Death Valley was pronounced a national monument in 1933 and a national park in 1994. The landscape covers 13,628 km2 (5,262 sq mi) and features a variegated terrain with large sand dunes, vast salt flats, rock formations and canyons. Tourists enjoy the extremes between areas such as the Badwater Basin, lying at 86 m (282 ft) below sea level (also the lowest elevation in the United States), and Telescope Peak, the park's highest point at 3,368 m (11,049 ft) above sea level. Beautiful and lush oases sheltering wildlife lie alongside natural salt sculptures. It’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states of America and around 95% is designated a wilderness area, protecting it from future development.
Death Valley National Park is a desert known for its scorching temperatures: because of its low elevations and lack of surface water, it frequently records the hottest temperatures in America, with daily temperatures in summer regularly exceeding 49o C (120o F).
Despite the name, wildlife abounds in the park, including more than 300 species of birds. Visitors can spot red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, LeConte’s thrasher, Townsend’s solitaire and the house finch. It is also the habitat for large mammals like bighorn sheep and coyotes, and small mammals, amphibians and reptiles like the desert banded gecko, the Pacific treefrog and several species of lizards and snakes.
The park receives an average of 867,000 visitors annually. Peak season is between October and May, outside of the summer temperature extremes.
Visitors to the park can enjoy hiking, trekking, biking, birdwatching and camping in the grounds. There are over 560 km (350 mi) of unpaved and four-wheel-drive roads providing access to wilderness hiking, camping and historical sites.
Because of the extreme temperatures, visitors are advised to bring protection suitable to their trip – as a minimum, sunscreen, a hat, plenty of water and insect repellent.