California – Badwater Basin, Death Valley
We visited Death Valley National Park and Badwater Basin for the first time this winter. The days were short, but with only a few people in the park, we got to explore so many areas in a single weekend. The temperature was chilly, especially when the wind picked up, but still well above freezing. I cannot recommend enough to avoid the heat and the crowds and visit Death Valley National Park in winter!
About Badwater Basin
A major site in Death Valley is Badwater Basin, which is practically the lowest area of the park and notable for being covered in salt. Water and salt collects in this basin and evaporates quickly creating a giant salt flat. This area is so low that it is 282 feet below sea level. When you are in the parking lot, you can look at the mountains behind you and see where they marked sea level. It is hard to believe how high the marker is located.
When you are walking out onto the flats, you will see hexagonal honeycomb shapes in the areas surrounding the main walkway. This is caused by the freeze-thaw cycles that occur in Death Valley. The hexagonal shapes look incredible.
At a Glance:
Rating: 4 stars
Intensity: Tennis shoes, clothes to sweat in
Location: Death Valley National Park
Restrooms: At the visitor’s centers, campgrounds, non-flushing toilets at most major sites
Lowest point in the United States
Salt flats are wild and beautiful
Walking in Badwater Basin
Since it such a major attraction, we arrived early to see Badwater Basin – just as the sun was rising. The parking lot is not very large, so I am happy we made the effort to arrive early. There is a small pool of water and the iconic sign near the parking lot. Just beyond, you can see what looks like a pathway leading out to the center of the basin.
The further you walk, the more the surrounding area becomes covered in salt. The distances are very deceiving. Although the mountains on the other side of Badwater Basin look close, they are actually many miles away. Before we knew it, we were about a half mile into the basin. We enjoyed watching the clouds part and reveal different colors of the basin and mountains behind. Truly picturesque in its emptiness!
I had read online that you can continue driving and visit the basin where it is less crowded. We tried this, but did not see a handy turnout where the salt flats would be nearby. There were only about 10 other people out on Badwater Basin when we visited, so I am very happy we didn’t have to rely on an unmarked area. But perhaps worth the effort during crowded times?
For this trip, Rebecca and I rented a travel van and camped in Death Valley. I will link to the post here, as soon as I write it. Staying in the campervan allowed us to be at Badwater Basin super early, without having to drive in from a nearby town.
Have you ever been below sea level? What about a salt flat? I’ve been dying to go to the one in Bolivia, but Badwater Basin will have to do for now.