It’s the single most common question people ask me when I say we spent spring break in Death Valley: “Why did you go there?”
I admit that before our first trip to Death Valley, I was skeptical. I mean, how much could there actually be to do in the desert, with kids no less? Plus, I’m partial to towering Redwood trees and the ocean. The terrain at Death Valley couldn’t be more different. It’s the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America.
I figured we’d check it off our national park must-see list and move on. But in spite of visiting during a rare spring heat wave (it was over 100 degrees every day), we absolutely loved the place. So much so, in fact, that we went back a year later (this time, spring temperatures were much more enjoyable).
The place got under my skin – in a good way. And I can’t rave enough about it to all of my friends.
So before you write the place off as somewhere you’d absolutely, positively, never, ever want to go, ask yourself this: Which of these myths is keeping you away from Death Valley? I think my responses might surprise you.
“It’s too hot.”
Death Valley does hold the world record for the highest temperature ever recorded – a whopping 134 degrees Fahrenheit back in July of 1913. Average summer temperatures are well over 100 degrees. But summer isn’t when you want to visit.
Spring is the most popular season to visit Death Valley, with average temperatures in the 80s and 90s, plus the possibility of wildflowers. Fall and winter also offer much more comfortable temperatures, and less crowds.
“There’s nothing to do, especially for kids.”
If you’ve never been to the desert, it’s easy to imagine it’s a desolate place with not much to see or do (at least, that’s what I thought). But nothing could be further from the truth! Death Valley has plenty for families to see and do. In fact, it took us two visits to see everything on our list. Some of our favorite activities included:
- Standing at the lowest point in North America
- Getting to see the endangered Salt Creek pupfish, which live only in Death Valley
- Hiking around a crater, to a waterfall (yep!) and through slot canyons
- Playing in the sand dunes
- Visiting remote locales made famous in the Star Wars movies
- Becoming junior rangers
- Swimming (yes – in the desert!)
- Seeing the stars at night (and the Milky Way!)
“There’s no place nice to stay unless you’re willing to camp.”
While camping is an inexpensive way to stay in Death Valley, there are other options. You can also sleep in a comfy bed in a room with air conditioning, dine in real restaurants and even swim in a pool. In fact, there are three separate lodging areas to choose from within the park – Furnace Creek Inn & Ranch Resorts, Stovepipe Wells Village and Panamint Springs Resort. I’m not promising 4-star accommodations here, but you certainly don’t have to “rough it” in Death Valley.
If you prefer, you can even stay outside of the park. On our recent trip, we weren’t able to find a campsite for one night, so we stayed in nearby Beatty, NV – about 30 minutes northeast of the park. Other options include Pahrump, NV (about an hour away), Lone Pine, CA (about 1.5 hours away) and Olancha, CA (about 1.5 hours away).
“I’d need a special 4×4 vehicle to get anywhere in the park.”
Death Valley has more miles of roads than any other national park. Which makes sense because Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous U.S.
There are more than 300 miles of paved roads in Death Valley, plus another 300 miles of drivable dirt roads. Most points of interest within the park are easily accessible using these roads. Things are a bit spread out, though, so it does take a while to get from one place to another. But getting around Death Valley is totally manageable without a special 4×4 vehicle.
“It’s too far away.”
More than 90% of Death Valley’s 3.5 million acres are protected in wilderness. When you’re there, it certainly feels like you’re in another world – one that’s millions of miles from any signs of civilization.
But the facts tell otherwise. Death Valley is located near the border of California and Nevada. It’s about a 4.5-hour drive from Los Angeles, and just 2 hours from Las Vegas. If you live in Southern California, that makes it much easier to reach than San Francisco, Big Sur, or even Yosemite.
Death Valley is a land of extremes. But that’s what makes it so awe-inspiring, and definitely worth a visit. For more information, head over to the National Park Service’s website where you can read up on all the park has to offer.