Visiting the Badwater Basin Salt Flats in Death Valley

The Badwater Basin in Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level. It’s the lowest point in the United States (and all of North America, in fact.)

It’s also where – if you believe the park rangers at the visitor center – people are keeling over left and right from heat exhaustion.

Death Valley salt flats

Yes, the scare tactics of the park employees kept us from fully enjoying the Badwater Salt Flats, by making us believe that we’d pass out if we stayed there longer than 10 minutes.

Or that we’d spontaneously burst into flames and the remnants of our body would fly off into the air like mist.

The Badwater Basin was #1 on our list of Things to See & Do at Death Valley. We stopped by after spending the evening at Furnace Creek Campground.

I really enjoyed visiting this unusual natural feature. If you’re visiting the national park, you’re surely going to stop by Badwater. Here’s what to expect.

Badwater Salt Flats Pool

About the Badwater Basin Salt Flats: Weather, Map, Directions

The Salt Flats cover roughly 200 square miles, making it one of the largest such salt flats in the world.

Death Valley is a large national park. Badwater Basin is near the lower end of the middle section of the park.

badwater basin salt flats map
Map showing the location of Badwater Basin Salt Flats (Google.)

To get there, drive south on Badwater Road from Furnace Creek. Or drive north on Badwater Road from Ashford Junction.

In summer, the Badwater Basin temperature will be well over 100 degrees F. Sometimes as hot as 120 – hence the warnings from park personnel.

In July, the average daily high temperature here is 116 F. That’s insane!

For the most comfortable weather, visit from November to March, when high temps are in the 65-80 F range. Death Valley is one of our recommended national parks to visit in February.

What to See at the Salt Flats

Surprisingly, despite the stifling heat, there’s a permanent pool of water. The Badwater Pool is fed by an underground spring. As the pool rests atop the desert salt flats, the water is five times saltier than the ocean.

Our planet is amazing in that no matter how harsh the conditions are, you can always find organisms that will survive there. Here, it’s the tiny Badwater snail. If you look closely, you can see the snails curling up in the pool.

Badwater snails

Near the pool, you’ll find the salt flats, a crusty mass of land that feels like dried-up mud. You can walk out onto the salt flats if you like.

The complete absence of any greenery or rocks makes this a really strange place to stand on.

You can walk farther out onto the flats if you like. It’s about a mile each way, and totally flat. So it’s totally doable as long as it’s not too hot.

Just take water and don’t over-exert yourself. Remember that the walk coming back is going to be just as long as the walk out there!

badwater basin temperature
Standing in the Salt Flats is a pretty surreal experience!

Flats form in arid climates when evaporation causes everything to disappear except the salts. Only 1.94 inches of rain fall on DV annually, making the atmosphere ideal for flats.

According to the NPS, most of the salt in these flats is plain ol’ table salt. But before you go collecting it to sprinkle on tomorrow’s dinner, be aware that it contains other less tasty minerals as well, like calcite, gypsum, and borax.

Vehicles are prohibited in this part of the park due to their fragile nature. Sadly, there have been cases of vandals driving vehicles out onto the flats. Those tracks can last for decades.

You can look up at the nearby mountain to see the sign which indicates the precise location of sea level.

Death Valley sea level sign

And that’s the scoop on Badwater Basin. The main appeal of this place is the novelty of going to a location 282 feet below sea level.

It’s a geographic oddity, like the southernmost point in the continental USA, or the geographic center of the USA.

So go to Death Valley National Park and check out the Badwater salt flats and the pool. But don’t forget to bring plenty of water. And wear sunscreen. And a hat. Otherwise, you might get fried like an egg. Or so I hear.

The History and Geology of the Badwater Basin Salt Flats

The formation of these salt flats is a geological spectacle, a process shaped by the forces of time and nature.

The flats’ features include a brittle, cracked surface and vast expanses of white salt crust. Rich in minerals such as sodium chloride (table salt), the surface’s mineral composition contributes to its striking white appearance.

The salt flats have been a silent witness to centuries of human history, from the Native American tribes that first inhabited the region to the scientists who have studied its geology. Each exploration and study has added a new layer to our understanding of the landscape.

Despite the harsh surroundings, the salt flats play a vital role in the Death Valley ecosystem. They provide a habitat for a range of salt-tolerant species, contributing to the area’s biodiversity.

Moreover, the reflective properties of the salt crust influence the local climate by reflecting sunlight and contributing to the high temperatures commonly associated with Death Valley. That’s part of the reason it’s so damn hot there!

The future of the Badwater Basin Salt Flats is subject to the dual threats of climate change and human activities, both of which have the potential to disrupt its delicate ecological balance.

However, ongoing conservation efforts aim to preserve this natural wonder for future generations.

VIDEO: The Badwater Basin Salt Flats (Youtube channel Viva Frei)

If you travel through the northern section of the park, take a detour to the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada. You won’t want to miss this abandoned community with lots of old stone buildings still standing.

And if you’re into road trips, Death Valley is part of my recommended driving routes between Los Angeles and Austin, and between San Diego and Seattle.

Would you visit the Badwater Basin Salt Flats if the temperature was over 100 degrees?