Badwater Basin is one of the most incredible yet bizarre places to enjoy nature in all its beauty. Located in Death Valley National Park, Badwater Basin is one of the most popular spots in the entire park, and for good reason. This amazing salt flat is situated at nearly 300 feet below sea level and stretches on for miles, framed by beautiful mountains in the distance.
If you’re planning to visit Badwater Basin or even if you’re just curious to learn more, you probably have a few questions about this natural phenomenon. We’ve researched and put together the answers to some of the most popular questions that people have about visiting Badwater Basin. If you have any additional questions, feel free to drop us a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What is it like to be at Badwater Basin?
Since Badwater Basin is one of the most popular spots in Death Valley National Park, when we visited there were far more people here than at any other stop in the park. The parking lot is pretty small, so it can be a bit tricky to find parking. To avoid this problem, we kept driving past the parking lot and parked on a dirt pull-off area adjacent to the flats. This actually ended up being a shorter walk to the main part of the salt flats.
People assume that the climate in Death Valley is always absurdly hot, but that’s definitely not the case. During the weekend that we visited in November, the weather was actually very pleasant. It was a bit cooler early in the morning (about 60 degrees) and then warmed up in the afternoon to the mid 70s.
Walking across the salt flats is very surreal. The terrain was unlike anything I had ever seen in my entire life. As you walk in less trafficked areas, small chunks of salt break and fall off. Towards the end of the basin, there is so much white salt everywhere that it almost looks like snow. In the distance, you can see various mountain ranges framing the salt flats. Overall, it is an incredibly beautiful experience being at Badwater Basin.
Why is it called “Badwater Basin”?
Located next to the parking lot at Badwater Basin, running water collects in a small pool that is only sometimes visible. The pool of water is naturally occurring, and its source is actually an underground spring. Since it is located right next to expansive salt flats, the water has accumulated a lot of salt. This makes the water undrinkable, hence the nickname “Badwater.”
There is also an old wives’ tale that the nickname came about when a prospector came through the area on his horse. When the horse refused to drink the water, the prospector nicknamed the area “Badwater.” Whether this story is true or not is anyone’s guess!
Why is Badwater Basin so low in elevation?
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the entire North American continent. It’s no coincidence that the lowest point in the continent is also located in one of the hottest deserts on earth. In order for land to exist below sea level, the climate needs to be extremely dry. Otherwise, if the climate is too wet, the land will fill up with water and eventually overflow back into the sea.
Due to its salty composition, many assume that Badwater Basin’s low elevation was caused by the erosion or a lake or river, but this isn’t true. It’s low elevation is actually caused by movement along fault lines that causes the mountains to rise, and the valleys to sink. Surrounded by mountains from nearly every side, Badwater Basin is a textbook example of a valley sinking due to fault line activity.
What caused the salt flats in Badwater Basin?
The salt flats that make up Badwater Basin were caused by runoff from other mountains. Since Badwater Basin is so low and surrounded by mountains, when it rains the runoff from these mountains pools and collects in the basin.
Since the climate is so dry and hot, the water eventually evaporates. But the runoff from these mountains isn’t just water–it also contains minerals and salts. So when the water evaporates, it leaves behind the minerals and salts in the basin. After years and years of this process happening, Badwater Basin was formed.
What is it like to hike in Badwater Basin?
Hiking on Badwater Basin is one of the coolest places that we have ever hiked. In addition to it having incredible sights, it is also a great place to hike for novice hikers since it is so flat and sturdy. Many people worry about the temperatures, but the weather is actually quite pleasant so long as you don’t go in the summer.
From the parking lot, there is a narrow salt flat trail that leads out to the more expansive portion of the salt flat. In total, it’s about a quarter mile walk to get out to the wider salt flats, which contain the salt polygons. Also known as the geometric salt flats, the salt polygons consist of patterned shapes formed in ridges on top of the smooth salt flat.
How do I get to Badwater Basin?
Since Badwater Basin is one of the most popular places in Death Valley National Park, it’s actually fairly easy to get there just by following signs. Take 190 and follow signs for Furnace Creek. Just before you arrive in Furnace Creek, there will be a sign for “Badwater” telling you to take a left. Take that turn, and you will follow that road south for about 15 miles all the way to Badwater Basin, which will be on your right hand side.
Pro Tip: Download an offline google map of Death Valley National Park before you go for easy directions to Badwater Basin and all of your stops.
P.S. If you’re looking for other things to do in Death Valley National Park, be sure to check out this post: 16 Things To Do in Death Valley National Park
If you are heading out to Badwater Basin, don’t forget to check out our blog post on 16 Things To Do in Death Valley National Park. If you are looking for a place to spend the night nearby, we found a great Airbnb in Pahrump, NV that we loved.
Looking for more incredible things to do in Death Valley National Park? Don’t forget to watching our Death Valley videos, Day #1 and Day #2:
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