In the heart of the Death Valley, there is a one of a kind place called Badwater Basin, a basin of a large drained prehistoric lake located in the lowest point of North America (282 ft below sea level). You will see an endless horizon, a vast flat terrain at the foot of the mountains that resembles a lunar landscape, a place at the edge of the world ruled by a deep and palpable silence. When you first arrive, you may think you have suddenly landed on another planet and for those who visit Death Valley, Badwater Basin is certainly one of the main points of interest of the park, along with Zabriskie Point, Artist’s Drive and Palette, the dunes of Mesquite Flat, Dante’s View and Racetrack Playa (but this last place can only be visited if you have the right car!).
Have I piqued your interest? Then let’s find out more!
Location and Directions
Badwater Basin is 45 minutes from Stovepipe Wells Village, where you will also find the ranger station and the park visitor on your way from Yosemite National Park (I suggest that you stay in a town close to Yosemite, like Mammoth Lakes or the others already mentioned in our guide on where to stay near Yosemite). If you’re coming from Las Vegas, Badwater Basin is about 2.5 hours away by car. You’ll have to pass by Death Valley Junction and then the Visitor Center in Furnace Creek. The site can be reached by following the signs and there is parking available.
Things to Do in Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is an attraction that doesn’t take much time to visit. Once you reach it, simply stop and enjoy the surreal silence of the place. You can walk on the wooden walkway that leads to a dried-up bed, then walk on the sand (when I visited it, in the middle of summer there were holes so deep that I could fit inside) and take the ritual photo of the sign (Sea level) that marks the sea level on the mountain, it actually makes a certain impression …
As you walk on the basin, you can go in search of the polygonal formations in the ground that are the image people have of Badwater. Unfortunately, the problem is that it is not always easy to see them. It is hard to find them in the area in the immediate vicinity of the parking lot, the one most frequented by tourists, so to search for them you can continue walking a long while, but it is not really feasible for everyone due to the heat of the summer months (remember to read our guide on the best time to visit Death Valley to be sure you’re prepared for the visit to the park).
The soil of Badwater Basin is characterized by a high salt concentration with a high evaporation rate, which means that the small ponds that are created after the storms of the winter season dry up quickly; if you aren’t visiting during the summer, when temperatures are considerably high, you can still see thin layers of stale water, called Badwater Pools. You might think that they are just normal puddles, instead, thanks to the factors at play, they create some splendid reflections of the surrounding panorama. It is worth taking some pictures (but please refrain from entering the water. You could step on the only species of animal that manages to prosper in this area… the famous Badwater snail. You will find plenty of information about this snail on the informational signs 🙂 ).
Where does the name Badwater come from? It seems to originate from an old story. A wayfarer had brought his mule to the basin to drink from it, but the animal refused to drink it because it was too salty.
Accommodations in the Area
It is possible to stay inside the park and in many towns in the surrounding area. The choice also depends on where you’re headed on your trip. To help you choose, you can read the guide on lodging in Death Valley, with my advice on choosing a strategic location where to spend the night when you visit Death Valley.