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Why Do People Visit Badwater Basin in California?

Why Do People Visit Badwater Basin in California?

Take a trip to Badwater Basin and find out just how low you can go.

This vast area of salt flats is one of the hottest places you can visit in the U.S. And, its popularity is proof that road trippers like to go to extremes.

Today we’ll find out if this desert destination is worth the drive.

Let’s explore!

Where Is Badwater Basin? 

Badwater Basin is in Death Valley in the Mojave Desert area of eastern California. It’s about 150 miles west of Las Vegas and is part of the National Park Service’s Death Valley National Park.

It’s about a 45-minute drive from the park’s eastern entrance and about 15 miles south of Furnace Creek.

Why Is It Called Badwater Basin? 

Sometimes it’s hard to track down exactly how a place got its name. In this case, it goes back to a mule that wouldn’t drink the water. It wasn’t because the mule was stubborn; it was because the water was too salty.

The spring-fed pools have long since evaporated, leaving dry, salty flats. When rainwater collects here, it also has high salinity.

Is Badwater Basin a City?

Badwater Basin isn’t a city and never has been, but it covers almost as much ground as Chicago. At 200 square miles, Badwater Basin is one of the largest areas of protected salt flats in the world.

Can You Walk on Badwater Basin? 

You can get a good view of the basin from the parking lot, but it’s better to go for a walk. A paved ramp gives you access to a wooden boardwalk. From there, you can walk out onto the salt bed, which is packed hard and fine like sand.

There’s no actual trail on the flats, however, and pets aren’t allowed.

Why Do People Visit Badwater Basin? 

Most people probably visit Badwater Basin out of curiosity or to say they’ve experienced the lowest point in the country. (In fact, lots of people take a selfie next to the elevation sign.) By the way, it’s 282 feet below sea level.

In a strange twist of geology, the highest point in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney, is just 85 miles away. 

Keep in mind: Crossing mountains on the highway can be challenging, RV Trip Wizard will help you avoid the worst of them.

Does Anything Live in the Badwater Basin? 

Death Valley features diverse wildlife that even includes coyotes, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep. But besides other tourists, the living things you’re likely to encounter at Badwater Basin make up a pretty short list.

The few plants include a flowering succulent called pickleweed. You may also spot a handful of aquatic insects, and a tiny salt marsh snail only found here.

Things to Do at Badwater Basin

It’s easy to get to Badwater Basin for a quick visit. Most people head down Highway 190 and turn south down Badwater Road. It’s about an hour’s round trip from the main road.

Budget in a little extra time for a more relaxed experience and indulge in these activities.

Hike the Salt Flat

It looks like snow at first, but that’s salt you’re stepping out on. You can head off in any direction. There’s not a designated trail, but it’s best to walk along the same path that others have. That way, you’re not causing any damage to what’s a fairly sensitive area.

Watch the Sunset

Don’t skip out on the evening light show. The colors constantly change as the sun dips toward the horizon. Watch the incredible transformation as the sunset casts different shades along the valley floor and the Panamint Mountains in the distance.

Night Sky Viewing

Badwater Basin isn’t just low; it’s dark, too. With hardly any light sources around, you can even get a crystal-clear view of the Milky Way at night. If you time things right, you can enjoy a fabulous sunset and stick around for incredible night views. Just be sure to pack some extra layers for dropping temperatures.

Pro Tip: Here are the best stargazing locations in the USA.

Where to Stay Near Badwater Basin

If you’re looking to camp out in Badwater Basin, the Pads is a great spot. Check out this boondocking treasure.

The Pads

In some ways, the place they call The Pads is a boondocker’s paradise. It used to be a trailer park for miners. But, all that’s left are about 45 cement pads that used to be slabs for the trailers. We’re talking free, dispersed camping with incredible views of the desert, mountains, and dark night skies.

The only thing missing is good connectivity. The Pads is on Highway 190 about 32 miles from Badwater Basin and just 11 miles from Death Valley Junction.

Best Time of Year to Visit Badwater Basin

Timing is everything when it comes to enjoying a trip to Badwater Basin. Don’t go in the summer, but any other time is fair game. Springtime brings some gorgeous wildflowers but also bigger crowds.

We’ll pinpoint fall as the best time to visit because the weather is so pleasant and the skies are clearest. It’s important to avoid the summer’s extreme heat. The temperatures can hit 120 degrees, hence the name “Death Valley.” (In fact, if you do visit during the summer, the park service actually advises against walking out on the flats after 10 a.m.)

Is a Trip to Badwater Basin Worth It?

If you’re traveling through Death Valley, Badwater Basin is a must-see, with a stark, unusual landscape that you won’t forget. It’s the lowest spot in the country, and it could very well be a high point of your desert vacation.

What are your favorite things to see and do in the Mojave Desert?

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