prolonged periods is not recommended at all! Road trips by car are fine.
Limit the daytime activities and watch out for thunderstorms and flash floods in early September.
Cool nights (in the mid-20s), make stargazing a perfect nighttime outdoor activity.
Image Credit: Photo by Wilson Ye | Unsplash
The fall season starts in October. There will be some surge in tourists, but not as high as in Spring. Camping season and ranger programs start now. Prepare accordingly for warm days and chilly nights.
With fewer tourists, you can enjoy the park at your own pace or embark on a ranger-guided tour.
Autumn ends in November. It is a good time to venture along longer trails like the Mosaic Canyon trail and Golden Canyon trail.
November is usually quiet except for the weeks leading to Death Valley ’49ers Encampment (the second week of November) and Thanksgiving. Devil’s Golf Course is another great fall destination.
Winter begins in the hottest place on earth. Daytime temperatures will be pleasant at around 18.4°C, but nights will be chilly. Camping is a popular activity in December.
You can explore the natural wonders of the park for prolonged periods during the day.
Badwater Basin, Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Sand Dunes, Artists Palette – everything can be easily explored for longer durations during the day.
However, higher elevations can have snow. So, if you are hiking up there, stay prepared.
Spring is the best time for hiking because of the pleasant day and night temperatures. However, autumn or fall is also perfect.
During winter, higher elevations may have snow cover, so it is important to learn about the safety instructions issued by the National Park Service.
October to April are the best months for camping.
Stargazing is a year-round activity in Death Valley. Yet, to enjoy impressive views of the Milky Way, the summer months (especially June to August) are the best.
In general, the new moon day each month is best for enjoying the starry sky.
Digital nomads and long-term travelers with a little more flexibility should avoid the spring months. It is the high season and prices are high for everything. Autumn also gets a sizable amount of visitors.
I believe winter is the best time for digital nomads and long-term travelers to visit Death valley. This is when tourist activity is very low and so are the prices.
If the summer heat doesn’t bother you, you can visit Death Valley for the cheapest rates.
It depends on your weather preferences and budget. Though spring (March to early May) is the most ideal time, it is very expensive and the most crowded time.
Fall (October and November) sees some tourist influx after the summer dry spell. So, expect some price hike.
This leaves winter as the overall best time to visit Death Valley. Tourist footfall is very low and everything is cheap.
However, be prepared for some rush during Christmas, New Year, Martin Luther King Day weekend, and Presidents’ Day Weekend.
July and August are the hottest months. Temperature easily breaches the 45°C mark during the day.
Summer (mid-May to September) is the worst time to visit Death Valley. The low-lying Furnace Creek area sees extreme temperatures.
Yes, it snows in higher elevations. Panamint Mountains including Telescope Peak receive snowfall.
Superbloom is a rare phenomenon and happens only once in a decade. The last three recorded Superblooms were in 1998, 2005, and 2016.
The perfect time to visit Death Valley depends on your personal preferences. Peak or high season (March to early May) is great if you want pleasant day and night temperatures and unrestricted outdoor activities like hiking & camping, and you don’t mind the crowds.
If you can endure the summer heat with appropriate precautions, you will enjoy the lowest prices. Just stay hydrated and listen to your body.
If camping is on your bucket list, October to April are the best months, but since October and November are the fall months, and December to February are the winter months, stay prepared for chilly nights.
No matter what’s on your mind, Death Valley is a beautiful place to visit. I hope this article on the best time to visit Death Valley has helped with your travel plans.
Have an amazing trip. 🙂