What To Do in Death Valley With Kids

We recently got to spend 3 full days in Death Valley for my kids winter break and we had such a blast! What a hidden gem this National Park is! Even with many of the major sites being closed due to some winter flooding there was so much to see and do- I want to go back so we can catch all those things we missed! We went with our four boys and I’m here to share what we did and what we recommend for your trip to Death Valley National Park!

what to do in Death Valley National Park with kids
Here’s what we learned from our trip to Death Valley with 4 kids in Feb of 2024

Where to Stay in Death Valley

Let’s start with where we stayed. I’ve learned that staying INSIDE National Parks when possible makes all the difference. That is definitely the case with Death Valley as well. It’s such an enormous park (the largest in the lower 48 states) that staying outside the park will likely add hours of driving on to every day’s outings. You could optimize what you see based on where you stay outside the park, but I feel like you are really limiting yourself if you do that.

Where to stay in Death Valley with kids
Here’s what our little cottage at the Oasis looked like. The porch sure came in handy!

There are a few places to stay inside the park as well as some campgrounds. We stayed at The Oasis in one of their cottages at The Ranch. It was a fun little property and when we arrived at night it was all lit up and very inviting. The cottage itself, while it said it slept 6 (and yes technically it did) was a bit on the cramped side for our family of 6. It worked out fine, especially because there is a nice porch area, so I just kept sending the kids out onto the porch to eat all their meals since there really wasn’t space inside.

Zabriskie Point Death Valley National Park
View from Zabriskie Point at Sunset- of course the photo does not do the real thing justice!

While I’m on the subject of food- I recommend bringing all your food with you. Like you’re camping. But without a camp fire. Haha. That’s what we did and I’m so glad we did. There really isn’t anything for hours in any direction. I mean the hotel had a restaurant but it was extremely expensive. So we brought all our food and ate a lot of sandwiches and ramen. There is a mini fridge in the hotel rooms, but no microwave. We brought a little skillet type thing so we could have eggs and quesadillas and things like that. There is a cute little ice cream shop as part of the hotel so we ate their once as a reward for surviving a hike (beware it’s very expensive as well). But the hotel had a great heated pool and overall no complaints!

What to Do in Death Valley without Hiking

While there is plentiful hiking in Death Valley (and I’ll get to that later) there’s quite a bit to do if you aren’t up for that or have young ones that can’t make it. Here are some of our favorites:

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Hands down the highlight of our trip was our morning at the Mesquite sand dunes. We ended up staying there about 4 hours just walking around, sledding and having a blast. While sleds aren’t necessary, I HIGHLY recommend them. We packed 2 sleds, really not sure if they would work on sand at all. When we got to the dunes the kids excitedly grabbed the sleds out of my hand and ran for the first dune they. They tried to scoot down them with no success- quickly gave up and abandoned the sleds and ran off. “Nice” I thought. I scooped up the sleds and carried them with me out to the middle of the dunes.

the view from Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley USA
The landscape views are just stunning at Mesquite Sand Dunes, I would love to hit it up at sunrise or sunset!

Now I said– no hiking — that is possibly misleading here. You don’t have to hike at Mesquite Sand Dunes, there are literally dunes just a few feet from the parking lot. However the best dunes are a bit of a walk. This is where families could split up and older kids could go explore and climb those dunes to their hearts content. By the way- footwear is important here. I don’t really recommend sneaker type shoes. I would either wear some sort of sandals (and plan on being mostly barefoot) or some boots that will have a fighting chance to keep the sand out. I left my hiking shoes on the whole time and did pretty well, but most of my kids went barefoot.

sand sledding and exploring at Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley
Bring your sandals and some sleds for an epic time at Mesquite Sand Dunes!

Anyway, back to the sledding. After some time we slowly made our way towards the middle of the dunes where they started to get very steep. Once we reached a very steep one we had the kids try again, and oh boy did it work! If you want to see a video of us sledding down the dunes you can check that out here. I do think one of those saucer sleds would probably work even better- so I would bring one of those if we go again. Hours later when everyone had their fill of sledding we trekked back to the car for some lunch. Having some nice cold sodas waiting for you would not be a bad idea. 😉

Badwater Basin

badwater basin in death valley national park, lowest point in North America
Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level)

This is just a pit stop along the road to see the lowest point in North America. While we were there it was actually filled with water and people were taking their shoes off and venturing out into the basin. I’m told you can usually see salt flats here. So again its another one of those “wander around as far or as long as you want” scenarios. I’m a little sad we didn’t get to see the iconic salt flats, but I guess seeing it filled with water is a pretty unique experience. Maybe bring some fresh water to rinse your feet off afterwards if you’re going wading.

salt formations in badwater basin
I took a ridiculous amount of close up photos of all the salt formations I could find wading around Badwater Basin. They’re pretty cool!

