Travel from the lowest spot in North America to pine-topped peaks on an epic desert drive.
Trip length: 4 days
BADWATER (21mi/33km; 28min). Pose for pictures next to the sign marking 282 feet below sea level, then explore the sparkling salt flats. INFO Death Valley National Park ; 760/786-3200
JOSHUA TREE (8mi/12km; 12min). Stop by Coyote Corner, with funky souvenirs and outdoor gear. Healthy fare or decadent flaky pie? You choose at friendly Crossroads Cafe . INFO Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce ; 760/366-3723
JOSHUA TREE NP (5mi/8km; 9min). Scramble around on this national park’s dramatic monzogranite formations, or take lessons (kids welcome) with Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School . INFO Joshua Tree National Park ; 760/367-5500
PALM SPRINGS (23mi/37km; 30min). Climb to pine-topped peaks aboard Palm Springs Aerial Tramway . See vintage WWII planes at Palm Springs Air Museum and desert animals from around the globe at The Living Desert . INFO Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau ; 760/770-9000
ANZA-BORREGO DESERT SP (70mi/112km; 1hr39min). Explore this enormous state park on a guided driving tour (California Overland has kid-cool converted military trucks). INFO Anza Borrego Desert State Park ; 760/767-5311