A visit to Death Valley isn’t complete until you’ve set foot on the lowest patch of dry earth on the North American continent. So, be sure to stop for a brief hike at Badwater Basin.
Badwater is located along Badwater Road, 16 miles south of California Highway 190 and the park visitor center at Furnace Creek.
As you plunge into Death Valley, it seems like you’re never finished with driving downhill. This makes perfect sense, because you’re headed to the lowest point in North America, at Badwater Basin.
The truth is, there isn’t a heck of a lot to see here. And I hate to break it to you, but chances are, you won’t actually visit the actual lowest point. I’ve read that there are no fewer than three points in the basin that actually measure 282 feet below sea level, and none of them are directly off the highway. The closest one is supposedly marked with a rock, and is more than three miles away (a long way to hike across a flat, dry, ancient lakebed).
The good news is, if you walk just a short distance onto the flats, you’re probably just a foot or two away from the proper depth.
Go ahead and take a walk out from the parking area. It’s still an interesting place to visit, as you wander out into the vast openness of the Badwater Basin.
When I visited in 2005, there was a lot of water at Badwater. Now, only this tiny puddle remains. While it’s reflective, it’s tough to line up any interesting pictures.
When you finally turn around to make the return trip to your car, you’ll probably notice a tiny sign affixed to the mountainside. That’s sea level, way up there. If the Pacific Ocean were to somehow come rushing into Death Valley, you’d be in a heap of trouble.
Here’s a better picture that I took during my 2005 visit to Death Valley.
The Bottom Line
A visit to Badwater Basin is a requirement on a trip to Death Valley. But, you don’t need to spend a whole lot of time here. Take some selfies next to the sign, walk out onto the salt flats for a short distance, then move on.
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive northbound on Badwater Road, past Badwater Basin: