How not to die in Death Valley

Death Valley is a beautiful yet wild place. Its foreboding name was said to have been given to the landscape by a lost group of pioneers. The group all assumed that this place would be their grave. When they finally climbed out over the Panamint Mountains, one of them christened the other-worldly landscape by saying “Goodbye, Death Valley”. Yet how dangerous is Death Valley? Will you die if you visit Death Valley?

Whilst it is far less common to die in Death Valley today than it was in the 19th Century, deaths still happen. In order to not die in Death Valley, here is a list of things that can kill you in Death Valley and how to avoid them!

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How many people die in Death Valley a year?

Each year around a handful of people die in Death Valley. 1 – 3 people die due to the heat in Death Valley per year. Given that this is the hottest place in North America, that seems hardly surprising. Although if you do not die due to the heat itself, you may die indirectly by becoming disorientating and making more rash decisions. The heat is not the only thing you need to worry about though and is not the leading cause of death in Death Valley.

What is the leading cause of death in Death Valley?

The leading cause of death in Death Valley are single-car road accidents. Death Valley is a remote place, with long highway roads. Many drivers see these empty roads as a great opportunity to put their foot down. Sadly, the leading cause of death in the valley are car accidents driving at excessive speeds.

Whilst there are many things that can kill you in Death Valley, your biggest threat is your own vehicle.

How not to die in Death Valley

Given the extreme temperatures, remote location, poisonous animals as well as human hazards, there are many dangers in Death Valley. In order to not die in Death Valley, check out the list of things that can kill you in Death Valley and how to avoid them!

Things that can kill you in Death Valley:

Heatstroke, dehydration and disorientation

death valley mosaic canyon

One thing that can kill you in Death Valley is the heat. Death Valley is the hottest place in North America. In summer it is not uncommon for temperatures to swell well above 100 degrees. 1 – 3 people die directly from the heat a year in Death Valley. In 2019 a woman in August died in temperatures of almost 120 degrees!

If you are experiencing symptoms of dehydration, you are also more likely to make rash decisions or become disorientated. Many more people are killed from getting lost and falling off cliffs due to their confused state.

How to not die from heatstroke, dehydration in Death Valley:

Drink plenty of water!

The national park advises drinking at least a gallon of water a day to replace the sweat lost. If you are hiking, you will need more than that. There is plenty of free water around the national park. One of the things many first-time visitors to Death Valley do is forget to bring enough water. Stop off in Stovepipe Wells or Furnace Creek and fill up your water bottles to avoid dying in Death Valley!

Don’t hike in the heat!

Zabriskie Point death valley
Wait till its cooler and experience Sunset at Zabriskie Point

Hiking in Death Valley is an incredible experience, but make sure it is not your last hike! If you are visiting in summer, avoid hiking in the low elevations in the heat of the day. Start your hikes early or head to the mountains. You could also start your hike in late afternoon and catch an amazing Death Valley sunset.

If you are hiking in the heat, your hike will be much harder. If you do not bring enough water with you or wear a sun cap, you are likely to experience symptoms of dehydration and sunstroke.

Poisonous Animals

There are a few poisonous animals that can kill you in Death Valley.

There are a few snakes in Death Valley but only the rattlesnake has strong enough poison to kill you.

Whilst the likelihood of being killed by a poisonous animal in Death Valley is low, it can still happen. Snakes prefer to stay away from the beaten path and hide during the day. Most creatures hide during the hot temperatures and are nocturnal.

Scorpions and tarantulas also live in Death Valley but their venom will cause irritating stings or bites rather than fatal injuries.

How to not to die from poisonous animals

Check your shoes!

Don’t put your feet (or hands) anywhere you can’t see. Scorpions or black widow spiders may be sheltered there. Always shake them first. Similarly, don’t hike barefoot and step on a snake.

Bring a snake bite rescue kit

If you are hiking away from the beaten path or going into the backcountry, take a snake bite rescue kit with you. Also, you should know how to use it beforehand. If you are bitten, stay calm as stress will move the poison around your body quicker.

Flash Floods

Whilst most people do not associate floods with deserts, they do occur! In summer, huge storms can create spectacular flash floods. While driving, be alert for water running in washes and across road dips. The flash floods are particularly dangerous in canyons. These slot canyons are narrow and the walls have been smoothed by the elements over the years. This can make it hard to get out to safety if a flash flood occurs.

How to avoid getting killed by flash floods

Check the weather!

Check the weather before you embark on a canyon hike. Look on your weather app or look at the sky when you get there. If there is the slightest hint of rain, do not enter a slot canyon!

Do not camp in slot canyons

Flash floods do not just occur in the day. If you are alert in the day you may be able to get to higher ground during a flash flood. If you are asleep in your tent, you have no chance of escaping a flash flood in a slot canyon.

Always look for higher ground

As you hike in one of the amazing slot canyons in Death Valley, be vigilant and always have an escape route plan. Keep your eyes peeled for ways to get to higher ground. That way you may be able to climb out if a flash flood occurs.

Do not try to outrun a flash flood in Death Valley

Never attempt to outrun a flash flood in Death Valley. You will not be faster than the flood! Climb to higher ground!

