Death Valley in late Jan.

11:07 a.m. on December 11, 2011 (EST)
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I'm thinking about checking out Death Valley N.P. this January.  I checked out the N.P. website.......looks like a decent time of the year to go.  My wife and I have never been in that area.  We've spent a week backpacking in the Mazatzals in Arizona, so we're somewhat familiar with desert terrain, but by no means an expert.  I'm a surveyor by trade, and have done a fair bit of orienteering, but would prefer to stay on easier routes to navigate my first time there.  Any suggestions on cool areas to check out, tips, things to do, etc..?  Would it be a travesty not to bring mountain bikes as well?

It's going to be a long winter here in Missoula, MT, so we're itching for a week of sun & warmth. 

2:52 p.m. on December 13, 2011 (EST)
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Though mild in winter, temps at night at lower elevations will still approach freezing. So be prepared for cool (I know, not cold for a guy in Montana in mid winter) temps and have the appropriate gear for teh occasional storm coming in. Higher means colder as well. Furnace creeks record low was 15 degrees F.  Also, all vehicles, including bikes, are restricted to designated roads. No off roading allowed so not sure the Mountain Bikes are of use.  This is from my research, as I plan to go there too...but I wanna go in summer!

3:30 p.m. on December 13, 2011 (EST)
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I have never been there but would like to go see the Devils Racetrack


3:50 p.m. on December 13, 2011 (EST)
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Now I am all enthused.........I may run up this weekend...only 140 miels....

8:56 p.m. on December 13, 2011 (EST)
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Biking in Death Valley is fun.  If you have road bikes bring those instead, for the reason Karen mentions.


12:36 p.m. on December 14, 2011 (EST)
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I go to DVNP twice a year - and one of those times is in late January.  I know the park VERY well, so if you have any questions, I'll be happy to try and answer.

Just a couple of things:

DVNP is not particular warm in January.  Warmer than Missoula, yes, but it's not as warm as one would think.  The valley floor might hit 70 if you are lucky.  Higher elevations can be downright cold.  Many roads are closed in the winter due to snow.  I've seen night time temps drop into the low teens.

Also, in my opinion, DVNP is best explored in a 4WD vehicle.  There isn't much hiking, other than day hikes (unless you don't have a 4WD and just hoof it to the good stuff, which I don't recommend).

The best stuff isn't on any maps.  Well, the stuff I like, anyway.  I love exploring the back country, seeking out old mining camps and mines. The best part is finding one of these camps and staying the night in a one hundred year old cabin, kept up by people like me.  Many are stocked with food, wood burning stoves, etc.

Have you set your dates yet?  Maybe we can have a mini-Trailspace meetup! I have a new grandson arriving (due on the 9th), so I can't go anywhere until after the delivery and my daughter gets settled in (it's her first), but I'm expecting to be there for a week sometime late in the month.

Here's a link to my trip last January over on my Flickr site.  There are sets for other years as well:

2:52 p.m. on December 14, 2011 (EST)
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As Jim says, many of DV's great places aren't in any brochures. Rhyolite and the surrounding area on the east side is worth a stop. You can access Titus Canyon from that side. Mostly 4WD in Titus, but I did MT Bike it once. Also in that area, the ghost town of Chloride and the Keene Wonder Mine. The latter still has the tram buckets and the hike to the mine workings is steep and open, so best done in winter. Most of my time has been spent in the northern part, usually in the mountains on the east and west sides of the valley. I think people often overlook those areas. They will have the possibility of snow at the higher elevations.

4:40 p.m. on December 14, 2011 (EST)
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FYI, Keen Wonder Mine is closed to the public.

9:49 p.m. on December 21, 2011 (EST)
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In our experience, anytime from Nov to April is a great time to visitDeath Valley.  Just look at the weather before going because any storm passing nearby can create some nasty winds inDeath Valley – winds powerful enough to push rocks!  So you don’t want to be outside and be backpacking during those conditions.  I’d prefer to be hanging out indoors at Furnace Creek or exploring one of the canyons inside a 4WD vehicle on a day like that.

We’ve visited Death Valley many times, enough to write a “virtual tour guide” of the area.  We invite you to look at our sample on-line guide, as well as our trip blog that includes several articles on the Death Valley area.

Enjoy your trip and say hi to our friends in Missoula (we have a few)!

Cliff Bandringa
Trip blog:

12:05 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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Welcome Cliff!

12:35 p.m. on December 22, 2011 (EST)
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We went for a weekend last February. All the campgrounds in the valley were full (lots of people in CA!) we barely squeaked in to a site at 4000 feet -- cold and windy at night and in the AM but better than nothing.

Loved the dunes at Mesquite Flat, Devil's golf course, salt flats at Badwater, and badlands below Zabriskie point.  I posted a trip report with a few photos.

+1 on 4WD. We had our Prius, talked about renting a 4WD to get to Devil's Racetrack and other places up that way, but we needed more time. With even more time and mobility I'd definitely be out looking for old mines, cabins etc.

11:47 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Thanks Karen!

11:54 a.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Yea, definitely don't leave on a trip to the D.V. area without reservations - hotel or campground.  Even in the hotter months, D.V. is inundated with European visitors that like to see their rental car thermometers pass the 120 mark.  And who would want to sleep in a tent when the low is 95?

By the way, it isn't called "Devil's Racetrack".  The official name is Racetrack Playa.  If you're not up on your geology terms, playa=dry lake.

The Mesquite Dunes near Stovepipe Wells are nice but full of people.  If you would like a more serene dune field to enjoy, go to the south of Death Valley and make the cross-desert hike to Ibex Dunes.  The trailhead is reached via a dirt road, but it is easy enough for a Prius to drive.

Cliff Bandringa
Trip blog:

1:17 p.m. on December 23, 2011 (EST)
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Here's a useful website:

It's the DVNP Morning Report, giving weather and road conditions.

And a short video we made at Racetrack Playa earlier in the year.

June 18, 2018
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