Death Valley National Park is a vast, rugged, and extreme landscape that offers an unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages. There's fun dunes, formations, boardwalks to that kids will have fun exploring, but there's also a ton of natural elements to learn about that will make your adventure even more memorable and meaningful. Death Valley can be an exceptional opportunity to learn about nature. How do plants and animals survive in a place that has the world record for hottest temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit? From learning about the history of the park's Native American inhabitants to studying the science behind its extreme climate, there are countless opportunities for interactive learning in this remarkable park. In this guide, we'll take you through some of the best family-friendly activities in Death Valley, including hikes, ranger programs, and educational exhibits. Whether you're planning a weekend getaway or a longer vacation, this guide will help you create a memorable and educational experience for your kids in one of America's most awe-inspiring national parks.
Pro Planning Tips
- Season: Fall, winter, and spring when temperatures drop, spring may have wildflower blooms
- Difficulty: Easy hiking, but be prepared for lots of driving as it’s a large National Park
- Time needed: 1-2 days
- No dogs are allowed on trails in the park, only at campgrounds and walking along backcountry roads.
- Stop at the Visitor Center and get a map of the park; cell service cuts in and out.
- Bring one extra gallon of water per person.
- Bathrooms are located at Badwater Basin, Artists Pallet, Salt Creek and Mesquite Sand Dunes.
- Bring sleds or boogie boards to slide down Mesquite Dunes.
- The drive to Ubehebe Crater is about 50 minutes from Mesquite Sand Dunes. Plan on the crater trip taking most of your day. You can still visit the dunes afterwards on the way back to the campgrounds.
- If you have time check out Devils Golf Course. It has unearthly looking rock salt deposits that make small ping sounds as some of the rock crystals burst apart as they expand in the heat. Stay quiet and listen carefully.
- The trail down to the bottom of Ubehebe Crater is steep and a lot of fun to go down, but it is very tiring to go back up. Take lots of water. It can be done with kids if you take a lot of breaks.
- When driving through Painted Canyon, make sure to stop at Artists Pallet to walk around and see the many colors of Painted Canyon up close. There is also a bathroom there for your convenience.
Top 5 Hits with the Kids
3. Walk the boardwalk at Salt Creek, 1 mile loop. Has a nice trickle stream in Spring. There's is always something so cool about walking on a boardwalk. There is also nice informative signage to learn about the natural history and native wildlife.
4. Stop to see the colors at Artist's Palette. You've probably seen pictures of the rainbow colors on the hills of Death Valley. This is a great spot to see some....although most of those amazing pictures are probably Photoshop enhanced. It's still worth stopping.
5. Hike the rim of Ubehebe Crater, 1.5 mile loop, or take the trail to the crater bottom with a 600 ft. elevation drop. We had a lot of fun stomping down this crater...getting back up was a bit for challenging in the deep sand and gravel, especially if you have a little tike.
The benefits of outdoor education for children
Outdoor education offers numerous benefits for children, including improved physical and mental health, as well as increased confidence and self-esteem. Children who spend time in nature are more likely to develop a sense of respect and appreciation for the environment, which can lead to a lifelong commitment to conservation and sustainability.
Death Valley National Park is an ideal destination for families who want to give their kids a hands-on, immersive experience in nature. With its diverse ecosystems, unique geological features, and rich cultural history, Death Valley offers an unparalleled opportunity for children to learn about the world around them.
If you love exploring the California Desert with you kids, the California Desert Activity Book is a great resource for your family. It includes our Top 10 desert destinations (Includes Death Valley) with activities for each location and fun earth science lessons. It's like a Junior Ranger program for each location. Here are some of the things included:
- 10 Adventures in the Ca Desert
- 10 Earth Science Lessons
- 10 Hands-On Science Activities
- 10 Coloring Pages
- 1 Sticker Map
- Reward Tickets
- 10 Scavenger Hunts
- Journal Pages
- Collectors Pin
- And More
Wildlife spotting and observation opportunities
An exciting aspects of visiting Death Valley with children is the opportunity to observe the park's unique wildlife. From bighorn sheep to coyotes to desert tortoises, there's a wealth of wildlife that live in this remarkable park.
One of the best places to observe wildlife in Death Valley is the Mesquite Spring area, which is home to a variety of bird species, including roadrunners and quail. Visitors can also spot lizards, snakes, and other reptiles throughout the park. Jackrabbits and kit foxes also call this place home, although you're less likely to see them. Here are some wildlife we saw on our trip that you're likely to see if you keep an eye out.
The pickleweed got its name because its stems look pickle-like and it also tastes salty. It can survive in extreme salty conditions that most other plants die from. Any salt that the plant absorbs is stored in its pickle-like ends causing them to turn reddish and fall off.
Tracks from beetles, snakes, and other dune animals can be seen after a windstorm. The dunes record the tracks of every creature that walks on them like paint on a fresh canvas. The best place to find tracks are near the creosote bushes where the animals burrow and seek shelter.
The brittlebush is a desert shrub that has fuzzy, silver-gray leaves and yellow flowers that bloom in winter and spring. It’s an important plant that provides food for mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, and occasionally kangaroo rats.
Cairns are stacks of rocks made by hikers to help them find their way back from a long hike in a new area. Don’t make cairns for fun. Hikers can become lost if too many cairns are randomly made.
The history of Death Valley and its Native American inhabitants
Death Valley has a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years. The park was home to several Native American tribes, including the Timbisha Shoshone, who still maintain a presence in the area today. Visitors can learn about the history of the park's original inhabitants through exhibits and ranger programs, which offer insights into the daily life, traditions, and customs of these early settlers.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Native American culture in Death Valley is their intimate relationship with the land. For centuries, these tribes relied on the park's natural resources for food, water, and shelter. By learning about their unique way of life, children can gain a deeper appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living things and the importance of preserving our natural resources for future generations.
Geology and climate of Death Valley
Death Valley is a geological wonderland, with a diverse range of formations that span millions of years. From towering mountains to ancient sea beds, the park offers a wealth of opportunities for children to explore the science behind these formations.
One of the most remarkable geological features in Death Valley is the Racetrack Playa, a dry lakebed where rocks seem to move on their own. Scientists believe that the rocks are pushed by strong winds, leaving trails behind them in the soft mud. This phenomenon offers a unique opportunity for children to learn about the forces of nature and the power of wind and water.
In addition to its geological wonders, Death Valley is also known for its extreme climate. With temperatures that can soar above 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and drop below freezing in the winter, the park offers a unique opportunity for children to learn about the science of weather and climate.
Best hikes and trails for families with kids
Death Valley offers a variety of hikes and trails that are suitable for families with children of all ages. From short, easy walks to more challenging hikes, there's something for everyone in this remarkable park.
One of the best trails for families is the Natural Bridge trail, a 1.3-mile round trip hike that leads to a stunning natural arch. Along the way, children can learn about the park's geology and plant life, as well as the history of the Native American inhabitants who once called this area home.
Another great hike for families is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a 2.7-mile round trip hike that takes visitors through the heart of the park's famous sand dunes. Children can learn about the science of sand dune formation and observe the unique plant and animal life that thrives in this harsh environment.
Ranger programs and educational exhibits
Death Valley offers a variety of ranger programs and educational exhibits that are designed specifically for children. These programs cover a wide range of topics, from the park's cultural history to its unique geology and climate.
One of the most popular ranger programs for families is the Junior Ranger program, which allows children to earn a badge by completing a series of activities and attending ranger-led programs. This program is designed to engage children in hands-on learning and help them develop a sense of stewardship for the park.
In addition to ranger programs, Death Valley also offers a variety of educational exhibits that are suitable for children of all ages. These exhibits cover topics such as the park's geology, plant and animal life, and cultural history, and offer a wealth of information for children who are eager to learn.
Camping and accommodation options in Death Valley
Death Valley offers a variety of camping and accommodation options for families who want to spend more than a day exploring the park. From rustic campgrounds to luxury hotels, there's something for every budget and preference in this remarkable park.
One of the best places to camp in Death Valley is the Furnace Creek Campground, which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and easy access to some of the park's most popular trails and attractions. For families who prefer a more comfortable experience, the Furnace Creek Ranch offers a variety of lodging options, including cabins and hotel rooms.
Safety tips for exploring Death Valley with kids
Exploring Death Valley with children can be a rewarding and educational experience, but it's important to take safety precautions to ensure that everyone stays safe and healthy. Some important safety tips to keep in mind include:
- Drink plenty of water: Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest places on earth, so it's essential to stay hydrated at all times.
- Wear sunscreen and protective clothing: The park's extreme climate can cause sunburn and dehydration, so it's important to wear protective clothing and sunscreen.
- Stay on designated trails: Venturing off-trail can be dangerous and can cause damage to the park's fragile ecosystems.
- Check weather conditions: Death Valley's climate can be extreme and unpredictable, so it's important to check weather conditions before heading out on a hike or excursion.
Conclusion: Creating lifelong memories and learning experiences for your kids in Death Valley National Park
Visiting Death Valley National Park with children is an incredible opportunity to create lifelong memories and learning experiences. Whether you're exploring the park's unique geology, observing its diverse wildlife, or learning about the cultural history of its Native American inhabitants, there's something for everyone in this remarkable park. With its many family-friendly activities, ranger programs, and educational exhibits, Death Valley is an ideal destination for families who want to give their kids a hands-on, immersive experience in nature.