24 Hours in Death Valley: A Detour to Nowhere

DEATH VALLEY: Sounds like a perfect destination for family fun, huh? You’d be surprised!

OK, I’ll admit the idea of traveling on desolate highways for hours with NO roadside gas stations, NO restaurants, NO other cars, NO bathrooms, and OMG – NO cell phone reception doesn’t sound like an ideal trip with the kids. But on our multi-generational family trip out west, my nature-loving dad was excited to check off a long-time item on his bucket-list: a visit to Death Valley (or more specifically, Death Valley National Park). How could we say no? And boy, are we glad we followed my Dad’s wanderlust!

Located in the other-worldly Mojave Desert, the park is ironically found between two glamorous cities: Las Vegas, Nevada and Palm Springs, California. And it just so happens to be the largest national park in the contiguous United States with 3.4 million acres of stark desert and rolling mountains.

You could spend weeks in the park and not explore it all, but here is our family guide to the things to do in Death Valley in one day.


Scenes from Star Wars were filmed here, and you can see why. You feel like you have been transported to another planet in another galaxy far, far away! Hit the sand dunes in the morning before others have left their footprints…and you’ll feel like you have discovered them for the first time. The hypnotic vistas are a photographer’s dream: light reflecting off the dunes, gorgeous mountains as the backdrop. It’s also “kid heaven” — with sand dunes everywhere, perfect for running up and sliding down!

Things to do in Death Valley in one day - Sand Dunes
Have fun running around the sand dunes in Death Valley National Park with your family!

Tip: Remember as you begin your hike into the dunes, you must eventually return, too, so don’t venture too far! Hiking back up is much harder and more strenuous than it looks.


What a magical, scenic view! A short (but steep) hike up to Zabrieskie Point rewards you with a spectacular sweeping vista of Death Valley. Sunrise and sunset are extremely popular times for tourists to gather and be blown away. We made the brisk walk uphill, grabbed a bench to relax and shared an unforgettable family moment drinking in the beauty!

Things to do in Death Valley in one day - Zabriskie Point
Relax amidst the beauty of picturesque Zabriskie Point.


It’s something to see! The vastness of this area full of jagged spires of rock salt eroded by eons of wind and rain makes it look like another planet. Aptly named The Devil’s Golf Course, because “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”


This was THE highlight of our time in Death Valley! The Badwater Basin is a Dali-esque otherworldly landscape of salt flats that go on and on and on. When you reach this destination you have arrived at the very lowest point in all of North America: 282 feet below sea level. From the bottom of the basin, gaze way up at the mountains to locate the marker high above you that reads “sea level”!

Things to do in Death Valley in one day - Badwater Salt Flats
One of our favorite things to do in Death Valley was exploring the unique and captivating landscapes of the Badwater Salt Flats.

We arrived at Badwater Salt Flats at sunset, just in time to get the perfect shot of the sun reflecting off the flats and mountains. My girls had a blast lifting up huge chunks of salt while examining the wonderful geometric designs created by nature. We were having so much fun that we stayed until all the other tourists left, and soon we were the only ones left in the dark. That gave us another treat: yelling out our names and hearing the echoes! Do NOT miss this experience.


Your car windows give you the best seats in the house to enjoy the magnificent show. Enjoy the nine-mile one-way drive through the gorgeous multi-hued sedimentary and volcanic hills. The late afternoon light makes this drive even more incredible — get those cameras out! Be sure to pull over at the Artist’s Palette stop which is simply breathtaking! You will know instantly how this rock got its name.


Depending on the time of year, you can walk along a half-mile boardwalk over a salt marsh, and you’ll find…FISH! It seems impossible in this barren landscape, but there they are. Our girls enjoyed sauntering along this nature-defying running stream in the middle of nowhere. As an added bonus, the short hike has excellent interpretative signage along the way.

Basic Tips for Visiting Death Valley National Park
All of the above listed stops were accessible with a standard car and required little or no hiking. Keep in mind when planning your visit that Death Valley is full of extreme weather and rough terrain. Read on the National Park Website about precautions you should take to prior to visiting.

Before exploring, stop at the Visitor Center or Ranger Station to obtain your park permit and map and learn about any road or safety issues. Heed all the warnings on the National Park Website and those advised by the rangers.

Dad…Thanks for making us take this “detour to nowhere!”

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This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Lisa G. Are you interested in traveling to Death Valley? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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