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Guide to Visiting the Death Valley National Park Lake

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Kayaking in Death Valley might sound wildly unrealistic, but currently, it’s the reality – at least for a few more weeks. Head to Death Valley National Park to see the beautiful and extremely rare Lake Manly, covering the Badwater Basin California. 

Badwater Basin, California, is the lowest point in North America, sitting 282 feet below sea level. It’s the driest place in the US and a popular spot in Death Valley National Park.

Usually, Badwater Basin looks like a giant salt flat. Visitors can walk for miles across the crystal-patterned white flats while taking in the landscape, but today, it looks a bit different with the water coverage. Get here as soon as possible for the best chance of seeing the extraordinary Death Valley Lake before it’s gone!

Don't Miss Your Chance to See Badwater Basin California!
When Can I Visit Death Valley in a Camper Van?

We strongly recommend that you don’t go to Death Valley between May 1 and September 30. During the summer, temperatures can reach 130 degrees in the valley. Our Roadside Assistance and Insurance will not cover you if your van breaks down during these months.

How Was the Death Valley National Park Lake Formed?

On August 20, 2023, Hurricane Hillary hit the south of California, dropping 2.2 inches of rain over Death Valley National Park in about 24 hours. Death Valley usually receives about 2.2 inches of rain in total per year. This dumping from Hurricane Hillary temporarily altered the landscape and damaged many park roads.

When this much rain falls across this dry environment, it has nowhere to go. Only very minimal precipitation is absorbed into the soil in Death Valley. It usually evaporates before it has time to settle. However, with such intense rain all at once, the rain had nowhere to go and it began to collect in Badwater Basin, the low point of the park.

Of course, this also meant that all the water up at higher points in the park would drain downhill to… Badwater Basin. In August, this quickly created the Death Valley Lake, also known as Lake Manly. Unfortunately, because of road damage, the park closed and visitors could not access the lake then.

I was lucky enough to visit Death Valley’s Lake Manly on January 23. It rained a couple of days prior, nothing too crazy, but I figured I should rush down to take the trip. The reflections blew me away and saw Lake Manly in all its mightly. At that point, the lake was about 8 inches deep.

Unusual weather continued in Death Valley National Park, with an atmospheric river dropping 1.5 inches of rain from February 4th to 7th. Again, with nowhere to go, the water continued to drain into Badwater Basin. As of mid-February, Death Valley Lake was about 6 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 1 foot in depth – making it deep enough to kayak in!

How Long Will Badwater Basin California Last?

Park rangers believe the reflections on the surface of Lake Manly could last through April. While it is kayakable right now, the water will continue evaporating until it’s gone. The sooner you get there, the better your chance of kayaking or at least splashing around in the water!

What is My Best Chance of Seeing the Death Valley National Park Lake?

Badwater Basin’s temporary Lake Manly is an incredibly unusual site to witness. Before Hurricane Hillary flooded the park in August 2023, Lake Manly hadn’t appeared since 2005. Therefore, you have a short chance of seeing this famous but extremely rare Death Valley Lake.

The sooner you can get to the park, the better, as park rangers already expected the lake to evaporate after a couple of weeks. While it might remain for another month or so, it’s hard to predict how long it will last.

Two people standing on the Death Valley National Park lake. The lake is the result of heavy rains in California.

Where Can I Camp Near Badwater Basin California?

Of course, the best way to check out the craze of the Death Valley Lake is in the comfort of an Escape Camper Van where you can have all your luxuries and amenities in the comfort of your vehicle while also having the opportunity to explore endlessly!

These are a few campgrounds in Death Valley National Park that are set up well for camper van camping and are located a short drive from Badwater Basin.

Furnace Creek Campground

Furnace Creek Campground is a 136-site campground located across the street from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. It’s the only National Park Service campground that accepts reservations. Reserve a spot from October 15 to April 15 up to 6 months out. Furnace Creek Campground has potable water, flushing toilets, and a camp store.

Texas Springs Campground

Texas Springs Campground is open seasonally from October 15 – mid-April. It’s a first-come, first-served campground with 92 campsites sitting in the hills just above Furnace Creek. Texas Springs Campground has beautiful views and a few sites even have trees! Campsites have seasonal potable water, flushing toilets, fire grates, and picnic tables.

Sunset Campground

Sunset Campground is a 230-site seasonal campground open from October 15 – mid-April. It’s located across the street from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Sunset Campground is first-come, first-served and rarely fills up. It’s a basic campground with potable water and toilets. Some campsites have fire grates and picnic tables, others do not. There are two group fire rings.

An image of the Death Valley National Park lake that formed in Badwater Basin

Tips for Visiting Badwater Basin California

Here are a few last-minute tips before you jump on a plane and book your camper van to see the famous Death Valley Lake!

Wear shoes that can get wet. When I was tromping through the Death Valley Lake Manly I was wearing knee-high rain boots which did the trick. The water was about 8 inches deep when I was there in mid-January. Sandals work well too.

Arrive early in the morning for the best chance of seeing a reflection. Death Valley Lake is usually calmest in the morning until a breeze picks up. The snowcapped Telescope Peak stands 11,043 feet high in the Panamint Range. Beat the crowds and increase your chance of seeing the famous reflection by arriving early.

Avoid visiting during the heat of summer. For one, Death Valley Lake will likely have dried up by the time summer rolls around. Also, it’s very hot by mid-April when temperatures are well into the 90’s. By mid-summer temperatures can reach up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit!

Rinse your shoes and kayak before and after visiting. When visiting different bodies of water it’s important to clean off shoes, kayaks, or any other objects before and after entering water. Sometimes small organisms remain on items and they mustn’t be spread to other habitats where they do not belong.

Road closures remain in place from the August storm. Check online before you head out that the roads you’re planning to drive are accessible. Most paved roads in the park are open except for Wildrose/Emigrant Canyon Road, Bonnie Clare Road, and Scotty’s Castle.

Fuel up and pack food and water. Services are very limited in Death Valley National Park. Fuel up before entering the park. There are gas stations at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells but they are VERY expensive!! There are restaurants at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, and the inns but if you plan to cook your meals, stock up before.

Enjoy! Seeing the rare occurrence of Death Valley Lake Manly is most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you don’t want to miss out on!

Visit Before the Badwater Basin Lake is Gone!

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