The first step is to wrap your head around the facts: This National Park sits 282 feet below sea level; is surrounded by steep, precipitous mountain ranges; and has average daily temperatures that range from 90 degrees in April to 109 degrees in June. (On July 15, 1972, the highest ground temperature at Furnace Creek hit 201 degrees Fahrenheit.) It’s also a wilderness park with no roads and very few developed trails, so get your bearings by buying a copy of Michel Digonett’s Hiking in Death Valley before you leave home.
Ease into your trip by spending the first night at The Inn at Furnace Creek (doubles from $340 per night). The next morning, pick up your free backcountry permit at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center then launch a hiking expedition from Cottonwood to Marble Canyon, a 26- to 32-mile backcountry loop (with no signs or cairns) that takes you through deep, narrow canyons and has an elevation gain of 3,500 feet. The three- to five-day loop is one of the most popular in the park, but with water only available at Cottonwood and Deadhorse Canyon and a very high percentage (roughly 50 percent) of hikers who veer off track at some point along this route, a few human sightings may be welcome. Whatever you do, don’t come unprepared.