The Basics

Square kilometres: 13,758

Visitors per year: 1.3 million

Fall temperatures: highs 39˚C to 20˚C and lows 20˚C to 5˚C

Elevation: -282 to 11,049 feet

Gazing out over the salt flats of Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, I’m relieved—and moved—to see they are still as strange and magical, white and glittering, as when I was seven years old and visited the park with my family. Then again, with its vivid extremes of altitude and topography, Death Valley, which straddles the California and Nevada border, isn’t really a place you easily forget.

There’s the Ubehebe Crater, a 600-foot-deep volcanic depression that looks like it could reactivate any time. In fact, geologists have recently announced it’s more active than previously thought. There is the hair-raising four-wheel journey through the limestone narrows of Titus Canyon and the drive up to Dante’s View, where you’re rewarded with breathtaking views of the valley floor—and a chance to see bighorn sheep.

And there is the salt-crusted surface of the Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater, which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in North America. It was formed millions of years ago when floodwaters deposited salt and other minerals in the basin.

Thanks to longer legs than I had when I was seven, I’m able to explore further this time around; climbing the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, seeking out the dramatic rock arch known as Natural Bridge and hiking Mosaic Canyon, with its narrow confines and smooth marble walls.

At night, I gaze into the depths of one of the darkest skies in North America, awed by the wash of stars that, as a child living in a world with less light pollution, I took for granted.

Tips to keep you safe

Cell service may be spotty on your hike, so make sure to bring a map or download one you can use offline. Wear long, loose-fitting clothing and a hat, and apply sunscreen.
Carry about four litres of water per day and light snacks; trail mix, nut butters and energy bars. Check ahead of time if permits are needed, and always tell someone where you are going and how long you will be gone.

Read more: Things to Pack for a Hiking Trip in the Desert


[This story appears in the October 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine.]