Death Valley National Park with kids: top hikes for active kids

We love exploring Death Valley National Park with kids! After our fourth visit with kids (stay at either Furnace Creek Ranch or Furnace Creek Campground), we’ve narrowed down our list of favorite hikes to our top three. The hikes detailed below are best for active, school-aged kids who love exploring, climbing, scrambling, and otherwise giving their parents heart attacks. (For younger kids, we recommend attempting the same hikes, but adjusting expectations of hike length.)

Golden Canyon to Zabriskie Point and Glower Gulch:

golden-canyon-death-valley

The hike up Golden Canyon to the lookout area at Zabriskie Point is 2.5 miles one-way, but multiple alternative routes exist to make it either shorter or longer. If you have two cars, the shortest route is to park one on each end and do the hike one-way. To extend the hike, travel the 2.5 to Zabriskie, then backtrack one mile to the Glower Gutch turn-off, which returns you to the parking area via a different canyon. The Glower Gutch section takes families along a dry wash and then into a very narrow canyon with plenty of scrambling down a dry waterfall. The last 1/2 mile is exposed as you hike along the Alluvial Fan of the mountainside back to the car. The trailhead starts on Hwy 190 just past Furnace Creek Inn.

glower-gulch-mine

What active kids love: the Golden Canyon section of the hike comprises of the first mile or so, and offers lots of exploring up side chutes of the canyon. Kids can scramble nearly to the top of the canyon along these routes. Further up, the trail skirts Manly Peak then offers alternative trails along the ridges of smaller fans (parents can see kids from the main trail). When it gets steep, it’s time to return to the main trail up to Zabriskie. At the beginning of the Glower Gutch section, kids should keep an eye out for a man-made stone wall. Around the back of it exists the entrance of a deep mine tunnel (barred now, to keep humans out and allow access for bats).

Mosaic Canyon:

Mosaic Canyon is one of the most beautiful canyons in the park, with challenging scrambling at the beginning before opening up to a deep wash. The first half of the hike is shaded in the canyon, but the second half is definitely exposed. The hike is just a few miles each way, but you’ll want to stop often to let kids explore.

mosaic-canyon-death-valley

What active kids love: Rock scrambling and climbing abounds in Mosaic Canyon. Numerous side trails take hikers to narrow ridges (careful!) and the beginning of the hike offers challenging climbing for those who seek it. (Otherwise, it’s fairly easy to manage on the main trail.) In the wash, the side trail to the right (as you go up) offers a thrilling walk along the edge of a fairly steep side canyon.

Titus Canyon and Falls Canyon:

Titus Canyon is often driven (26 miles or so from the one-way entrance), but can also be hiked from the ‘exit’ side. The trailhead is located en route to Scotty’s Castle and Ubehebe Crater (also great stops), and families can go as far or short a distance as desired. The steep canyon walls are fun to play on, though be aware that cars can drive past. (They are easy to hear coming, however.) For an alternative without cars, try Falls Canyon, accessible from the same trailhead. Backpackers enjoy this canyon, but it will largely be empty. Either is a one-way route for most families.

titus-canyon

What active kids love: The rock climbing possibilities are more like scrambling here, with kids able to reach impressive heights without much effort. Just be sure young kids don’t get so high that they’re afraid to get down! Geodes can be found in this canyon as well.

Tip: For a non-hike that feels like a hike and looks like a hike (but doesn’t involve a set trail), take kids to Mesquite Sand Dunes near Indian Wells. The trek from the parking lot to the highest dune is 2 miles, but kids can pick their own path (and go up and roll down as many dunes as they’d like in the space between). Bring plenty of water and a hat for shade, as this ‘hike’ is 100% exposed.

For all Death Valley hikes:
Plan to hike early in the day, exiting most trails by lunchtime. Wear sun protective clothing and hats, and insist on everyone carrying water.

Bonus pit stop!

rhyolite-ghost-town

A trip to Rhyolite Ghost Town on the edge of the national park is well-worth a stop on the way in (near Beatty). Kids can explore ruins at-will for the most part, and there’s a short walk to a mine tunnel on the hill outside the ‘town’. Kids can also check out a jail cell and a brothel (whether you explain that last one is up to you!). There are no services here expect toilets, but it’s a nice place to picnic. Beware of rattlesnakes!

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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