Lonely Planet Writer

Why tourists are heading to the hottest place in the USA as a heatwave sweeps the region

When the temperatures start to rise to an uncomfortable heat, most of us seek out the shade and a place to cool off. For some travellers though, it’s a challenge and many of them are heading to California’s Death Valley for what could be the hottest day of the year.

Sunset view of the sand dunes in the Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is the hottest place in the USA. Image by Giorgio Fochesato/500px

California, Arizona and Nevada are all experiencing a heatwave at the moment and Death Valley is bearing the brunt of it with temperatures clocking in at 50°C or 127°F. While this may sound unbearable, it’s quite the attraction for some European visitors, who flock to the National Park for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience temperatures that would be impossible to find at home.

Of course, such extreme temperatures come with a severe warning. Heat is responsible for more deaths in the USA than any other type of weather, on average 131 people every year. Most dangerous of all is when it’s combined with high humidity, which is the case for most heatwave regions at the moment, although the dry Death Valley does not face this problem.

The heat is so severe in the region that dozens of flights in and out of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport have been cancelled because most of the aircraft on regional service are not safe to fly in temperatures above 48°C/118°F and the heat is expected to top that this week.

Ford Mustang on desert highway.
Tourists are not being deterred by the California heatwave. Image by Mark Read/Lonely Planet

Tourists visiting the Grand Canyon could also be affected as the local Flagstaff airport is also in a danger zone due its high altitude. The US National Weather Service has also issued a warning to visitors to the natural wonder that temperatures in the Colorado River base could be as high as 47C°/116°F and hikers are being told to bring a wide-brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen and supplies.

Despite the warnings, the soaring temperatures are not putting off some visitors who welcome the extreme heat as a bucket list opportunity.