What to Know About Hiking in Death Valley National Park

By Jill Gardiner , last updated January 3, 2012

Non-hikers may ask why anyone would want to explore a region with as foreboding a name as Death Valley, but the stark, rugged beauty and challenging terrain of this national park make it a tremendously appealing site to both novice and seasoned hikers alike. Just because a hiking spot is popular, however, doesn’t mean it’s a no-brainer to get through it safely, and there are a few things you should know before setting out into this stunning but potentially unforgiving landscape. Lack of preparation in terms of knowledge and supplies can create a dangerous situation, and the sheer size and extreme conditions of this park mean you don’t want to leave anything to chance. Here are few tips to ensure your excursion is a safe and positive experience for both you and the environment.

Seasonality

If you’re planning on visiting Death Valley National Park, summer may not be the best time to book your trip. The lower elevations of the park become downright dangerous during the warm months, with even spring and fall being pretty uncomfortable. If you plan to hike in Death Valley during the warmer seasons, you may want to stick to higher elevations, such as Dante’s Ridge, Wildrose Peak Trail, or Telescope Peak Trail. If you’re visiting Death Valley National Park in the winter, on the other hand, these areas will likely be snow-covered and will require the appropriate apparel and gear, such as an ice axe and crampons. Winter is a great time to visit the low points of Death Valley, however, such as the Badwater Salt Flat, the lowest point in North America. Talk to a park ranger before starting your hike to learn about current weather conditions and which trails or areas are good choices.

Water

Death Valley National Park is primarily desert, so you’ll want to be sure you’re carrying more than enough water for your hike because you aren’t likely to run into any on your trek to supplement. Because the region is so arid, your sweat evaporates extremely quickly, so you may not even be aware of just how much fluid your body is losing. Bring at least two liters of water for even a short winter hike, at least a gallon per person for longer hikes or warm weather treks. If you do happen to run across a water source and have to use it, take the proper precautions before ingesting, such as boiling or otherwise treating the water.

Sun

Good sun protection is important on any hike, but in an area like Death Valley where you’re unlikely to find any source of shade, it becomes even more critical. Be sure to wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 45, and then further protect your skin by wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt that offers some sunscreen as well as a light-colored, wide-brimmed hat.

Environment

When hiking in Death Valley National Park, you’ll want to show some respect for the ecosystem in which you’re treading. Much of the park is not on an actual trail, so when venturing off the beaten path, keep an eye on where you step. Avoid walking on vegetation, fragile soil, or animal burrows, and keep an eye out for rattlesnakes or scorpions, especially near old structures or in areas of vegetation that are near water. Avoid walking in actual water as well, which can have a negative effect on the environment. Stay out of old mine shafts completely.

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