Death Valley National Park | California

Even though it took us a bit out of the way during the heat of summer, we purposely routed our west coast road trip through Death Valley National Park so that we could spend part of the day checking out the hottest place in the country and check it off of our National Parks Bucket List. Near the California-Nevada state line, Death Valley National Park is the largest National Park in the country (outside of Alaska), and one that we’ve been dying (ha ha ha!) to see, so it was an obvious choice to include on our west coast road trip.

Death Valley National Park with kids

First things first, when planning a trip to the hottest place on earth, make sure to come prepared– especially in the summer!  We filled our water bottles, had extra water in the trunk, and had a first aid kit on hand before we even made our way towards the park.

death valley national park

After a quick breakfast at our hotel in Bishop, we were back on the road driving through the mountains of California.  We went through a really nasty storm just outside of Death Valley National Park, and while it obscured some of our mountain views, it was a nice change of pace from driving in the sun.

death valley national park with kids

Owens Lake (the dry, tan area) used to be 25-50 feet deep and was an important feeding and resting stop for waterfowl each year.  However, when the Los Angeles Aqueduct was built in 1913, it effectively devastated the ecosystem of Owens Lake and left a dry lake bed in place of a beautiful blue lake.  As of 2013, this dry lake bed is the single largest contributor to dust pollution in the US.

death valley national park

Contrary to popular belief, less than 1% of the park is covered with sand.  The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, near Stovepipe Wells, are the most popular dunes in the park, and the only ones to allow sandboarding.  Because of the heat (and the fact that we were at White Sands National Monument a few weeks prior), we did not get out and explore the dunes but definitely would if we were there with cooler temps.

death valley with kids

We saw a coyote as we were driving into the park, near Panamint Springs and we were surprised at how docile it seemed (and how skinny it was!) as it cautiously approached the car, though we left before it crossed the road.

death valley national park with kids

At the Visitor Center, we talked to the Park Ranger about our experience and he said that the coyotes in the park are so used to getting food from visitors that they will often approach cars looking for a handout- unfortunately, all too often they get hit by cars and it has started to negatively impact their numbers within the park.

death valley national park

The kids all drew pictures of the wildlife they saw in the park and hung it on a bulletin board in the Visitors Center- the “ciote” was definitely the highlight.

death valley with kids

We hiked up a short trail to check out the Zabriskie Point viewpoint.  Now, this short trail was maybe 1/4 of a mile at most and I swear, we all felt like we were going to die from the heat and lack of humidity.  Death Valley in the summer is no joke!  Make sure you bring a water bottle and stay hydrated– even on the short walk out to Zabriskie Point.

death valley national park with kids

Death Valley was a first for all of us and we were all completely in awe of the views.  The park is so unlike anything we’d seen before and parts of it don’t even look real!

death valley national park

Manly Beacon, the high outcrop over the badlands, is a beautiful contrast to the cliffs of Red Cathedral and the surrounding mud hills.

death valley with kids

Manly Beacon was named after William L Manly, a member of the “Death Valley ’49ers”, that traveled to California during the Gold Rush and eventually ended up lost in Death Valley due to an inaccurate map.  Nearly out of food and on the verge of starvation, Manly and his friend Rogers hiked 250 miles across the Mojave Desert on foot in order to find a way out of Death Valley and then secured food and horses so that they could go back and rescue the rest of the ’49ers.

death valley national park

No matter where we tried to take a picture, the sun always seemed to be in the kids’ eyes but we still managed to get a few “good” ones!

death valley national park with kids

This area, like much of Death Valley, is the result of earthquakes and water from millions of years ago working together to create an almost unreal landscape.  The area was once level but seismic activity folded the valley floor allowing powerful rainstorms to travel through the gullies, eroding the rocks into the beautiful landscapes you see today.

death valley national park

The dark part at the top of the ridge is lava from a volcanic eruption that occurred 3-5 MILLION years ago!

death valley with kids

Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth, and we planned to explore it on a hot, July day.  We came prepared with plenty of water, cooled off in the a/c in the Visitor Center and in the car, and still, the kids wanted to quit after a couple of hours.  We only saw a couple of the highlights of the park- and didn’t even make it to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America!- before calling it a day and driving to Las Vegas. Even though we didn’t see everything that we planned to, it was still a fun stop and we’d like to go back (maybe with cooler weather!) and spend more time exploring.

Things to Remember When You Visit Death Valley National Park

  • Bring lots of water!!  It’s HOT in Death Valley!!
  • Stay on the paved roads and if your car breaks down, stay with it until help arrives– do not try to walk and find help.
  • Drink lots of water!!  If you feel dizzy, nauseous or have a headache, get out of the sun and drink water.  Heat stroke is a very real thing and it’s dangerous!
  • If you’re going to hike, especially in the summer, complete your hike before 10am.  Make sure that someone knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back and ALWAYS stay on the trail.
  • Death Valley is a great place for viewing the night sky– go during the new moon to see the most stars.
  • Bring AND drink lots of water!!  A gallon per person in your car (and even more in the summer) is the recommendation.  But don’t stop there, pack food and a first aid kit, just in case.

Have you ever braved the heat and been to Death Valley??












National Park Bucket List

The National Park Service, a federal bureau in the Department of Interior, was officially created in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson and tasked with protecting the 35 national parks and monuments in the United States.  Over the past 100 years, the number of National Parks (including National Monuments, Military Parks, Battlefields, Historic Sites, etc) has grown to over 400.

For as long as I can remember, visiting all 63 National Parks has been on our family’s bucket list. We’ve increased it to all 424 National Park Service Units (so it includes National Monuments, Battlefields, etc) because there are so many wonderful places to see in our great nation.  Our main goal is all of the National Parks, but we’re going to try to hit as many of the other parks as we can along the way. (updated April 26, 2023)


  1. ◽  Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
  2. ◽  Freedom Riders National Monument
  3. ◽  Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
  4. ◽  Little River Canyon National Preserve
  5. ◽  Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area
  6. ◽  Russell Cave National Monument
  7. ◽  Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
  8. ◽  Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site


  1. ◽  Alagnak Wild River
  2. ◽  Aleutian Islands World War II National Historic Area
  3. ◽  Aniakchak National Monument
  4. ◽  Aniakchak National Preserve
  5. ◽  Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
  6. ◽  Cape Krusenstern National Monument
  8. ◽  Denali National Preserve
  10. ◽  Gates of the Arctic National Preserve
  12. ◽  Glacier Bay National Preserve
  14. ◽  Katmai National Preserve
  16. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (also WA)
  19. ◽  Lake Clark National Preserve
  20. ◽  Noatak National Preserve
  21. ◽  Sitka National Historical Park
  23. ◽  Wrangell-St Elias National Preserve
  24. ◽  Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve


  1. ◽  Canyon De Chelly National Monument
  2. ◽  Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
  3. ◽  Chiricahua National Monument
  4. ◽  Coronado National Memorial
  5. ◽  Fort Bowie National Historic Site
  6. ◽  Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (also UT)
  8. ◽  Hohokam Pima National Monument
  9. ◽  Hubbel Trading Post National Historic Site
  10. ◽  Montezuma Castle National Monument
  11. ◽  Navajo National Monument
  12. ◽  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
  14. ◽  Pipe Spring National Monument
  16. ◾  Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
  17. ◽  Tonto National Monument
  18. ◽  Tumacacori National Historical Park
  19. ◽  Tuzigoot National Monument
  20. ◽  Walnut Canyon National Monument
  21. ◽  Wupatki National Monument

Grand Canyon National ParkGrand Canyon National Park June 2015


  1. ◽  Arkansas Post National Memorial
  2. ◽  Buffalo National River
  3. ◽  Fort Smith National Historic Site
  5. ◽  Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
  6. ◽  Pea Ridge National Military Park
  7. ◽  President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site


  1. ◽  Cabrillo National Monument
  2. ◽  Castle Mountains National Monument
  3. ◽  César E Chávez National Monument
  6. ◽  Devils Postpile National Monument
  7. ◽  Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site
  8. ◽  Fort Point National Historic Site
  9. ◾  Golden Gate National Recreation Area
    1. ◾  Alcatraz Island
    2. ◾  Point Bonita Lighthouse
  10. ◽  John Muir National Historic Site
  14. ◽  Lava Beds National Monument
  15. ◽  Manzanar National Historic Site
  16. ◽  Mojave National Preserve
  17. ◾  Muir Woods National Monument
  19. ◽  Point Reyes National Seashore
  20. ◽  Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
  22. ◽  Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historic Park
  23. ◽  San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
  24. ◽  Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  26. ◽  Tule Lake National Monument
  27. ◽  Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area

Channel islands national parkChannel Islands National Park June 2016


  1. ◽  Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site
  3. ◽  Colorado National Monument
  4. ◽  Curecanti National Recreation Area
  5. ◽  Dinosaur National Monument (also UT)
  6. ◽  Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
  8. ◽  Great Sand Dunes National Preserve
  9. ◽  Hovenweep National Monument
  12. ◽  Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site
  13. ◽  Yucca House National Monument

fall color and a cabin in Rocky Mountain National ParkRocky Mountain National Park October 2008


  1. ◽  Weir Farm National Historic Site


  1. ◽  First State National Historical Park (also PA)


  1. ◾  Big Cypress National Preserve
  3. ◾  Canaveral National Seashore
  4. ◽  Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
  5. ◽  De Soto National Memorial
  8. ◽  Fort Caroline National Memorial
  9. ◾  Fort Matanzas National Monument
  10. ◾  Gulf Islands National Seashore (also MS)
  11. ◽  Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve


  1. ◽  Andersonville National Historic Site
  2. ◽  Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
  3. ◽  Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (also TN)
  4. ◾ Cumberland Island National Seashore
  5. ◽  Fort Frederica National Monument
  6. ◽  Fort Pulaski National Monument
  7. ◽  Jimmy Carter National Historic Site
  8. ◽  Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
  9. ◽  Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park
  10. ◽  Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park


  3. ◽  Honouliuli National Historic Site
  4. ◽  Kalaupapa National Historical Park
  5. ◽  Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
  6. ◽  Pearl Harbor National Memorial
  7. ◽  Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
  8. ◽  Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site


