A trip to Death Valley National Park can be a great experience for families, with its unique landscapes, outdoor activities and educational opportunities. If you’re planning a trip to Death Valley with kids, there are plenty of exciting things to see and do. From hiking to stargazing, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. To see the highlights of the park and make the most of your visit, a minimum of 2-3 days is ideal, assuming you will be staying inside the park and not doing too much driving. This guide will provide an optimal itinerary for Death Valley, suitable for families with or without kids, and providing distances for round trip for all the suggestions.
Day 1: Badwater area
Badwater is an area located in the southern part of Death Valley National Park, known for its stunning landscapes and unique geological features. The most notable feature of the area is the Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. The basin is a large salt flat that is surrounded by towering mountains and is covered in salt crystals. Badwater is probably the reason for coming to Death Valley National Park. There are many beautiful things to do and see in the Badwater area.
Zabriskie Point at sunrise (also sunset)
Start your day at Zabriskie Point at sunrise, when the sun rises over the mountains, hits the valley and shines from there like a diamond into the valley… SPECTACULAR! We liked Zabriskie Point so much that we went back twice. It is also spectacular at sunset. The view is within walking distance from the car park or you can add a hike through the canyons.
The hike to the Badwater basin is a popular activity among visitors, the trail takes you on a 2-mile round-trip hike to the basin and offers a great perspective of the park’s vastness. The trailhead is located near the parking area and from there you will hike to the salt flats.
The area around the badwater basin is a perfect spot to catch a sunset, the view from the boardwalk overlooking the salt flats is spectacular. With the sun setting behind the mountains, the salt flats take on a red and orange hue that is truly unforgettable.
Badwater Salt Flats: Lowest Point in the USA
Badwater Saltworks, a large salt crystal formation that can be seen from the parking area. It is gorgeous. Badwater is also a great place to watch sunrise from as it comes over the hills and hits the mountains with its soft rosy glow. It is about a one mile walk out to the salt flats, but you could really walk as far as your interest takes you. The saltworks are a sight to behold and visitors can take a short walk to get a closer look at the salt crystals.
Natural Bridge Hike (1 mile)
The Natural Bridge hike, located in the Badwater area of Death Valley National Park, is a family-friendly one-mile trail that takes you up a canyon to see a natural bridge, a unique geological formation. This hike is easy, and suitable for children, it provides an interesting insight on the natural beauty of the park. Additionally, the parking lot offers panoramic views of the Badwater basin, making it an ideal spot to have a picnic lunch while enjoying the views.
Devil’s Golf Course
The Devil’s Golf Course, another feature to be seen in the Badwater area, is a landscape of large salt crystals that look like rough golf balls. The salt formations were created by the evaporation of an ancient lake, leaving behind a jagged surface of salt crystals that is not only beautiful, but also unique.
Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette Hike
Artist’s Drive is a scenic drive that takes visitors deep into the hills of Death Valley National Park, providing an opportunity to admire the vibrant colors created by volcanic activity in the area. Along the way, there is a parking lot at Artist’s Palette, a popular spot where visitors can park and take a walk to explore the area further. It is particularly recommended to be at the area during sunset, when the colors of the hills and mountains take on a warm and breathtaking hue.
Sunset at Dante’s View
Dante’s View is a must-see destination for visitors of Death Valley National Park, offering a panoramic view of the park from one of the highest points in the park. The viewpoint offers impressive vistas from the parking lot itself, and the vista becomes even more spectacular as you hike further along the 8-mile trail. Sadly, there had been a storm a couple of days before we were there, and the road was blocked by mud/snow, but from what I hear and pictures online, it is not to be missed.
Day 2: Stovepipe Wells Area
Spend your second day in the park in the central part of Death Valley, checking out sand dunes, canyaons, and more.
Mosaic Canyon Hike
Begin your second day with a family-friendly hike through Mosaic Canyon. The 2.8 to 4-mile trail offers plenty of opportunities for rock scrambling and exploration, making it a fun and engaging hike for kids. The canyon walls are adorned with multi-colored rocks, giving the canyon its name, creating a striking landscape. Once you complete the hike, visit Stovepipe Wells to grab some lunch before heading out to the nearby sand dunes for some more adventure and exploration.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
These vast sand dunes are a ton of fun for kids to explore. There is no set path, so park in the parking lot and start exploring. They are a great place for kids to run around and have some fun. This is also a beautiful place to watch sunset.
Badlands Loop or Golden Canyon for Sunset
If you’re not planning to stay at the Mesquite Sand Dunes for sunset, consider a visit to Golden Canyon. The hike, which is three miles one way, offers picturesque views and is particularly beautiful at sunset. However, as it is a one-way trail, a shuttle system needs to be in place to avoid having to hike back uphill. An easier option is to start at Zabriskie Point and hike downhill to the Golden Canyon parking lot.
Day 3: Northern Death Valley
The third day in Death Valley is spent exploring the northern part of the park. To the north you have to take dirt roads, so there are far fewer people, but there are some incredible sights to see. Start at the Ubehebe Crater and then move on to EITHER the Racetrack Playa or Eureka Dunes.
Ubehebe Crater (1.5 miles)
How often do you have the opportunity to hike in or around a volcano, particularly an 770-foot crater created by a steam explosion? The hike out of the crater can be challenging, so be prepared for uneven terrain. Alternatively, you can hike around the crater. Keep in mind that there are no amenities, so bring your own food and water and use the bathrooms at the Grapevine ranger station
The Racetrack Playa
The Playa Raceway is an incredible sight. It is a drained lake bed, but most amazing is the sight of “sail stones” mysteriously moving in the lake bed, leaving a trail behind them. A vehicle with high ground clearance and all-terrain tires is required to reach the race course. Otherwise, you can rent one in the park. Access to the race track requires several hours of off-road driving.
The Eureka Dunes, located in the remote northern part of Death Valley, are the tallest sand dunes in the United States. They are not as wide as the Mesquite Dunes, but are much taller. Due to their remote location, they are less visited. To visit the Eureka Dunes, plan to drive 2 hours on dirt roads from the main area of Death Valley, and consider staying overnight in the nearby town of Bishop. Once you arrive, park and enjoy exploring.
Three days in Death Valley was an amazing experience for our family. Given the variety of terrain and activities, it is a great family trip that everyone in the family can enjoy. Have you been to Death Valley? What was your favorite part?