Artists Drive

A breathtaking drive, and you don’t even have to get out of the car! But there are a few vista points to get out and stretch and get some photos if you want to. It’s a scenic loop that will take you back to the main road. Doing this drive as the sun is setting adds something magical. I would give yourself about 30 minutes to do the loop with a few short stops along the way. Have the kids keep track of all the colors they can find and whoever gets every color of the rainbow first wins.

artists pallet lookout point in death valley
One of a couple look out points along Artists’ Drive

Zabriskie Point

This viewpoint is absolutely stunning. There is a bit of a steep ramp up to the viewpoint- but once you get to the top- wow! We went at sunset- sunrise would be better. And I wanted to go back at night but we never got the chance. I bet the starts are just incredible. One of the neatest things was just how quiet everyone was. It just had this unearthly feel to it and everyone just somehow automatically gave it the reverence it deserved.

view from Zabriskie point at sunset, Death Valley National Park
View from Zabriskie Point at sunset

Great Hikes for Kids in Death Valley

If you’re up for some short to medium length hikes with your kiddos, here are a few that we did and how it went. Remember- don’t hike in the summer time! Just don’t.

Try this 4 easy hikes at Death Valley National Park

Golden Canyon

This is often the most recommended hike in Death Valley. And bonus points- parts of Star Wars a New Hope were filmed in this canyon. There are a few different routes you can take- depending on how far you want to hike. We stopped when we hit the Red Cathedral walls and didn’t see much of a way forward from there. But don’t leave without testing out the echo- it’s pretty epic! The hikes in Death Valley were a little confusing in general with no specific trails often times and little signage. So just enjoy the ride! In total it will be 2-3 miles to complete.

golden canyon hike view of the red cathedral cliffs death valley national park
A view of the Red Cathedral at the end of the Golden Canyon hike

Mosaic Canyon

This was my favorite hike we did, although it did end rather anti-climatically when we hit a dead end. This hike is definitely one of those “its about the journey not the destination” kinds of hikes. And in fact my favorite parts were probably all within the first mile. We completed the entire thing and it was almost precisely 4 miles. But you can easily turn around sooner and I wouldn’t say you were missing a ton. There’s no path, perse, you just follow the slot canyon along it’s course. And really my boys would have loved if we had just let them play on all of the super neat rock structures we encountered along the way.

mosaic slot canyon hike in death valley national park
Mosaic Slot Canyon hike, Death Valley

Ubehebe Crater

This one is on the fence between a hike and not a hike. We ended up making it into a hike because when we got there it was so windy that we decided to hike to the bottom of the crater to get out of the wind. It was pretty cool down there. But then, you know, we had to hike back up. There’s a short trail you can follow up to see a smaller crater, and there’s a trail that you can take along the entire rim of the crater. We would have been more inclined to try one of those trails if it hadn’t been so windy. And by the way, this is a volcanic crater, so lots of “oooo”s and “ahhhh”s from my boys on that one.

Ubehebe volcanic crater death valley
Here’s a view from the top of the crater

Natural Bridge Trail

I almost forgot about this hike because it was a short one we snuck in at the end of the day, but the kids rated it their favorite! This was entirely dependent upon a cool place they found to climb and explore just to the left of the actually arch. It’s less than a mile to the actual “natural bridge”. The trail did seem to keep going, but we did not as it was late in the day and the kids had already done golden canyon hike. I think it was less than 1.5 miles total roundtrip to the bridge and back. So the perfect one to do with littles in tow!

natural bridge trail in Death Valley National Park
Here’s the arch where we stopped and turned around. And just to the left of this arch is the entrance to a little slot canyon that my boys played in for awhile (and begged to come back to)

That about sums up what we were able to do with our 3 days in Death Valley. I know there’s so much more to see and do I feel like we need to plan another trip! And the weather there in February was just gorgeous- a little chilly at night. If you’re looking to explore other National Parks in California check out my post about staying in Yosemite here.

If you get a chance, don’t forget to check out those incredible night skies while you’re there!

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