Death Valley National Park
Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Furnace Creek, CA, USA
Exploring the harshest US National Park with kids.
Many things are memorable about Death Valley but most surprising - it's kid-friendly!
Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Start your day at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Pay park entry fees and grab a junior ranger book and map. You’ll find restrooms, water, picnic tables, and a gift store for souvenirs.
Badwater Basin is probably DV’s most notable feature. At 282-ft below sea level, it's the lowest point in North America. While you can see the salt flats from your car, you won’t get a good view of the spectacular geometric salt formations without walking. The walk is flat and relatively short.
The Natural Bridge trail is a short hike to see a spectacular natural bridge spanning a large canyon. The hike is short (around 1/3 mile) but families with kids who like rock scrambling may want to go a bit farther. Climb up and over small rock ledges until you reach a 15-foot (unscalable) canyon wall about a mile in.
Devil’s Golf Course
Devil’s Golf Course is an easy stop that shouldn’t be missed. Another wondrous geologic formation that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, this area is a landscape heavily influenced by the impact of rain, evaporation, and salt. See the landscape from a car or get out and explore the jagged ground protrusions that are the area’s namesake (be careful with little ones, the ground salt can be sharp).
After a long day of exploring, Artist’s Drive is an easy way to end the day. The road is a scenic 9-mile drive that will take you through the colorful hills of the area. If you want to take a closer look at the multi-hued rocks, park and take a short walk to see the rainbow-colored rocks up close!
Dante’s View is a bit of a drive, but worth it to view the valley from 5,000 feet above. To say that the view is breath-taking is an understatement. There’s no hiking required; you can reach the overlook simply by crossing the parking lot. Due to the elevation, Dante’s View is much colder than the lower points in Death Valley. Pack an extra layer in the winter!
A ¼-mile walk up a paved (but steep) path will take you to a viewpoint above the golden-colored badlands of Zabriskie Point. Viewing the landscape from above is awe-inspiring but those that wish to get a little closer can explore the area on ground-level trails. Little ones with extra energy will enjoy “getting lost” in the maze of badland hills.
For those that love rock scrambling, Golden Canyon is great. The hike starts off easy with a flat walk into the canyon and then gets more interesting. After hiking around ¼ mile, you’ll come upon a series of slot canyons (small canyons that have been carved into larger canyon walls). From there, follow the maze up and through the spectacular rock formations.
Ubehebe Crater is another long drive but offers a unique opportunity to see a massive crater formed 2,000 years ago. Superheated steam and gas exploded, resulting in a 600-foot deep hole in the Earth. You can view it from a viewpoint adjacent to the parking lot. You can also take a short walk up the hill to walk down into a smaller crater called Little Hebe.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flat is one of the more popular stops in the park. Rolling hills of incredibly soft sand line the valley for miles. Take your time and look closely to see tracks of the many animal inhabitants of the area including ravens, roadrunners, lizards, kangaroo rats and more. The sand dunes are adjacent to the parking lot and there are no marked trails so hike as long or as short as you’d like!
We stumbled upon Salt Creek Interpretive Trail by accident and we were so glad. The main feature in the area is an incredibly salty creek. What makes it so special (besides flowing through one of the driest places in North America!) is that it’s home to the Salt Creek Pupfish. This fish lives nowhere else in the world and adapted to live in the harsh environment. The ½- mile boardwalk takes you along the creek, where you can spot the fish.
Keane Wonder Mill and Mine
Death Valley is full of so many geologic wonders, it’s easy to forget this area was used for many industries before its protection by the NPS. Keane Wonder Mill and Mine is one of them. A short, steep walk from the parking lot stands the lowest tram terminal of the remaining wooden aerial trams that were used at this historic gold mine. After days of exploring the natural features of the land, this stop makes for a fun change of pace.
Rhyolite Ghost Town
A little outside of the official boundaries of DVNP lies Rhyolite Ghost Town. Managed by the NPS it is a fun stop if you’ve got extra time. Rhyolite boomed as a mining town for almost a decade before being abandoned. After several days of intense hiking, our kids loved wandering these forgotten buildings and imagining the people that lived there many years ago.