  1. ◽  City of Rocks National Reserve
  2. ◾   Craters of the Moon National Monument
  3. ◾   Craters of the Moon National Preserve
  4. ◽  Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
  5. ◽  Minidoka National Historic Site
  6. ◽  Nez Perce National Historical Park


  1. ◽  Lincoln Home National Historic Site
  2. ◽  Pullman National Monument


  1. ◽  George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
  3. ◽  Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial


  1. ◽  Effigy Mounds National Monument
  2. ◽  Herbert Hoover National Historic Site


  1. ◽  Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site
  2. ◽  Fort Larned National Historic Site
  3. ◽  Fort Scott National Historic Site
  4. ◽  Nicodemus National Historic Site
  5. ◽  Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve


  1. ◽  Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
  2. ◽  Camp Nelson National Monument
  3. ◽  Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (also TN, VA)
  4. ◽  Fort Donelson National Battlefield (also TN)
  6. ◽  Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument


  1. ◽  Cane River Creole National Historical Park
  2. ◽  Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
  3. ◽  New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
  4. ◽  Poverty Point National Monument
  5. ◽  Vicksburg National Military Park (also MS)


  2. ◽  Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Maine to Georgia)
  3. ◽  Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
  4. ◽  Saint Croix Island International Historic Site


  1. ◽  Antietam National Battlefield
  2. ◽  Assateague Island National Seashore (also VA)
  3. ◽  Catoctin Mountain Park
  4. ◽  C&O Canal National Historical Park (also Washington DC)
  5. ◽  Clara Barton National Historic Site
  6. ◽  Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
  7. ◽  Fort Washington Park
  8. ◽  Greenbelt Park
  9. ◽  Hampton National Historic Site
  10. ◽  Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park
  11. ◽  Monocacy National Battlefield
  12. ◽  Piscataway Park
  13. ◽  Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
  14. ◽  Thomas Stone National Historic Site


  1. ◽  Adams National Historical Park
  2. ◽  Boston African American National Historic Site
  3. ◽  Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
  4. ◽  Boston National Historical Park
  5. ◽  Cape Cod National Seashore
  6. ◽  Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site
  7. ◽  John F Kennedy National Historic Site
  8. ◽  Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site
  9. ◽  Lowell National Historical Park
  10. ◽  Minute Man National Historical Park
  11. ◽  New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park
  12. ◽  Salem Maritime National Historic Site
  13. ◽  Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site
  14. ◽  Springfield Armory National Historic Site


  2. ◽  Keweenaw National Historical Park
  3. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  4. ◽  River Raisin National Battlefield Park
  5. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore


  1. ◽  Grand Portage National Monument
  2. ◽  Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
  3. ◽  Pipestone National Monument
  4. ◽  Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway (also WI)


  1. ◽  Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site
  2. ◽  Gulf Island National Seashore (also FL)
  3. ◽  Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument
  4. ◽  Natchez National Historical Park
  5. ◽  Natchez Trace Parkway (also AL, TN)
  6. ◽  Natchez Trace National Trail (also AL, TN)
  7. ◽  Shiloh Military Park (also TN)
  8. ◽  Tupelo National Battlefield
  9. ◽  Vicksburg National Military Park (also LA)


  2. ◽  George Washington Carver National Monument
  3. ◽  Harry S Truman National Historic Site
  4. ◽  Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
  5. ◽  Ozark National Scenic Riverways
  6. ◽  Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park
  7. ◽  Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site
  8. ◽  Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield


  1. ◽  Big Hole National Battlefield
  2. ◽  Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
  3. ◽  Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site (also ND)
  5. ◽  Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
  6. ◽  Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument


  1. ◽  Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
  2. ◽  Homestead National Monument of America
  3. ◽  Missouri National Recreational River (also SD)
  4. ◽  Niobrara National Scenic River
  5. ◽  Scotts Bluff National Monument


  3. ◽  Lake Mead National Recreation Area (also AZ)
  4. ◽  Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

New Hampshire

  1. ◽  Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park

New Jersey

  1. ◽  Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (also PA)
  2. ◽  Great Egg Harbor Scenic and Recreational River
  3. ◽  Morristown National Historical Park
  4. ◽  Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
  5. ◽  Thomas Edison National Historical Park

New Mexico

  1. ◽  Aztec Ruins National Monument
  2. ◽  Bandelier National Monument
  3. ◽  Capulin Volcano National Monument
  5. ◽  Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  6. ◽  El Malpais National Monument
  7. ◽  El Morro National Monument
  8. ◽  Fort Union National Monument
  9. ◽  Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
  10. ◽  Manhattan Project National Historical Park (also TN, WA)
  11. ◽  Pecos National Historical Park
  12. ◽  Petroglyph National Monument
  13. ◽  Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
  14. ◽  Valles Caldera National Preserve

