Where in the US is below sea level?

The lowest point in North America is a surreal landscape of vast salt flats.

At 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest spot in North America. The salt flats here encompass about 200 square miles (518 square kilometers) and are mostly made of sodium chloride (table salt), calcite, gypsum, and borax.

According to legend, Badwater Basin got its name because an early surveyor’s mule refused to drink from the spring-fed pool near the current boardwalk. The water here, however, is not genuinely “bad,” just highly salty. Despite the excessive salinity, numerous creatures live and flourish here. The pool is home to a unique snail that can only be found here, and its rim is studded with salt-tolerant flora like pickleweed.

The Badwater Basin was previously the location of the enormous ancient inland Lake Manly, which drained tens of thousands of years before the arrival of the 1849er who gave the basin its name. Because the lake had no outlet, debris and salt accumulated over time. Concentrated salt deposits were left behind as the lake emptied. As groundwater rises through these deposits and evaporates, beautiful geometric salt polygons appear on the flats today.

The pool and boardwalk are readily accessible from the Badwater Road parking lot, but the greatest views of the salt polygons need a 1.5-2 mile (2.4-3.2 km) roundtrip trek out into the salt flats. Look up on the cliffs of the Black Mountains to the east; there will be a sign showing sea level well above. Take a minute to see Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range to the west; at 11,049 feet (3,368 meters), it is more than two miles (3.2 kilometers) above you. There is no other place in America with such spectacular vertical relief over such a short space.


Round Trip Length: 1 mile (1.6km) to edge of salt flat
Round Trip Time: 40 minutes
Dificulty : Easy
Elevation Gain: Flat
Trail Type: Boardwalk then route, out and back
Location: Badwater Road is located 30 minutes (17 miles/27 kilometers) south of Furnace Creek.
Parking: Paved parking lot with plenty of room for RVs and buses
Closest Restroom : Vault toilet located in parking lot
Route: A wooden boardwalk is reached through an ADA accessible ramp. Beyond the boardwalk, the walking surface is sturdy and broad.

Pets, even if carried, are not permitted on any path in Death Valley National Park. Do not leave your pet in your car. Speak with a ranger about walking your pet on one of the great dirt roads.

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