Death Valley National Park Family Guide

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park or monument in the continental United States. The distances are vast, and there is a lot to see, and a lot more that isn’t really accessible. In this guide, we take you through the basics of what you need to see on your visit to this national park. Use our Death Valley Family Guide to plan a great trip with your family.

Take a look at the National Park map for Death Valley. See Badwater Basin? That is the farthest south point that you need to visit in the park. Driving any farther south is long and monotonous. So we’ll start at Badwater Basin and work north from there. These are the stop that we recommend visiting with your family in Death Valley.

Badwater road

Badwater Basin

One of the most popular spots in Death Valley is Badwater Basin. Badwater Basin is cool because it is the lowest point in the Uniter States. We watched our phone’s elevation drop to -280 feet as we approached this pullout. There was also a lake on this salt flat when we were there, which is quite rare. You can normally walk out to the salt flats this area in most years. We walked out to the lake. Make sure to look up on the mountainside above the parking lot for the “Sea Level” sign.

This is usually the only water at Badwater.
The walk out to the salt flats is flat.
These are the salt flats at Badwater Basin.
When we visited Death Valley, there was a lake over the salt flats.
Make sure to notice the sea level sign on the rocks by the parking lot

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge is the next stop. You can read more about the hike on this post. It requires an easy drive on a dirt road, but the hike up to the huge arch is only about a third of a mile. The hike is a climb, but the natural bridge reminded us of the arches we enjoy here in Utah.

Devil’s Golf Course

Devil’s Golf Course is a roadside stop, but again, that road is dirt. You won’t spend too many minutes at the end of the road, but it is worth your time to take a few pictures and see this unique landscape that looks more like a moonscape.

Artist’s Drive

Artist’s Drive is a one-way road that is narrow and winding, which makes it worth the drive. There is a very popular overlook spot along this road called Artist’s Palette. The colors are vibrant as you can see yellows, reds, purples, greens, and browns. Best of all, you don’t even have to get out of the car if you don’t want to, but this spot is a good one to stop and explore a little bit. The road is a 9 mile one-way road.

Golden Canyon

Golden Canyon Trail was our favorite hike in Death Valley. Many scenes from Return of the Jedi were filmed in this area, and the hike is easy and mostly flat as you slowly ascend for about a mile. There are many amazing slot canyons that branch of either side of the trail if you have the time to climb and explore. Plan some time at this destination, and read more on our post about Golden Canyon.

Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek is where we stayed in the park. There are two sites, but we chose the The Ranch at Furnace Creek. The rooms were typical of most hotels, but there was a pool, cafeteria, ice cream parlor, restaurant, general store, tennis and basketball courts, and a small outdoor museum. There’s also a ranger station and a lot of beautiful scenery in this little “town.” We loved staying here as was a great central location. The pool is fed by a natural spring so it stays warm all year long. You can pay to swim in the pool even if you don’t stay.

This was our room at The Ranch at Furnace Creek.
The view out our room was lovely.
The pool at the Ranch is fed by a spring.
There are tennis courts and basketball courts.
We liked walking through the outdoor museum at Furnace Creek.
Ice cream after a long day of hiking is the perfect reward.

Visitor Center

Make sure to make a stop at the Visitor Center at Furnace Creek. Death Valley National Park does not have a ranger check-in station, so there are fee booths at some of the popular spots, but the easiest place to pay your fee is to stop at the Visitor Center. We have a national parks pass, but the rangers let us know that we had to show it at the Visitor Center and get a paper pass to display in the window.

The Visitor Center also has some awesome exhibits. There were lots of hands-on activities for our kids, and plenty of interesting information for adults. We spent some time exploring. You can also turn in your Junior Ranger booklet. We printed our books beforehand and our kids worked on them as we drove through the park (here is the link to print the books). Then, when we stopped at the Visitor Center, we were all done and ready to turn them in. The Junior Ranger program is such a great way to learn about the National Park you are visiting.

The visitor center has a bunch of hands-on activities.
Make sure to have your kids participate in the Junior Ranger program.

Harmony Borax Works

Harmony Borax Works, as you continue north, is another easy, interesting stop. They call it an interpretive trail because you walk past exhibits from an old borax factory. The walk is an easy third mile and would be appropriate for wheels. If you continue down the road, there is a fun drive through Mustard Canyon that takes you on a dirt road through a narrow yellow slot canyon. Make sure to take it slow through the blind corners.

Salt Creek Interpretive Trail

Salt Creek Interpretive Trail was flooded when we visited, but this area should be a good stop, as you can spot tiny pupfish in the creek. The trail is short and has a boardwalk, so it should be great for families and wheels.

Scotty’s Castle Road (North Highway)

Ubehebe Crater

Similarly, since we visited after a rare hurricane had passed this area, much of the north section of the park was washed out or closed. There wasn’t a lot to do in that section of the park at the time.

Ubehebe Crater was the only thing that we managed to see in the far north end of the park. This was a moderately difficult hike with a lot of ups and down. You can look into the crater from the parking area, so you don’t have to walk all the way around, but we enjoyed the challenge. It is 50 miles from Furnace Creek, though, so you have to decide if the drive is worth it.

Scotty’s Castle

This area was closed on the days we were there, but the ranger guided tours are starting up again at the castle. For current information on the tours, check the National Park website.

