Photograph by Lynn Radeka
Death Valley National Park recently reclaimed bragging rights as Earth’s hottest place after the World Meteorological Organization ruled that a 136.4-degree temperature reading taken in Libya in 1922 was invalid (it was apparently recorded on asphalt). This is good news for the park, where such locations as the Funeral Mountains, Dry Bone Canyon, and Hells Gate—an unholy trinity of death, desiccation, and the devil—have long made for effective counterintuitive branding. In winter, however, North America’s lowest and driest spot positively chills out. Nights plunge into the 30s, while the daytime temperature might break 70—not soar to 134 as it did on Death Valley’s record-setting day in July 1913. So you’ll bundle up for sunrise pilgrimages to Zabriskie Point or predawn walks to search for kit fox tracks on the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Conditions are ideal for exploring the park’s tortured, exposed geology, whether it’s the four-mile loop through the mud-hill badlands of Golden Canyon into Gower Gulch or the one-and-a-half-mile trek along the rim of 600-foot-deep Ubehebe Crater. Roughing it in Death Valley is always an option, but not at the Inn at Furnace Creek ($345-$465), a 1927 mission-style retreat that sits in an oasis of palm trees and is outfitted with a spring-fed swimming pool.