This is a guide on how to have an epic adventure at Death Valley National Park. This guide is meant for people of all ability levels. When I say people of all abilities I mean those with disabilities, those with physical or mental limitations, and those who don’t have any limitations at all. I like to find hikes and activities that accommodate everyone.
When to visit
The peak season in Death Valley National Park is usually October-April. I would NOT visit this National Park in the summer. It is called Death Valley for a reason. Extreme temperatures put people in the hospital every single year and their record breaking high was 134 degrees in July 1913. I personally would go in the winter, so somewhere between December and February. Yes, you could have some “cold” temperatures in the evening, but I promise you will enjoy your trip much more. We went at the end of January for the weekend on my toddler’s birthday and it was amazing. It was in the 60s during the day and 30ish in the evenings.
What to bring
Along with our regular traveling gear and essentials these were a few things that we were happy that we brought along.
Water– Water Water Water. I cannot stress this enough. You need to bring water for any hike, but it’s especially important in Death Valley. If you get stranded or your car overheats you want to make sure that you at least stay hydrated.
Jackets and coats– Do not underestimate this park It can get chilly in the evenings and early mornings especially at higher elevations. We went to a popular spot called Dante’s View and it was chilly, even though it was in the 60’s on the valley floor. This was only at 5 pm when the sun was starting to set too.
Sunscreen– While sunscreen is always a good idea, it is especially important here at Death Valley National Park because there is no shade unless you’re in some of the canyons or if you’re at places like the Oasis. If you’re at the salt flats or Badwater Basin and there’s no sun you can still get sunburned; the UV rays will reflect off the salt and burn you more than you realize.
Where to visit
This is a breakdown of my favorite things to do and places to see at Death Valley National Park. I’ve only added the ones that we got to see. There are a few spots that we didn’t get to see because the roads were closed due to road damage. There are trails ranging from easy to hard with some being accessible to wheelchairs and some not. Remember that only you know your abilities. I recommend using a trail app and checking the reviews and conditions of these trails before you go to help navigate which ones you would like to explore. Park rangers and the visitors centers are great resources to check at the start of the day to make sure you know of any road closures or trail conditions to stay safe and prepared out there. (Lesson learned: check with the rangers before heading out because we did not and didn’t realize a lot of the roads were closed).
Dantes Drive and view
We took this drive about an hour before sunset. It was a fun little drive with a phenomenal view at the end. If you can, I would recommend going at sunset. It was actually our daughter’s birthday so we brought up a cake with some candles and sang happy birthday to her. We got really lucky and the sun actually set as we were singing to her. Another group that was visiting the view started cheering for her. It was definitely one of our favorite memories in this park.vThere is an accessible viewing platform next to the parking area. Remember that with slightly higher elevation it does get chilly and quite windy.
This was our first viewpoint we saw in the park and it definitely did not disappoint. The path to the top of the viewpoint is only about ¼ mile long, but it’s very steep. It’s paved, but I wouldn’t say it’s wheelchair accessible. If you have two people pushing a wheelchair up the hill they would probably be able to make it. If you’re not able to make it to the top you can still see some great views of the hills from just off the parking lot.
The Badwater Basin reminded me of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. On AllTrails it said that the 1.9 mile walk was wheelchair accessible but we soon realized that only about ⅓ of it was accessible. It was a short walk on the boardwalk over some of the salt flats but all the way out to the salt flats was not accessible. After you leave the boardwalk it is relatively flat but just a little bumpy. As you continue onward it gets so bumpy that we couldn’t push the wheelchair anymore.
I highly recommend taking this drive. We took it twice and really enjoyed it. There is one pull off at the start that has parking but after walking up to the top to see the view on the other side we don’t really feel it was worth the climb. Save your strength for the second pull off that is called Artists Palette that we talk about below.
Artists Palette is a viewpoint on Artists Drive and wheelchair accessible. If you do want to walk between the small canyons of Artists Palette it is not wheelchair accessible; you have to climb down a fairly steep trail into the canyon and can play between the canyons. If you want the best photography and photos I recommend going in the evening before sunset around golden hour. The colors are more vibrant and the pictures we took in the morning didn’t look as good as ones we took in the evening. This is why we actually did the drive twice. If you can only go early in the day it’s still definitely a must-see stop.
Golden Canyon Trail
This is a beautiful canyon trail and a great one for families. It is unfortunately not wheelchair accessible because there are some rocks you have to climb up, about 2-3 feet, around 100 yards up the trail. I was able to do it with a little bit of help from my husband and our toddler loved climbing. Overall it’s a pretty flat trail with beautiful canyon views. There was a very nice couple who helped me down on our way out since my husband was carrying our toddler and our toddler said, “Thank you for helping my mommy.” So cute!