Desert beauty in White Sands National ParkWhite Sands National Park June 2016

New York

  1. ◽  African Burial Ground National Monument
  2. ◽  Castle Clinton National Monument
  3. ◽  Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
  4. ◽  Federal Hall National Memorial
  5. ◽  Fire Island National Seashore
  6. ◽  Fort Stanwix National Monument
  7. ◽  Gateway National Recreation Area (also NJ)
  8. ◽  General Grant National Memorial
  9. ◽  Governors Island National Monument
  10. ◽  Hamilton Grange National Memorial
  11. ◽  Harriet Tubman National Historical Park
  12. ◽  Home of Franklin D Roosevelt National Historic Site
  13. ◽  Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
  14. ◽  Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site
  15. ◽  Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
  16. ◽  Saratoga National Historical Park
  17. ◽  Statue of Liberty National Monument
  18. ◽  Stonewall National Monument
  19. ◽  Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site
  20. ◽  Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
  21. ◽  Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
  22. ◽  Women’s Rights National Historical Park

North Carolina

  1. ◾  Blue Ridge Parkway (also VA)
  2. ◾  Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  3. ◽  Cape Lookout National Seashore
  4. ◽  Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
  5. ◽  Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
  7. ◽  Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
  8. ◽  Moores Creek National Battlefield
  9. ◽  Wright Brothers National Memorial

Fall color in the rain on the Blue Ridge ParkwayBlue Ridge Parkway October 2015

North Dakota

  1. ◽  Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site (also MT)
  2. ◽  Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site


  1. ◽  Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
  3. ◽  David Berger National Memorial
  4. ◽  Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park
  5. ◽  Fallen Timbers Battlefield and Fort Miamis National Historic Site
  6. ◽  First Ladies National Historic Site
  7. ◽  Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
  8. ◽  James A Garfield National Historic Site
  9. ◽  Perry’s Victory and International Peace Museum
  10. ◽  William Howard Taft National Historic Site


  1. ◽  Chickasaw National Recreation Area
  2. ◽  Oklahoma City National Memorial
  3. ◽  Washita Battlefield National Historic Site


  2. ◽  John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
  3. ◽  Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (also WA)
  4. ◽  Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve


  1. ◽  Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
  2. ◽  Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
  3. ◽  Eisenhower National Historic Site
  4. ◽  Flight 93 National Memorial
  5. ◽  Fort Necessity National Battlefield
  6. ◽  Friendship Hill National Historic Site
  7. ◽  Gettysburg National Military Park
  8. ◽  Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
  9. ◽  Independence National Historical Park
  10. ◽  Johnstown Flood National Memorial
  11. ◽  Lower Delaware National Scenic River
  12. ◽  Steamtown National Historic Site
  13. ◽  Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial
  14. ◽  Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River
  15. ◽  Valley Forge National Historical Park

Rhode Island

  1. ◽  Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park (also MA)
  2. ◽  Roger Williams National Memorial

South Carolina

  1. ◽  Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
  3. ◽  Cowpens National Battlefield
  4. Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park
  5. ◽  Kings Mountain National Military Park
  6. ◽  Ninety-Six National Historic Site
  7. ◽  Reconstruction Era National Historical Park

South Dakota

  2. ◽  Jewel Cave National Monument
  3. ◽  Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
  4. ◽  Mount Rushmore National Memorial


  1. ◽  Andrew Johnson National Historic Site
  2. ◽  Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (also KY)
  3. ◽  Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park (also GA)
  4. ◽  Fort Donelson National Battlefield (also KY)
  6. ◽  Obed Wild and Scenic River
  7. ◽  Shiloh National Military Park (also MS)
  8. ◽  Stone River National Battlefield

Fall day in Great Smoky Mountain National ParkGreat Smoky Mountain National Park October 2015


  1. ◽  Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
  2. ◽  Amistad National Recreation Area
  4. ◽  Big Thicket National Preserve
  5. ◽  Chamizal National Memorial
  6. ◽  Fort Davis National Historic Site
  8. ◽  Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
  9. ◽  Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park
  10. ◽  Padre Island National Seashore
  11. ◽  Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park
  12. ◽  Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River
  13. ◽  San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
  14. ◽  Waco Mammoth National Monument


  5. ◽  Cedar Breaks National Monument
  6. ◽  Dinosaur National Monument (also CO)
  7. ◽  Golden Spike National Historical Park
  8. ◽  Natural Bridges National Monument
  9. ◽  Rainbow Bridge National Monument
  10. ◽  Timpanogos Cave National Monument


  1. ◽  Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park


  1. ◾  Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
  2. ◾  Arlington House, The Robert E Lee Memorial
  3. ◾  Blue Ridge Parkway (also NC)
  4. ◽  Booker T Washington National Monument
  5. ◽  Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park
  6. ◾  Colonial National Historical Park
  7. ◽  Fort Monroe National Monument
  8. ◽  Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
  9. ◽  George Washington Birthplace National Monument
  10. George Washington Memorial Parkway (also MD, DC)
  11. ◽  Maggie L Walker National Historic Site
  12. ◽  Manassas National Battlefield Park
  13. ◽  Petersburg National Battlefield Park
  14. ◽  Prince William Forest Park
  15. ◽  Richmond National Battlefield Park
  17. ◽  Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

Appomattox Courthouse in the rainAppomattox Court House National Historical Park September 2015


  1. ◾  Ebbey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
  2. ◽  Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (also OR)
  3. ◾   Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
  4. ◽  Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
  8. ◾   Ross Lake National Recreation Area
  9. ◾   San Juan Island National Historical Park
  10. ◽  Whitman Mission National Historic Site

