This trip made possible by Igloo Coolers and Air Conditioning. (Igloo did not pay me for this mention, I paid them for a cooler.)
If you are the camping type, I cannot recommend going to Death Valley in August. I don’t think the National Parks Service recommends it either, as many of the campsites are closed in the summer. However, if you are the step-out-of-the-car-briefly-and-take-pictures type, it’s not bad.
I highly recommend using the National Parks Service website to help you plan for any trip to a park, but their page for Death Valley is especially useful. They have a few sample itineraries depending on how long you have to visit. And the top of each page shows any critical alerts, such as weather warnings and road closures. Personally, I used the printable visitor guide as a starting off point for our plans – which contains the sites mentioned in the sample itineraries. I devised a plan that allowed us to see a lot, but not did not require us to walk very far. It was the last stop on our trip, and it was going to be very hot.
I’m not sure how accurate our car thermometer was, but we hit 118F (48C) when we were at the lowest part of the valley. I got a picture with an official-looking thermometer at the visitor’s center at 114F (46C). We drank a whole bottle of water after almost every stop. We set the car thermostat above 80F (27C), but the A/C was still working at full power – but at least we were in a car that could handle having the A/C work like that.
It was beautiful there, though, in this stark, almost alien way. It was amazing to us how quickly the landscape could change. Only the day before, we were looking at the largest tree in the world. In less than a day’s drive, we were somewhere else that was so harsh, only small, scrubby bushes could survive.
It also didn’t take long to leave. On our way out, we drove up to Dante’s View, which is 5,475 ft (1,669 m). As we climbed upwards, our thermometer went down. By the time we got to the top, it was a full 20 degrees cooler (98F – 37C).
The picture below shows our general setup as we drove to all of the parks. Our first stop after picking up our rental car was Walmart, where we picked up this cooler and a TomTom (a story for another time…). We also bought two gallon jugs of water to keep in the trunk at all times as an emergency supply. At the end of our trip, we asked our hotel if they would take the cooler from us – and the front desk told us that if we just left it in the room it would go into the lost-and-found, and that they regularly donate unclaimed items. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, they would have to throw out any leftover water.