“An off trail adventure through upheaved salt plates below sea level.”
— Andrew Walters
Lake · Views
Do not bring kids on the entire crossing However, that being said, the initial portion of this route includes bizarre geologic formations unlike anything most kids have seen.
DO NOT ATTEMPT IN THE SUMMER HEAT. Hikers have died. This is great in the winter, but even then, bring plenty of water and expect it to take longer than anticipated.
This hike has been featured on the cover of magazines and is an amazing way to experience the wildness of Death Valley. Don't let the beginning fool you, this is not a fast and flat route. Jagged sheets of mineral encrusted earth form huge plates up to 15" high that you have to navigate and there are no trail markers. However, the feeling of isolation and openness when you are in the middle of the basin is spectacular.
Need to Know
Do not attempt in the summer heat. Know your own limitations and be prepared.
Drink plenty of water: Drink at least one gallon (4 liters) of water per day to replace loss from sweat, more if you are active. Fluid and electrolyte levels must be balanced, so have salty foods or "sports drinks" too.
Avoid hiking in the heat: Do not hike in the low elevations when temperatures are hot. The mountains are cooler in summer, but can have snow and ice in winter.
Travel prepared to survive: Stay on paved roads in summer. If your car breaks down, stay with it until help comes. Carry extra drinking water in your car in case of emergency.
Watch for signs of trouble: If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or a headache, get out of the sun immediately and drink water or sports drinks. Dampen clothing to lower body temperature. Be alert for symptoms in others.
From the huge parking area at Badwater Basin
head down the steps to the salt flat and enjoy the first 0.5 miles of track that has been flattened by the feet of countless tourists. As you continue out the track disappears and you'll need to pick a point on the horizon (the 11,000 ft Telescope Peak works well) and head west as you navigate the ever-changing landscape.
Depending on recent precipitation, there may be some soggy spots. As you near the West Side road there will be some shrubs and if you have stayed due west you should meet the road near a benchmark just south of Hanaupah Canyon Road. It is possible to arrange a shuttle and do this hike as a one-way adventure, but it works great as an out-and-back.
History & Background
From the Death Valley National Park Service
: The salt flats in Badwater Basin
cover nearly 200 square miles, among the largest protected salt flats in the world.
Salt flats are too harsh for most plants and animals to survive, yet are quite fragile. Delicate crystals are easily crushed and the relatively thin upper crust of salt can break through to the mud layer below, leaving tire tracks and even footprints. For this reason, vehicles are prohibited off established roads in Death Valley.