Washington DC

  1. ◽  Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument
  2. ◽  Carter G Woodson Home National Historic Site
  3. ◽  Constitution Gardens
  4. ◾  Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial
  5. ◾  Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
  6. ◾  Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial
  7. ◽  Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
  8. ◾  Jefferson Memorial
  9. ◾  Korean War Veterans Memorial
  10. ◾  Lincoln Memorial
  11. ◽  Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac
  12. ◾  Martin Luther King Jr Memorial
  13. ◽  Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site
  14. ◽  National Capital Parks
  15. ◾  National Mall
  16. ◽  Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site
  17. ◽  Rock Creek Park
  18. ◽  Theodore Roosevelt Island
  19. ◾  Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  20. ◾  Washington Monument
  21. ◽  White House and President’s Park
  22. ◾  World War I Memorial
  23. ◾  World War II Memorial

Korean War Memorial in Washington DC at nightKorean War Memorial March 2010

West Virginia

  1. ◽  Bluestone National Scenic River
  2. ◽  Gauley River National Recreation Area
  3. ◽  Harpers Ferry National Historical Park


  1. ◽  Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
  2. ◽  Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway (also MN)


  1. ◽  Devils Tower National Monument
  2. ◽  Fort Laramie National Historic Site
  3. ◽  Fossil Butte National Monument
  5. ◾   John D Rockefeller Memorial Parkway

Virgin Islands

  1. ◽  Buck Island Reef National Monument
  2. ◽  Christiansted National Historic Site
  3. ◽  Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve
  4. ◽  Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument


  2. ◽  San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto Rico
  3. ◽  War in the Pacific National Historical Park, Guam








Channel Islands National Park | California

On our quest to visit all of the National Parks, we decided to take a boat tour around Channel Islands National Park.  While we didn’t technically get out and walk around in the park, realistically, this was the best that we could do given time and financial constraints.  It’s wayyy more expensive to do one of the tours that include time on the islands and we’re a family of seven, so practicality won out in this case.

We did an Island Wildlife Cruise through Island Packers that departed from the Oxnard Harbor (Ventura Harbor would have been closer for us, but the day that worked the best with our schedule left from Oxnard).

While our boat didn’t land on any of the islands, we did get to cruise along the coast of Anacapa Island.  On our way out there we even came across a shark(!) about fifteen feet away from the boat! The onboard photographer said he thought it was a mako shark– glad we were on a boat and not swimming!

It’s about an hour out to to the islands and it was CHOPPY!!  Jake and I got stuck on the lower level with Ellie for the ride out and we got a bit wet and bounced around for most of the ride.  Once it calmed down enough to climb up the ladder, we went upstairs to sit with the rest of the kids and Jake’s dad.

The park’s most recognizable landmark, Arch Rock, just off the coast of Anacapa Island.

On our way back to Oxnard we finally saw a couple of dolphins!

They seemed to have fun darting around next to the boat and put on quite the show!

After a couple of minutes, those couple of dolphins turned into a pod of about fifty dolphins!  The Santa Barbara Channel, the waterway between the mainland and the Channel Islands, has more marine mammals than any other place on earth!  While we saw sea lions and dolphins, Humpback, Gray, Blue, and Orca whales also call the Channel home during parts of the year.  Island Packers also offers whale watching cruises although those don’t always go to the Channel Islands as it’s dependent on where the whales are.

We had a great time on our trip out to the Channel Islands and would love to do it again when we have the time (and money!) to actually land and explore.

Things to Remember When You Visit Channel Islands National Park

  • The only way to get to Channel Islands National Park is by the park concessionaire boats (Island Packers) or planes (Channel Islands Aviation), or by private boat, so factor that cost into your visit.
  • Island Wildlife Cruises out of Ventura Harbor are available, just not as frequently as the ones out of Oxnard Harbor so make sure to check the schedule carefully depending on which harbor you’re interested in departing from.
  • Cruises out of Ventura Harbor are much more common for the Island trips where you can actually get off of the boat and explore for the day (or camp!).
  • There is no food or water available on the island, and limited selections available on the boat (though they do have beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages for purchase), so pack accordingly.


Painted Desert / Petrified Forest National Park | Arizona

On our drive back across the country, after spending several weeks in Arizona and California with family, we stopped at the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park to check out the sights.  Petrified Forest National Park is technically located in the Painted Desert, so they’re not actually two separate parks- a visit to PFNP inherently includes going to the Painted Desert as well.

This was our seventh National Park/National Monument of the trip and the kids were definitely hooked- they all decided to include seeing all of the National Parks to their bucket lists.

It was hot and windy outside but Lexie was a good sport and got out of the car at each overlook- and then proceeded to tell the rest of the kids about what she saw since they couldn’t be convinced to get out and brave the heat and wind over and over.

The clouds totally reminded me of the ones in Toy Story!

The layers in the Painted Desert are from a variety of sediments including siltstone, mudstone, shale, and bentonite clay from the Triassic Chinle Formation, but the beautiful colors come from the iron and manganese compounds found in the rocks.

