Salt Flats at Badwater, Badwater Parking Area, Death Valley National Park, California
Salt Flats at Badwater - 2.0 miles
Badwater Parking Area
|Round-Trip Length:||2.0 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||-282' - -282'|
|Elevation Change:||No measurable elevation change|
Salt Flats at Badwater - 2.0 Miles Round-Trip
Death Valley formed as north-south fault lines stretched and pulled the earth's crust apart, forcing mountainous uplifts on either side while the expanding space in between sank. The resulting 120-mile long basin is known as a Graben, geologically defined as a depressed land mass paralleled by faults and escarpments at the base of uplifted mountain ranges. The Death Valley graben is bound by the Amargosa Range to the east and Panamint Range to the west.
Receding ancient ice sheets and periodic wet cycles formed lakes in the Death Valley basin, the last major one disappearing approximately 2,000 years ago. As with most basins in the northern Mojave, Death Valley has no external drainage. Evaporating as the earth's climate warmed, these lakes left behind trace minerals - in some cases heavy concentrations of salt - across the valley floor. Subsequent hot and dry conditions consolidated these mineral deposits over time into the 5 mile wide salt pan we see today.
While the salt flat's complexion may appear uniform from a distance, a journey across them reveals a broad range of texture, color and states of assembly. Subtle shifts beneath the basin morph the surface into irregular polygon salt plates, sometimes uplifting them altogether in chaotic fashion. Rains bring in new sediments, thickening, discoloring and further displacing the polygons. Mud is found on or just beneath smoother surfaces where the groundwater table is high, or wind and rain have recently stripped away top layers of salt. Venture into Death Valley's great expanse for an up close look at these extraordinary geologic details and a hiking experience like no other.
There is no maintained trail leading into the salt flats, nor is one necessary - simply step off the Badwater boardwalk and meander into the shimmering abyss. You must typically travel about one mile west of the parking area to fully experience the salt flat's subtle variations and incomprehensible space. Telescope Peak - Death Valley's highest point at 11,049' - rises to the west and is a good visual landmark for otherwise rudderless travel across the flats.
Below sea level and fully exposed, the salt flats can be exceedingly hot. Amplifying already intense conditions are heat and sunlight radiating from its nearly pure white surface. If you plan on more than just a cursory tour of the flats, carry extra water, a broad-rim hat, sunglasses, sun block and light layers for additional protection.
- N36 13.796 W116 46.086 — Trailhead at Badwater
- N36 13.683 W116 47.719 — 1.5 miles west of trailhead
- N36 13.466 W116 49.173 — 3 miles west of trailhead
- The floor of Death Valley is slowly sinking - with a slight downward tilt to the east - between the Panamint and Amargosa mountain ranges.
- The salt flats of Badwater are part of Death Valley's greater salt pan, which covers more than 200 square miles (40 miles N-S by 5 miles E-W).
- The salt flat's lowest point, measured at 282' below sea level, is actually located approximately 3 miles west of the Badwater pools (which have been measured at 272' below sea level).
- High concentrations of salt can eat away at shoes, clothing and gear. Wipe all exposed belongings of salt upon completing your hike.
- "Badwater" was dubbed by a prospector whose mule refused to drink from the area's saline waters.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Camping is not permitted on the salt flats.
Directions to Trailhead
From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, travel south along Highway 178 approximately 19 miles to the Badwater Parking Area on your right.
Death Valley National Park
P.O. Box 579
Death Valley, CA 92328