Although “Death Valley” doesn’t *sound* like the most welcoming place to take your kids on holiday, I assure you – it’s quite the opposite.
Death Valley National Park can be explored comfortably over a weekend, or even just a single day. We opted for one night inside the park, and one night in Pahrump, the closest town to the National Park, in order to avoid paying the exorbitant park accommodation fees.
1. Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes
Okay so first off – if you’ve been to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, these will probably look like an anthill in comparison. The good news is that this anthill is at sea level instead of 7500′, which means that climbing to the top of the dunes is a much easier task. This is especially noticeable if you have kids to carry 🙂
The best time to see the Dunes is in the morning, before there are too many new footsteps in the sand. We came here at sunset and had to wholeheartedly embrace the endless tracks in the dunes. Our girls of course didn’t mind and were happy to play with any and all sand. We may have collectively brought home a full sandpit in our shoes.
2. Badwater Basin
Welcome to the lowest point in North America! These salt flats are at 282 feet below sea level.
This stunning place may seem like a big flat pile of nothing from the road, so make sure that you go far enough until you start seeing the cool salt shapes in the ground. It’s about a 30-40 minute leisurely walk into the flats from the parking lot, so you’ll need to account for that if you’re trying to time this with sunrise and sunset (oops..). I think sunset is probably the better time to come here since you could do backlit shots. The photo above is from sunrise, and I felt the lighting was on the wrong side.
I thought the story behind the name of this place was kind of cool. These salt flats were named Badwater after a traveler came through here and was looking for water for his mule. The mule refused to drink it due to the high salt content, and so the name Batwater stuck.
3. Golden Canyon
Disclaimer: we did not do the full hike mostly because we were trying to catch sunset at Zabrieske Point and we spent too much time trying to get the girls to nap earlier in the day.
4. Zabrieske Point
This is an easily accessible lookout on the side of the road. There’s a short hike up to the viewpoint and a few small trails you could take off to the side to get a different angle. This spot is seriously jaw-dropping. Photos don’t do this place justice! It really feels like you’re on a different planet when you get to the view point and look at the unique, multicolored terrain.
This spot definitely shines at sunset and you do not want to miss it!
5. Artist’s Palette
Artist’s Palette is a scenic drive on the way to Badwater Basin. You could take it as a short detour on your way to or from Badwater and do a quick stop at
Where to Stay when visiting Death Valley National Park
Before I get into the details of where to stay, I just wanted to mention that Death Valley National Park does not have much (read: has nothing) in terms of grocery or general stores. It has one gas station, and one tiny market that sells week-old sandwiches for the price of one of your limbs. It’s definitely a good idea to stock up on all your favorite snacks and meals in Pahrump before entering the park.
We stayed here for one night while visiting the park and it was worth paying for the location. The rooms are fairly small, but considering the price relative to all the other available options at the time, we were pretty happy with our room. There’s an outdoor pool that the kids enjoyed with a mountain backdrop, as well as a train museum right at the front of the Inn.
We had breakfast at the buffet here since we didn’t think to grab food with us into the park, and the food was pretty good.
2. Pahrump Airbnbs
This is the specific one we stayed at and really enjoyed. It had three large rooms and plenty of space for everyone. We also really liked the mini golf course in the front yard. There were many other Airbnb options in Pahrump, all for a very reasonable price and much cheaper than staying at the park. I would highly recommend staying here on your last night if you’re flying out of Las Vegas, since it’ll cut out one hour from your trip to the airport.
Q & A
Q: Do you need a car to get around the park?
A: Yes. All the sites are very far apart (20-40min drive), and there is no public transport.
Q: How many nights should I spend at Death Valley?
A: I think two nights is probably enough time to see all the sites without feeling rushed. However, the park is fairly large and there are a lot of remote places you could explore if you wanted to stay longer. There are lots of sites that are only accessible via a 4×4 high clearance vehicle and only during certain times of the year. For example, the Race Track is one place I would’ve loved to visit but time didn’t allow.
Q: How much does it cost to visit Death Valley National Park?
A: The entrance fee is 25$ for one vehicle and is valid for 7 days. However, if you have an America the Beautiful Park Pass, it will cover your entrance fee so make sure you grab it with you on your trip. Accommodation inside the park is around 300$/night on average unless you score a deal, book super early or camp. Food inside the park is expensive and very limited. Aside from the few restaurants at the hotels, there is one little grocery store selling overpriced sandwiches, snacks, fruits and veggies.
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