We got out of the car for a short walk through the desert and Ellie was enthralled with all of the plants. Luckily there wasn’t any cactus right by the trail or I’m sure she would have been petting that as well.  Ouch!

Getting out and walking around a bit was the key to getting her to cooperate in the car on our 40-hour drive (over five days) across the country.  In addition to giving her something to do and new things to look at, the physical activity wore her out and she was able to nap in the car and go to bed at night.

We checked out the ruins of Puerco Pueblo, a community of nearly 200 at its peak that was built in the 1200s.  At one time, this one-story dwelling had nearly 100 rooms that surrounded a central plaza.

Plagued by droughts, the Puebloan people started building large pueblo communities and working together as a group in order to survive.  Puerco Pueblo was built near the Puerco River and was a reliable source of water for farming the slopes along the river, and they were able to successfully grow cotton, corn, squash, and beans.

However, in response to climate change in the late 1300s, those that lived in Puerco Pueblo fled the area looking for a more suitable location.

The petroglyphs left by the Puerco Puebloans mark the boulders surrounding the community.

Stretching their legs on the trail to/from Puerco Pueblo.  In hindsight, I should have had all the kids wear close-toed shoes since we were traipsing around the desert, but luckily, we didn’t run into any snakes, scorpions or cactus.

One of the most beautiful areas of the park is the “Tepees”, that got their name from the resemblance of the hills to Indian dwellings.  The hills were created from the erosional pattern of the Blue Mesa Member of the Chinle Formation.  Sediments were deposited by a tropical river system that flowed here during the Late Triassic Period (over 225 million years ago).  The brown and yellow layers are sandstone from the river channel while the blue and red mudstone layers are from the floodplain, and the white layers are ash from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.

Like most kids, ours want to push the limits every chance they get, so we had to get a picture of them BEHIND the Do Not Enter sign since that means they technically entered!

Petrified Forest National Park has one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world.  Over 200 million years ago, the logs were petrified by volcanic ash and then minerals replaced the wood over time.

Some of the logs sat high, perched on the tops of the badlands rock formations, and others had tumbled down the sides from erosion and formation shifts over time.

The grays, blues, and purples of the Blue Mesa Member Badlands are a stark contrast to the reds and browns of the Tepees and the Painted Desert, but equally beautiful.

The kids thought that the layers in the formations made them look like cakes!

Once they got tired of looking for petrified wood, Ben and Lexie pretended to be bats since they are very common in the park- though we didn’t see any.

It is so amazing that the petrified wood still looks like actual wood even though it is millions of years old and is really a fossil!

The Petrified Forest is the only National Park that contains a section of Historic Route 66.

The telephone poles mark the path of the famous road traversing the American West.  Though it was officially decommissioned over thirty years ago (1985) due to the emergence of interstates, Route 66 is still one of the most beloved historic roads in the world and people flock to the “Mother Road” every year.

The kids thought this 1932 Studebaker was pretty cool but could not imagine driving cross country in it– especially without air conditioning!!

We didn’t have as much time to time explore Petrified Forest National Park as I would have liked, and because of the July heat, we did not venture on many of the hikes that are available, but it was still a totally worthwhile stop.  Even though I grew up in Arizona and am very familiar with the typical desert landscapes, the colors and badlands of the Painted Desert are like nothing we’d ever seen before (even in other parts of AZ).  They’re so unusual and unique that the park definitely deserves a visit!

Things to Remember When Visiting the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park

  • Bring (and drink!) lots of water!  Like most parts of Arizona, summers are VERY hot and PFNP gets the lowest amount of precipitation in the state, so it is also VERY dry!
  • The park is open year round (except on Christmas Day) but hours change seasonally so make sure to check ahead of time.
  • It’s $20 for a private vehicle to enter the park.  We recommend getting the $80 America the Beautiful annual pass so that you can check out all of the National Parks in the country (and there’s a free version for military, permanently disabled, and all 4th graders!)
  • The main park road is almost thirty miles long and it is not a loop so plan ahead to ensure you don’t have to backtrack to see everything.  If you’re traveling south/west, enter PFNP off of I-40 at exit 311 and exit at Highway 180. If you’re traveling north/east, follow the signs on Highway 180 (I-40 exit 285 at Holbrook) to enter the park from the south.

Have you ever been to the Painted Desert or Petrified Forest National Park??


Grand Canyon National Park | Arizona

Growing up in Arizona, I visited Grand Canyon National Park MANY times as a child and Jacob and I went once when we were dating.  Even though two of our kids were born in Arizona, and we lived on the west coast for almost ten years before moving to North Carolina, we never made a trip to the Grand Canyon with the kids.  I knew that had to change and so we made plans to spend some time exploring the Grand Canyon on our road trip to the west coast.

We got up early and made the drive from our hotel in Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We surprised my parents with a bus tour of the Grand Canyon to Hermit’s Rest so, after finding parking- it can be difficult in the summer, we made our way to the Visitor Center and boarded our bus.

We booked our tour through Xanterra and they schedule all of the bus tours, mule rides, whitewater rafting, as well as hotel accommodations within the park.