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
If you have ever been to sand dunes then this is probably your average sand dune. You can see it from the parking lot if you do have a wheelchair or if you want to explore you can walk a little or as far out as you want. Always check weather before going because if it gets windy then it’s really not fun as you can imagine with all the sand blowing around. Our toddler loved this. A lot of people bring sleds to slide down the dunes. We did bring sleds but our daughter actually just loved running up and down the hills.
These are a few trails that I was not able to do myself because we ran out of time and due to some road closures . Below is just a brief description of them but remember to check out several resources to see if they are within your ability level. AllTrails, reviews on Google, and rangers at the visitor centers are all great resources.
Titus Canyon Road
We had heard great things about this scenic drive and were excited to take it. Due to flooding a few of the roads were closed and this was one of them. We were told that you do need high clearance which our Subaru has, but I guess we’ll just need to come back to check it out. Check online and at the visitor center for road closures. Online from a few reviews we were told that it takes 2-4 hours and has a cool ghost town along the road.
This was another popular spot that we were bummed to miss because of the road closures. There is a trail along the crater but if you don’t want to take the trail then there is also a wheelchair accessible view area.
Mosaic Canyon Trail
This trail was not closed but after going to the sand dunes a wind storm came. The conditions were okay to hike in but because it does have sand on the trail we decided to skip it and check out another part of the park. This trail is 3.3 miles long with 958 ft of elevation gain.
I definitely do not recommend hiking in summer but if you still want to visit the park and you don’t have any other choice then these are the spots I’d be sure to see since they’re viewable from your car, or you don’t have to hike far to see them:
- Badwater Basin
- Devils Golf Cours
- Artist Drive
- Zabriskie Point
- Dante’s View
Fun activities to do besides hiking
The Ranch at Death Valley
This was one activity that we did not have planned but glad that we were able to explore. The Ranch at Death Valley has places to stay if you are visiting Death Valley. They have hotel-style rooms as well as one bedroom cottages that started taking reservations about a year ago. We did not stay here ourselves but it would have been nice since it is right inside the park. The Ranch at Death Valley is an oasis for the rest of the park.
They have areas you can walk around with palm trees and a water fountain. They also have a gift shop, general store, ice cream parlor, a small outside museum that is fun to explore with kids, campground, and a saloon/restaurant as well. There’s also a golf course within walking distance for all you golf fanatics out there.
Where to stay
Death Valley has several established campgrounds. The three main campgrounds used are Furnace Creek, Wildrose and Stovepipe Wells. You can also stay at the Inn at Death Valley or at The Ranch at Death Valley (see above). We decided to stay 45 minutes outside the park in Pahrump, NV at the Best Western because it was a bit cheaper and they had showers and breakfast. It also has a small bowling alley connected to where breakfast is served. Looks can be deceiving because the rooms were very clean and tidy. My husband says the breakfast was the highlight of the hotel since it was a full breakfast buffet with waffle makers. They had something for everyone to enjoy.
Where to Eat
We usually try to save money on our trips by planning ahead and bringing things to make ourselves. That includes backpacking meals (just add hot water), sandwiches, lunchables, and lots of snacks. We only ate out at two places and those were both for dinner: once the first night and once on Saturday night. There are many fast food places as well as local spots to grab a bite to eat in Pahrump. In Death Valley you have the restaurant at the Ranch and the ice cream parlor. The general store had a small grocery section as well. We didn’t check out the Inn so I’m not sure what food offerings they had there.
The Place To Go (AKA Oscars Place to Go)
The Place to Go was located just 2 minutes from our hotel in Pahrump. The food there was a lot better than I was expecting and they give you HUGE portions. I really enjoyed the zucchini bites and my husband enjoyed the BBQ wings. They also had some yummy chili cheese fries but were unusually spicy. I usually am a wimp with spicy things but even my husband couldn’t take it. I’d say they were slightly spicier than your regular buffalo sauce. Still, they were pretty tasty. Note: there isn’t a website for the restaurant so you just have to find a picture of the menu online and call in to place your order.
I hope this guide helps you plan your next trip to Death Valley National Park. This park did surprise me. I think that most people could spend a week there and get to see most of what they would want to see. We usually add an extra day just because of my disability and my toddler. We take a bit longer to explore. I’d love to hear about your trips in the comments below or on my Instagram page! Feel free to DM me on Instagram for any questions you have as well @nationalparkcapable. I would love to help you plan your fun National Park adventure.