Desert Camping: Brave the Summer or Wait ’til Winter?


With summer vacation at our doorstep, the time for booking travel is now. The American Southwest, as a treasure trove of natural wonders and awe-inspiring landscapes, is always a popular travel destination for adventurous spirits. Stumbling around the Mojave Desert may be a little more demanding than a trip to Disneyland (then again, maybe not), but participating in the breathtaking scenery and sublime isolation of the Southwest can be tremendously rewarding. If you’re worried about enduring the extreme heat of the summer months, congratulations, you’re thinking logically. Here we weigh the pros and cons of traversing the desert during the summer versus the winter.

Why suffer the summer heat?

The desert is hot. I mean, really hot. Visiting during the summer is a little masochistic. Most people, given the choice between spending July in Death Valley or the temperate hills of Big Sur, will choose the less painful option. Use that to your advantage! Desert destinations are far less popular during warmer weather, meaning parks and facilities will be less crowded. For many desert travelers, isolation is part of the allure. You’ll have the best odds of discovering profound quietude when the sun is at its hottest.

Less traffic also means lower rates. When demand is low, so are the prices at hotels, resorts and restaurants. By avoiding the crowds, you’ll avoid paying peak-season prices.

Remember, the heat won’t kill you. Well. It could. But if you’re smart, you’ll be a-okay. While not as developed as more populated parts of the country, the desert is equipped with enough modern conveniences to keep you reasonably comfortable. If you’re staying at a hotel, you can expect pools, air conditioning, ice machines and the like. Desert folk are well-practiced in the art of keeping cool.

The trick to surviving the heat is to avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day. Schedule hikes and excursions for the mornings and evenings. Use the afternoon to lounge, sleep, swim and hydrate. Following this schedule will greatly reduce the effects of the excruciating heat.

The final reason to go ahead and book that summer trip is purely philosophical. When’s the last time you were humbled by nature? To experience the desert in all its terrifying beauty, you need to place yourself in its most extreme conditions. Hiking the canyons and dunes of Death Valley in mid-July will give you a taste of the desert’s true power. It’s a good way to suffer a heat stroke, sure, but it’s also a good way to respect and comprehend the land in all its raw majesty.

Why wait ’til winter?

Simple. Cool weather. Some parts of the desert get downright cold, but many areas become newly habitable. Travelers from the north come seeking warmer weather, crowding popular attractions and driving up prices. But hey, some people prefer being part of a community of travelers to the sometimes stifling pressure of deep isolation.

The winter weather naturally allows travelers to be more active. Without the summer sun beating down and sapping your energy, more recreational activities open up. Hiking, biking and ATV riding become much more feasible when you’re not battling 110° heat. You should still keep well-hydrated, but the threat of dehydration is significantly lower in cooler weather.

Some of the top desert locations to visit in the winter include Death Valley, Big Bend and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. If you’d like to see some snow, head to higher elevation. The Grand Canyon, for example, usually gets a good powdering.

The verdict

What time of year you visit the desert depends on your motivations for traveling. If you’re looking for a vacation characterized by comfort and relaxation, clearly the cooler months are for you. On the other hand, travelers seeking a more profound or even spiritual communion with nature may appreciate the extreme conditions that drive away the tourists. So in deciding when to explore the desert, simply ask yourself, “What kind of traveler am I?”

  • justpicky

    USAA Federal Saving Bank ……..good choice ……..
    Navy Federal Bank ……..
    Local Credit Union ……….
    Would never bank with Wells Fargo , Citibank , B of A , and there’s
    several others …Banks are the reason why credit cards went south .
    And why home mortgages fail . Banks felt they couldn’t fail , because
    they were to big ……The blame for this economy ….because of Greedy
    CEO’s , Mortgage Companies , realtors , and many others including polictians …
    What they didn’t tell the public …..we’re in a 13 year Recession …..2007 – 2020
    As far as credit cards they’re only good for Emergency , one card is enough
    not over $1,000 ….

  • Scott

    Dupont Community Credit Union ( offers Grow Green Checking at 2.75% APY

  • Matthew Felsted

    Hmm.. This seems to be an insanely bad idea as the national inflation rate is greater than the amount you can earn with the top rate listed on this page. You’d actually lose a ton of money at these rates.

    • Henry

      Yes, but unless your hiding money under your bed, you’re giving a brick and mortar bank your money while getting .001% or some pathetic return for it. To think you’ll get several times the rate of return w/ online banks, you don’t have to be Einstein to know its stupid to leave your $ with the traditional banks


    you can get 3,5% at MCI credit union free checking with 1 bill pay or direct deposit &10 debits also TEXAS FIRST BANK OFFERS 2% With same deal up to 10000$ at Texas First bank & 25000$ at MCI credit union

    • me

      there is no “mci credit union” according to google. did you mean mcu? if not, what is mci credit union website address?


    it is is MCT credit union for Port Neches,Nederland, Orange &Bridge city Texas Mid County Teacher;s credit union


    phone #800 846 1751 MCT credit union


    the checking account at MCT is called Kassasi It lowered its rate to 2.5%

    • me

      as of this month, they’ve lowered it to .75%. seems they did a bait and switch. get your money at the lure of a high rate, then steadily drop it off to match national averages.

  • Heronva

    Hi NW,

    There’s a bank in my area not showing up for my zip code with great local rates. The bank is: Cardinal Bank, zip 22401, 1.01% for a First Choice Checking account. Website: How do I make it display. I found it several years ago. It has went from 2.01, 1.21, and now 1.01.

    • NWjohn

      Thanks for the tip! We’ve made sure to add the account.

  • topcommenter

    Bank X? What kind of people are opening accounts with these cartoon sounding places??

  • laviatrix

    Looks like the 1.25% APY 2Y CD offer from SalemFiveDirect is no longer valid. Their site is offering 1.15%.

    • NWjohn

      Thanks for the heads up. We’ve made the appropriate corrections!

  • chris1010

    Login troubles with Bank5Connect did not instill confidence.

  • Charles Gable

    Your missing Penfed I dont know how long it will last but as of today they are offering 3 year Rates at a whopping 2.00 apr 2.02 apy with only 1,000 minimum

    • Saida Shamim

      They are now paying 3.04 for 5-Years CDs

  • Drafter31

    The best Rewards Checking account without question is “Bank of Internet USA” …A Federal Bank out of San Diego, CA. FDIC Insured…
    You earn up to 1.25% APY* on all balances $150,000 or less and it only takes $100 to open…
    * You have to have $1,000 direct deposit once per month
    * You need to have a minimum of 2 On-line Bill Payments per month
    * You need to have a minimum of 6 debit card purchases per month
    This is easy, I just live my life and I naturally jump through the bank’s hoops to get the 1.25% interest rate on my money…

    • Bill Fold

      So you jump through hoops for twelve months to make $12 bucks. Even the banks pay poorly for labor.

    • Julia

      I’m getting 2.75% through University of Iowa Community Credit Union. No minimum balance (I think the max is $25,000), just have to have 1 direct deposit and make 12 credit card purchases with my debit card a month.