Like the rest of the trip, I tried to get pictures of the kids at all of our stops.  Sometimes they were silly and sometimes they were cooperative, and sometimes it was a combination of the two all in one photo!

Our tour bus was great!  I love taking guided tours at National Parks because then everyone can look out the windows and see the sights instead of focusing on traffic or maps (especially since I’m usually the driver).  Plus, you get all sorts of great information from the guide that you wouldn’t get if you were just driving around.

While we made a couple of quick stops on the way to Hermits Rest, once there, we were able to spend about half an hour exploring the century-old rest area.

Hermits Rest was built in 1914 as a rest area for those traveling by Harvey Cars.  El Tovar, one of the hotels at the Grand Canyon, was originally a Harvey House and the cars would take tourists to the westernmost paved point of the South Rim.  And clearly, the kids were VERY interested in learning all about it!

The Hermits Rest structure was designed by Mary Jane Colter and is now a National Historic Landmark.  The majority of the structure was built into an earthen mound in order to blend in with the natural setting.  The chimney is made out of rubblestone, and the exposed parts of the building are also rubble masonry.

The view from Hermits Rest is nothing short of spectacular.

This plaque, along with two others (Psalms 66:4 and 104:24) were placed at scenic overlooks along the South Rim in the late 1960s by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Phoenix.  They were removed briefly in 2003 at the request of the ACLU who argued that a National Park was not an appropriate place for religion but that decision was quickly overturned by Washington-based park officials.

I tried to take another picture of the kids and I was met with such cooperative faces!

Our bus driver’s name was Ben and upon hearing that we had a Ben in our group, he let our Ben start up the bus to leave Hermits Rest!

We continued driving along the South Rim and the kids were surprised to see all sorts of green trees and plants.  I think they knew that there were pine trees at the Grand Canyon, but didn’t realize how many other species of plants thrive on the cliffs of the canyon.

Such pretty, little flowers!

The Colorado River, starting in Poudre Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park, travels 1450 miles to the Gulf of California in Mexico and carved the Grand Canyon 5-6 million years ago.

The kids were glad that Grandpa brought his binoculars on our trip and everyone took a turn using them to look at the rapids of the Colorado River as well as old settlements on the canyon floor.

More spectacular cooperation!  I usually let the kids do silly pictures after they smile nicely for the group pictures.  They’re much more likely to cooperate when they know that they get to do something fun afterward!

Sweet Ellie and I hung out on a ledge in the Visitor Center while everyone else watched Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder explaining how the Grand Canyon was formed.  At almost two, she wasn’t quite ready for quietly watching an educational movie, but the rest of the crew was totally enthralled.

Learning about canyon life with Grandma.  All of the Visitor Centers (there are three plus museums and studios) have hands-on displays that are great for kids of all ages.

Desert beauty.

She enjoyed exploring after leaving the Visitor Center and the wide, paved paths are great for kids and are stroller-friendly, too!

He’s on top of the world!  At Mather Point, there’s a big boulder that you can sit on that gives the illusion that you’re all alone at the Grand Canyon.  What you can’t see is that there are crowds of people below him since it was a busy, summer day.

Isn’t she Grand?

Chris, Nick, and Lexie braved the trails with Grandpa and hiked a little bit into the canyon.  The kids were wearing flip flops so we didn’t attempt any hardcore hiking or anything, just walked down a short trail.

Of course, their cooperation was rewarded with silly photos!

It’s so cool to see the Colorado River snaking through the canyon and knowing that this whole thing was created by that one, little (ok, really it’s big) river.

I love the dead trees that dot the rim of the canyon.

Every once in a while I end up on the other side of the camera!

The canyon seems to go on forever- and rightly so, it’s 277 miles long, 18 miles wide at it’s widest point, and over a mile deep.  It’s HUGE!

We always try to get a picture of the seven of us when we go somewhere new.

Our trip wouldn’t be complete without a silly family photo!

We stopped at the Desert View Watchtower, also designed by Mary Jane Colter, on our way out of the park and we arrived just in time to watch a storm roll in over the canyon.

It was so cool to watch the clouds come in over the canyon and then the rain started.

And just as quick as it started, the storm passed and you could see the canyon again.

The Desert View Watchtower was built in 1932 and has both an exterior observation deck and an observation level at the top of the tower.

The kids walked up to the top of the tower to check out the view with Grandpa!

After climbing to the top of the Watchtower, we made our way to the gift shop and then got caught in a downpour on the way to the car.  We headed out of Grand Canyon National Park tired from a long day, but in complete awe of the beauty of the canyon.  Once the kids are older, I’d love to bring them back and stay for a few days so that we could spend more time hiking and maybe go whitewater rafting!