HIGHWAY 190 West Section

Mesquite Sand Dunes

The Mesquite Sand Dunes can be found as you travel Highway 190 toward the west. The dunes are located just a hundred meters from the junction with Scotty’s Castle Road, and there are no established trails. If you hike to the top of the tallest dunes, it is listed as a 2.0 mile roundtrip hike. We spent some time walking through the dunes, taking Star Wars pictures, and digging in the sand, but we did not hike across the dunes. Bring sand toys for young kids, and this is a great morning or evening adventure so the sand is cooler.

We took a few Star Wars pictures on the sand dunes.

Stovepipe Wells

Stovepipe Wells is a smaller hub in the west section. There is a smaller ranger station and many amenities, but no really reason to stop unless you need something.

Mosaic Canyon

Mosaic Canyon is one of the best hikes in the park. We’ve written in detail about the hike on this post, and we like it because you can vary the distance to what is just right for you. It isn’t too difficult, and there is a lot of variable terrain for this hike. Definitely make some time to explore at least part of this canyon.

Continuing west from Mosaic Canyon isn’t really necessary unless you plan to travel Emigration Canyon. Since this road was closed when we visited, we didn’t make that trip. We did drive all the way out to the west border. The road is paved, but narrow. There are also a lot of ups and downs, and it often feels like you are on a boat in rough water.

In January, there were some pretty flowers along the long drive out west.
The road out west

Panamint Springs

Panamint Springs is a small “town” with a few amenities including lodging and camping. We did like the restaurant that has been sitting on this spot for nearly 100 years. It’s quaint, and the food is good. Just know that prices in the National Parks are definitely higher, but we loved our stop for lunch at the Panamint Springs restaurant.

The restaurant at Panamint Springs is a nice way to break up the day.
We enjoyed the burgers and fries.

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls has the road permanently washed out. The hike went from around a mile each way to close to 8 miles roundtrip, so we didn’t make this trek.

Father Crowley Vista

Father Crowley Vista is not worth the drive. If you are coming in from the west, you can stop and look, but there were better views from the road along the way. If you don’t plan to eat at Panamint, don’t drive out this far.

Father Crowley viewpoint
We didn’t think this view was worth the long drive.

HIGHWAY 190 East Section

The east road has a few interesting places. Just east of Furnace Creek, there are few stops that you’ll need to make.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point overlooks a beautifully colored area. There are many earthy shades of yellows, tans, and browns, plenty of reds and oranges, and even a hint of green. This stop requires only a short walk to the top of the hill. Zabriskie Point is a great spot for sunrise and sunset.

Zabriskie Point is a beautiful overlook.
We loved the colors at this stop.

Twenty Mule Team Canyon

The Twenty Mule Team Canyon is only 3.5 miles on a one way loop. There are great views of the colorful rocks and it is fun to weave through the tight turns in the hills of Death Valley.

20 Mule Team Canyon was a nice, quick drive.

Dante’s View

Dante’s View is the best overlook in the park. Found on the east entrance road, it looks over the entire Death Valley area. You’ll need to do a drive out a 13 mile paved road (no trailers past 8 miles). This stop only requires you to get out of the vehicle. The view, though, is breathtaking. No trip to Death Valley is complete without a stop at Dante’s View.

Dante’s View is amazing!

Where to Stay

We love to stay in the national parks when possible, so that we are right inside the park with easy access to everything there is to see. We enjoyed our stay at Furnace Creek in the ranch, and found it to be very family-friendly. There is lodging at Furnace Creek Resort, Stovepipe Wells, and Panamint Springs. You will find campgrounds at these areas, too.

If you aren’t going to stay in the park, then Pahrump is a popular place to stay. There are lots of amenities and hotels in this town in Nevada. Pahrump is about one hour drive from Furnace Creek.

When to Visit & Itinerary

That was a lot of information. We hope that the Death Valley Family Guide is giving you some clues on what to do with your family. We recommend a full day to explore Death Valley. You could plan longer, but we were able to do most of these activities in one day.

Death Valley has beautiful views.

We visited Death Valley National Park in January and it was perfect. The temperature was lovely (in the 60s). You will want to visit between October-March for the most temperate weather. The summer time heat gets up well into the high 120s, and it will not be safe to be out of the car and hike. So be wise when you plan your trip. Wildflowers are supposed to be perfect in the Spring, too.

This is the itinerary we would follow if we were visiting for a one-day trip into the park from the Las Vegas side. Enter as early as possible and stay until sunset. And this is the order we think would work best.

  • Dante’s View
  • Harmony Borax Works
  • Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
  • Mesquite Sand Dunes
  • Mosaic Canyon
  • Visitor Center
  • Badwater Basin
  • Natural Bridge
  • Devil’s Golfcourse
  • Artist’s Point/Artists Palette
  • Golden Canyon
  • Zabriskie Point (sunset)
  • 20 Mule Team Canyon (if it’s still light enough)
We loved exploring this park.

Please let us know if you have any questions about Death Valley that we didn’t answer in the Death Valley Family Guide. For a list of all of the hikes we recommend in this park, visit our post called Death Valley Kid Hikes. It even has a free printable. Send us an email at info@utahsadventurefamily.com if you still have more questions. We love helping families explore the National Parks. check out our National Parks page to see all of the national sites we have visited and shared about.

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