Kayaking at Badwater Basin on February 9, 2024. NPS/Michael Kohler

Rare opportunity to kayak in Death Valley National Park

Recent atmospheric river rejuvenated temporary lake in Badwater Basin

A temporary lake provides a rare opportunity to kayak in the driest place in the United States: Death Valley National Park.

“You might think with no drain to the sea, that Death Valley would always have a lake,” says park ranger Abby Wines. “But this is an extremely rare event. Normally the amount of water flowing in is much less than the evaporation rate.”

Badwater Basin lies at the bottom of Death Valley. At 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest elevation in North America. Badwater Basin is normally a dry salt flat.

The magic ingredient this year was rain—and lots of it. Death Valley National Park averages about two inches of rain per year. The valley floor received 4.9 inches in the past six months, and surrounding mountains received greater amounts of rain. Most of that precipitation happened in two events: 2.2 inches during the remnants of Hurricane Hilary on August 20 and 1.5 inches during an atmospheric river February 4-7.

“The lake was deep enough to kayak for a few weeks after Hurricane Hilary, but unfortunately people couldn’t come enjoy it then,” said Wines. “Every road in the park was damaged by flash floods, and it took two months to open the first road into the park. Now most of the main roads are open, so it’s a great time to come visit!”

As of mid-February, the temporary lake, informally known as Lake Manly, is about six miles long, 3 miles wide and one foot deep. It may only be deep enough to kayak for a couple weeks. However, park rangers believe the shallow lake will still create beautiful reflections through April.

Park rangers urge visitors to stay safe and to minimize their impact by following a few rules. Parking lots may be full. If parking on a road shoulder, drivers should be cautious of soft shoulders and ensure they are fully out of the driving lane. Footprints in the lakeshore can last for years. People should walk on established pathways.

All hotels and most campgrounds in the park are open. Paved roads are open to most of the park’s primary features, including the temporary lake in Badwater Basin. The National Park Service is continuing to work on secondary roads, many of which are still closed due to flood damage. Full information is at nps.gov/deva.

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