Things to Remember When You Visit Grand Canyon National Park

  • Drink lots of water– the altitude and lack of humidity will leave you dehydrated quickly.
  • If you want to stay at a hotel in the park, book well in advance
  • The lottery for Phantom Ranch lodging (at the bottom of the Grand Canyon) is currently done 14 months in advance!
  • The South Rim of the canyon is open year-round but the North Rim is only open mid-May through mid-October.  Make sure to check for closings if you’re headed to the North Rim.
  • It’s $35 for a private vehicle to enter the park.  We recommend getting the $80 America the Beautiful annual pass so that you can check out all of the National Parks in the country (there’s a free version for military, permanently disabled, and all 4th graders!)
  • The Grand Canyon is popular and parking fills up quickly (often before 10am) but there are additional lots and shuttles to the Visitor Center and then a shuttle bus system that runs along the South rim so that you can check out all of the popular viewpoints.

The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.  Have you been??  Have you been to any of the others??











Yosemite National Park | California

Yosemite National Park, in the western Sierra Nevadas of California, is visited by over FIVE MILLION people a year and is consistently one of the most popular National Parks in the country.  Jacob and I both visited Yosemite as kids and we were excited to introduce our kids to the beauty and splendor of one of the most magnificent places in the country.

After a whirlwind weekend in San Francisco, we left bright and early in the morning, headed over the Bay Bridge and made the drive to Yosemite National Park.  Knowing that we weren’t going to have a lot of time to explore on our own, we booked the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour before heading out on our trip.  We parked the car at the Yosemite Valley Lodge and went inside to pick up our tickets and check out the gift shop.  At our scheduled time, we boarded the open-air tram and set off to learn about Yosemite National Park– Ellie was so excited to sit on the bench with Lexie.

The two-hour tour hits the highlights of Yosemite (like Half Dome and El Capitan) and introduced us to a lot of places we would like to explore in the future.

I love guided tours because you get all sorts of information and it really helps to keep the kids engaged.  I know that when we’re driving around we are sometimes guessing about what we’re seeing, but these guides (at Yosemite National Park in particular!) really know their stuff and do a great job explaining the history, geology, and ecology, of the park.

It was a HOT (like heatwave hot) July day, but we stayed pretty cool as the tram drove along, the breeze blowing in our hair while we were treated to an ever-changing display of beauty.

Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society.  Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind.  Your animal fellow beings, so seldom regarded in civilization, and every rock-brow and mountain, stream, and lake, and every plant soon come to be regarded as brothers; even one learns to like the storms and clouds and tireless winds.  This one noble park is big enough and rich enough for a whole life of study and aesthetic enjoyment.  It is good for everybody, no matter how benumbed with care, encrusted with a mail of business habits like a tree with bark.  None can escape its charms.  Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree. — John Muir, 1938

Our kids love taking their own pictures when we’re traveling because they love having them as a reminder of our adventures even when we’re back home– I’m guessing that was a learned behavior.

We stopped at the Tunnel View parking lot and the kids were excited to glimpse Half Dome in the distance– they recognized it from OS X Yosemite.  Even though Tunnel View is one of the most popular places in the park, it didn’t feel overly crowded when we were there, even in the middle of the peak summer season.

We caught what was probably the last week of water for the season at the iconic Bridalveil Falls. The waterfall flow peaks in the spring and typically dries up by late summer unless it has been unseasonably rainy.

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty.  Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening- still all is Beauty! — John Muir, 1938

Perhaps the most familiar rock formation at Yosemite, Half Dome, stands almost a mile higher than the valley floor, at an almost 9000-foot elevation.  With three rounded sides and a sheer granite face, it looks like a dome that was cut in half, leading to the name Half Dome.

The Yosemite Valley Chapel, built in the late 1800s, stands at the base of these impressive peaks and offers worship services year-round, in addition to being a popular wedding location.

There were beautiful vistas to enjoy in every direction on the tour.  While we could have taken the same route in our van and stopped at the same places, it was so much more enjoyable to have someone else worry about driving so that we could all take everything in and learn about one of our country’s greatest National Parks.

It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter — John Muir, 1868 (about Yosemite)

Like Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls typically dries up in July.  It’s actually made up of three separate falls and is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America.  Everytime the wind kicked up, it would turn the falls into mist and it would look completely dry, but in the stillness, you could see the beauty of the waterfall.

We had a fantastic time on our two-hour tour of Yosemite and would not hesitate to recommend it to someone who only had a short time to explore the park.  While we did see the highlights, we did not even come close to scratching the surface of what Yosemite has to offer and it’s definitely somewhere that we would love to go back to and spend more time.

Things to Remember for a trip to Yosemite National Park

  • Like most National Parks, you do have to pay to enter Yosemite- it’s currently $35 for a noncommercial vehicle unless you have an annual pass.  We highly recommend the America the Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass because it gets you into all of the national parks (as well as National Monuments, National Historical Parks, etc) for a full year!
  • Make sure to check for road closures before you go, many are closed during the winter and there are often seasonal closures due to wildfires or construction.  Tioga Pass is closed for the winter from sometime in November through late May/early June so you can only access Yosemite National Park from the west during the snowy winter/spring.
  • Particularly in the summer, arrive early in order to beat the traffic, and be patient because Yosemite is an extremely popular destination and gets crowded.
  • Drink lots of water!!  The combination of high altitude and low humidity (and summer heat!) means that you need to drink more water than you may be accustomed to drinking.

Have you ever experienced the beauty of Yosemite??  What’s your favorite National Park??





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