The Real Reason You Should Visit Death Valley in Winter
In winter, this hell on Earth miraculously morphs into a desert paradise. And when you visit the Oasis at Death Valley — with its AAA Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley and family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley — you’ll discover a place transformed.
If people know one thing about Death Valley, they know that it’s hot. Fry an-egg-on-the-pavement hot (although don’t try that, because it makes a mess).
Death Valley is officially the toastiest place on the entire planet, thanks to a scorching day back in 1913 when temperatures reached 134 degrees, the highest ever recorded anywhere on the globe. And with 21 days over 120, this past July in Death Valley was the hottest month all-time at a single location. The second hottest month? The previous July in Death Valley.
So Death Valley comes by its sizzling reputation honestly. But that’s only during summer. In winter, Death Valley miraculously morphs into a desert paradise. And when you visit the Oasis at Death Valley — with its AAA Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley and family-friendly Ranch at Death Valley — you’ll discover a place transformed.
During winter, average temperatures range from the mid-60s to the low 70s with overnight lows frequently dropping into the upper 30s. Those cooler conditions combine with clear, sunny days to make winter the perfect season to get explore Death Valley National Park. When the most of the country is shivering, you can be basking in warm, dry days with endless sun.
Here are a few special ways you can enjoy winter in Death Valley.
Hit the Trail
With even the day’s lowest temperatures hovering around 100 or more, you shouldn’t even think about hiking at lower elevations in Death Valley National Park during summer. But winter weather provides the perfect conditions to follow trails into the park’s canyons and see its incomparable geology.
You’ll find easy-to-reach trailheads near the resort along Badwater Road, including the classic hike into Golden Canyon, just five minutes away. But many visitors miss the much less crowded trek that explores nearby Desolation Canyon. It’s an easy-to-follow cross-country route (just look for the footprints) that leads into a canyon, which gradually narrows and reaches colorful formations similar to the brilliantly hued Artist’s Palette (farther south off Badwater Road along Artist’s Drive).
Gaze at the Sky
Except at higher elevations, you won’t see any trees at Death Valley. But what you will see is sky — and lots of it.
If you love photography, winter offers optimal shooting conditions. Storms from the Pacific Coast send billowing clouds out over the desert that create an impressive backdrop for pictures of Death Valley’s expanses. The low-angle winter light also helps reveal details in the landscape that harsher sun conditions wash out, and things get especially dramatic when the clouds leave 11,049-foot-high Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park, covered in snow.
After dark, Death Valley boasts some of the best stargazing anywhere in the world. The dry desert air and distance from sources that spew light pollution helped Death Valley earn prestigious designation as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park from the International Dark-Sky Association.
Even if you don’t have high-end optics of your own (although basic binoculars enhance viewing), during events with park rangers and local astronomy associations you can gaze into the universe through high-powered telescopes. For example, the Las Vegas Astronomical Society holds complimentary star parties at the Ranch at Death Valley.
Shoot Your Lowest Round Ever (That’s a Guarantee!)
In most of the country, frigid winter weather forces golfers to take a hiatus. After all, a green certainly isn’t green when it’s covered by snow.
But for golfers, winter is prime time in Death Valley.
Many visitors are surprised to discover that Death Valley, the driest spot in North America, actually has a golf course. But thanks to a highly efficient irrigation system, water sourced from nearby natural springs, and tough Bermuda grass that can withstand the area’s weather extremes and salty soil, the Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley is a duffer’s delight.
Add to your bragging rights at the world’s lowest elevation golf course, a par-70, 18-hole circuit that’s 214 feet below sea level. As unique as the experience may be, Furnace Creek Golf Course is no mere novelty. A beautifully designed and challenging layout, Furnace Creek earned honors as one of America’s toughest courses from Golf Digest. And don’t expect your drives to carry as far: The heavier, low elevation air means that you’ll surrender distance on your shots.
Swim in a Real Oasis
If temperatures in the 30s or 40s hardly sound appealing for a swim, the cool winter nights create ideal conditions for one of the most sublime experiences awaiting guests at both the Inn at Death Valley and the Ranch at Death Valley. Both of these lodging choices have pools filled by natural springs that deliver water that stays in the 80s, even on the chilliest nights. The contrast between the balmy pool and the cold air is positively heavenly. The inn’s historic pool has been beautifully restored, and if you need a little warm-up after a dip, get toasty in front of one of two wood-burning fireplaces along the deck.
Ooh and Ahh at Wildflowers
From mid-February to mid-April, when the conditions are right, Death Valley is painted with an explosion of color from a carpet of wildflowers. Golden evening primrose, notch-leaf phacelia, sand verbena, purple mat, gravel ghost, and brown-eyed evening primrose brush the arid landscape in Easter egg colors — especially the expansive fields of desert gold for which Death Valley is famous. To appreciate the diversity of blooms, get out of your car and walk. You’ll be rewarded with a spread of color blanketing the desert floor — perfect for Instagram moments.
How to Explore
The Oasis at Death Valley in Furnace Creek is situated in a lush oasis surrounded by the vast and arid desert of Death Valley National Park — just 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The resort encompasses two hotels — the historic AAA Four Diamond, 66-room Inn at Death Valley and the family-oriented, 224-room Ranch at Death Valley. The entire resort is undergoing a complete renaissance with an extensive renovation to be completed in the fall of 2018. The resort includes natural spring-fed pools, an 18-hole golf course, horse and carriage rides, world-renowned stargazing, and is surrounded by Death Valley National Park’s main attractions. For information and reservations, visit The Oasis at Death Valley or call 800-236-7916.
To discover a world of unfogettable experiences available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
Written by: Matt Jaffe
Specializing in California, the Southwest, and Hawaii, Matt Jaffe is an award-winning former senior writer at Sunset magazine and contributes to a variety of publications, including Los Angeles, Arizona Highways, and Westways. His books include The Santa Monica Mountains: Range on the Edge and Oaxaca: The Spirit of Mexico.