Self Guided Field Trips

Two students look at an animal tracking field guide.
Students can investigate habitats, such as sand dunes, to discover adaptations of desert animals.

Kurt Moses

Planning a class trip to Death Valley National Park can be fun and exciting. We suggest visiting the park prior to the class trip to get a better understanding of this wonderful outdoor classroom. Current conditions are updated on our website and include road closures and weather advisories. Digital versions of maps can also help with the planning process. A hard copy map can be obtained at a visitor center.

Optimal weather for field trips is from early November to late March. Check out the weather page for information on average high temperatures by month.

On this page, you will find resources to help you plan a field trip to Death Valley National Park, including:

 

Academic Fee Waiver

Education groups must apply for an academic fee waiver at least one month prior to the field trip in order for the entrance fee to be waived. In addition to other requirements, applicants must provide an itinerary stating the date of arrival, areas to be visited each day the applicant is in the park, and the date of departure. Fee waivers are for educational use and are restricted to observation only. Any ground disturbance requires a research permit and proper NEPA and Section 106 Tribal and Historic Preservation Office consultation.

Groups arriving without an approved fee waiver will be charged an entrance fee. More information about the academic fee waiver, as well as the application, can be found at the Academic Fee Waiver page.

 
Places to Visit

Students can explore award-winning exhibits and a relief map of the park in the visitor center. Students can also view the park movie and talk to a ranger at the front desk. A bookstore is also located here.
Length: Close to the parking area
Bathrooms: Yes, Flush toilets and running water
Road Condition: Paved
School Bus Parking: Designated bus parking spots

Although this borax refinery operated only from 1883 to 1888, it is important as the birthplace of the famous Twenty Mule Teams, Adobe ruins, and an original wagon hint at the industrial activity that once was. Interpretive signs along the short, paved trail tell the story.
Length: Close to the parking area
Bathrooms: No
Road Condition: Paved
School Bus Parking: Space available for school bus parking

Students can enter the canyon and explore narrow side canyons. The power of water is also evident in this area.
Length: One mile one-way
Bathrooms: Yes, Pit toilet
Road Condition: Paved
School Bus Parking: Minimal space available for bus parking. It is suggested to have the bus park at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center while the group is hiking.

Visit the lowest place in North America! Students can walk out onto the salt flats—282 feet below sea level. This is a remarkable place to explore a landscape that was once a large freshwater lake and to see the faulting activity in the region.
Length: Depends on the group, salt flats start close to the parking area
Bathrooms: Yes, Pit toilets
Road Condition: Paved
School Bus Parking: Space available for bus parking on low visitation days

Zabriskie Point
Surrounded by a maze of wildly eroded and vibrantly colored badlands, this spectacular view is one of the park's most famous. The viewpoint is a short walk uphill from the parking area.
Length: Close to the parking area
Bathrooms: Yes, Pit toilet
Road Condition: Paved
School Bus Parking: Space available for bus parking on low visitation days

Salt Creek Interpretive Trail
This creek is home to the Salt Creek Pupfish which have unique adaptations for living in such an extreme environment. Students can walk along the boardwalk and learn more about this amazing animal! The best time to see the pupfish, named for their puppy-like behavior, is in the springtime. Remember to stay on the boardwalk to help protect the wildlife!
Length: Half mile round-trip
Bathrooms: Yes, Pit toilets
Road Condition: One mile graded gravel road to trailhead
School Bus Parking: Space available for school bus parking on low visitation days

The sand dunes come alive at night, and students can investigate the evidence of nocturnal activities by finding animal tracks on the sand dunes. On windy days, the sand dunes demonstrate the power of weathering and erosion. Cracked clay of an ancient lakebed forms the floor. Mesquite trees provide habitats for wildlife. Be careful--these trees have thorns!
Length: Approximately 2 miles one-way to the highest dune
Bathrooms: Yes, Pit toilet
Road Condition: Paved
School Bus Parking: Space available for bus parking

Natural Bridge
In about a half a mile, students can hike this easy, uphill walk through a narrow canyon to view the natural bridge. This bridge was formed by flood waters in the canyon. Walking a half a mile further will take students to a dry waterfall.
Length: 0.5 to 1 mile one-way
Bathrooms: No
Road Condition: 1.5 miles on graded gravel road to trailhead
School Bus Parking: Minimal space available for school bus parking

In a short walk, students can enter into the narrows section of the canyon. Here, they will have to walk in a line just to squeeze through it. The smooth rock walls were carved by flash floods. Please stay out of the canyon if it is raining!
Length: 0.5 to 2 miles one-way
Bathrooms: No
Road Condition: 2 miles on graded gravel road to trailhead
School Bus Parking: Minimal space available for school bus parking

Hells Gate
Students can view the expanse of Death Valley at this point. This spot illustrates the alternating basin and range geology of Death Valley, where the Earth's crust is being "pulled apart" and creates large blocks of land sliding past one another along faults.
Length: Close to the parking area
Bathrooms: Yes, Pit toilets
Road Condition: Paved
School Bus Parking: Space available for school bus parking on low visitation days


Other Options for Smaller Vehicles

The following are suggested places for groups traveling in smaller vehicles (less than 25 feet long and narrower than a school bus):
  • Artist's Drive
  • Dante's View
  • Devils Golf Course
 
Student and Park Safety Guidelines

Review these guidelines with students, staff, and chaperones before the field trip. Some of these guidelines are based off of Leave No Trace principles .To integrate it into classroom learning, students could create a poster to promote one of these guidelines to their peers.

Plan Ahead and Prepare
Teachers, students, and chaperones should be prepared for their field trip. Consider bringing extra water bottles, sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen. Consider asking chaperones to bring items they no longer use to loan out to students that forget to bring their own.

All participants (including the bus driver) should bring:
  • A comfortable backpack or bag that allows your hands to be free
  • Water bottle (or two)
  • Closed toed sturdy shoe (no sandals)
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick with sunscreen
  • Hat with brimSunglasses
  • Long sleeve shirt or jacket (for sun cover and/or warm layer)
  • Lunch and trail snacks
Since many of the bathroom facilities are pit toilets with no running water, groups may also want to bring extra hand sanitizer for bathroom breaks and before eating lunch.

Group Safety
At minimum, groups should have 1 chaperone for every 10 students. Some visitor areas can become very crowded. It is easier for students and leaders if groups are divided into smaller groups of 15 or less people when walking the trails. Leaders should set expectations with students to stay with their smaller group at all times and respect one another by not running, pushing, or yelling.

Respect Wildlife
Approaching, throwing objects, and feeding wildlife is both dangerous to the wildlife and the students. Loud noises can also disturb wildlife.

Leave What You Find
Please leave all plants, rocks, or other natural and historical objects in the park. Groups that are conducting research, such as collecting samples, need to apply for and get approval for a research permit and proper NEPA and Section 106 Tribal and Historic Preservation Office consultation before doing so.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Loud noises and other disruptive behavior on the trails can spoil the experience for other visitors. Please turn off the engine of the bus or other large vehicle when parked.



Have fun and enjoy Death Valley National Park's outdoor classroom! If you have any questions while planning your self-guided field trip, please contact the Education Coordinator.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, CA 92328

Phone:

(760) 786-3200

Contact Us