Getting Lost

Mosaic Canyon Death Valley Trailhead

Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska. This means there are ample opportunities to get away from the beaten path and enter the wilderness. Just be aware that you are entering a hot, wild and remote world. Most backcountry hikers know what they are doing but getting lost is one way to die in Death Valley.

How not to get lost in Death Valley

Bring detailed maps

Bring detailed maps and know how to read them.

Let someone know your plans

Always plan ahead and let someone know your plans. Backpackers should also obtain a free backcountry permit if you are heading into the wilderness.

Bring plenty of water

You will need more water than this!

The likelihood of getting lost increases if you get a headache, feel dizzy or nauseous. In order to avoid this, bring plenty of water – more than you think you will need.

Stay on paved roads in summer

Whilst the temperatures in Death Valley in November are quite pleasant, you should stay on paved roads in summer. If your car breaks down, help should be able to get to you in time on paved roads.

Mine Hazards

abandoned mine death valley

There are many old mines in Death Valley national park. The national park advises against entering the mines. The mines may be unstable, contain poisonous gas, have hidden shafts and pockets of bad air. Whilst it may be tempting to get an Indiana Jones-style picture of you riding a minecart, is it worth dying in the darkness?

How to avoid dying in a mine in Death Valley

Do not enter the mines. Admire them from outside the shafts and do not touch mine equipment.

Marijuana

One of the hazards in Death Valley national park are illegal marijuana cultivation sites. These have been found in the remote backcountry areas and are dangerous.

How to not be killed by illegal marijuana growers

Go back the way you came

Go back the way you know, as quickly and quietly as possible.

Do not stay to take pictures

Whilst it may be tempting to take photos, do not! This is not one of Death Valley Instagram Spots! Leave as quickly as you discover the site but make a note of its location. Please report this to the national park upon your return.

Speeding

Death Valley Road

The main cause of death in Death Valley are single-car accidents. Do not be tempted to put your foot down too much on the long, empty roads.

How not to die in Death Valley in a car crash

To avoid dying in a single-car accident, follow the speed limits and wear your seatbelt.

Will I die if I visit Death Valley?

The likelihood of dying in Death Valley is very slim. Each year over 1 million people visit Death Valley and only a handful lose their lives in the desert. It is still good to be prepared and consider the dangers so you can have the best possible trip to Death Valley!

People have died in Death Valley and crossing the desert in the 19th century was almost a certain death sentence. Yet in the 21st century, the biggest danger is driving too quickly – not the heat, poisonous animals, getting lost or flash floods.

There are still occasional disappearances where visitors vanish without a trace. For example, in 1996, a group of German tourists from Dresden visited in July during a scorching heatwave. They left their hotel in Las Vegas on July 22, signed in at the Death Valley visitor centre and were never seen again.

When the family did not board their scheduled flight back to Germany, an investigation was launched. They found an entry written in the guestbook by the ghost town in Warm Springs Canyon. It simply said “We are going through the pass” in German. There was no mention which pass they meant.

Months later in October, their abandoned mini-van was found by a drug surveillance plane in an isolated sandy ravine far from the beaten track. The doors were locked and inside they found some of their belongings but no passports, keys or purses. There were no tracks around the van. Over 200 officers scoured the area but no other clues were found.

What had happened to them? Theories range from they had run across drug dealer and been killed or kidnapped. Had they staged their own vanishing? Had they just got lost? Why was there no trace of them?

We will never know.

Would you like to visit Death Valley?

Hope you have found this article on how not to die in Death Valley useful! Have you been put off visiting Death Valley or do you feel more prepared on the dangers? Let us know in the comments below!

Also if you are thinking of visiting, take a look at this booking.com tool to find the perfect place to stay in Death Valley!

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9 Replies to “How not to die in Death Valley”

  1. Fabulous post that gave me goosebumps. I’d never even thought about visiting Deat Valley before but now I want to go. Thank for all the tips, I’ll make sure to follow each and every one of them and some!

    1. Oh yes, you must go if you get a chance! Death Valley has an other-worldly beauty. The chance of anything happening is super slim but it is still good to know the dangers and how to avoid them!

  2. Sounds like a fascinating place, but perhaps somewhere to take a guided or supported tour?? Knowledge is power.

  3. I hadn’t considered that the production of illegal drugs might have deadly implications for travellers. It looks a tremendous place.

  4. How utterly terrifying! I’d love to go, but I don’t think I’ll be taking the kids any time soon. Good tip about the marijuana growers – that’s something I wouldn’t have considered.

  5. It’s so funny, my husband and I were just talking about this. We hadn’t considered the marijuana growers though, only the heat-related deaths. So interesting!

  6. Jenn | By Land and Sea says: Reply

    Love this post! We were visiting friends in Vegas a few weeks ago and decided that the next time we go to Vegas, we will day trip to Death Valley. Glad to know all the things to look out for so we don’t die!

  7. Omg- this is fantastic! I live in LA, and am dyyyying to go ahhhh.
    Anyway- will try not to die.

  8. My fiance and I have driven through Death Valley many times but have never stayed an extensive amount of time. It truly is a remarkable place with yes, I agree with you, many hazards. Thanks for these informative tips!

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