Skip to main content

Now’s the Time To Visit Death Valley To See Rare Lake

Written by Maryann Jones ThompsonPublished Nov. 13, 2023 • 5:30am
Paddleboarders on the shore of a lake in a desert.
Paddleboarders head out on the temporary lake at Badwater in Death Valley on Nov. 5, 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

The remnants of Hurricane Hilary last August didn’t just flood Palm Springs and trap Burners in Black Rock City, the storm dumped a year’s worth of rain on Death Valley in a single day.

The epic rains washed out roads and brought the valley’s prehistoric Lake Manly back to life, leaving a massive body of water covering the nation’s lowest and hottest spot, Badwater Basin.

By mid-October, Highway 190 and other byways connecting Death Valley’s most famous sights were reopened to travelers—just in time for fans of the otherworldly desert to get a peek at Badwater underwater for the first time since 2005.

People on the shore of a lake in a desert.
Visitors explore the temporary lake at Badwater in Death Valley on Nov. 5, 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

“This is a really special time,” said Death Valley National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds in a statement. “It’s pretty rare to see a lake in Death Valley!”  

Heading south from Furnace Creek, the view of the Badwater on the floor of Death Valley was—for once—not a mirage. The road now ends at the Badwater Trailhead, but the shores of the lake extend well past the parking area.

Though the lake is now reported to be only inches deep, paddleboarders, kayakers and waders were seen taking advantage of the extraordinary phenomenon this week.

The trail from the Badwater parking area is whiter and wider than usual, given the receding water of the pop-up lake. Though, at first, the lake reached the parking area, now visitors walk about 100 yards to reach its fast-receding shore.

People stand in a desert with white sand in the foreground and craggy mountains in the background.
Little water remains near the Badwater parking area in Death Valley. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater is the lowest point in the U.S. and second only to the Dead Sea worldwide. Its surface is covered by a salt pan measuring 200 square miles, which makes it almost impossible for curious visitors to resist having a taste.

Giant white salt crystals on a lakebed.
Badwater is covered by one of the world’s largest salt pans, which means the floor and surface of the temporary lake are made of salt crystals. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

Many visitors waded into the rare lake, though rangers at the visitor center recommended staying on the trail because each step cracks through the salt-encrusted bottom, leaving footprints that may take decades to erase.

Footsteps are seen below the surface of a clear lake in a desert.
Footsteps that crunched through the salt crust at the bottom of the temporary lake at Badwater in Death Valley are seen on Nov. 5, 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

Immediately following the storm in August, there were ponds left in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which have now dried up. Now the dunes are once again speckled with crackled patches and hikers.

Dried-up remnants of ponds in a desert.
The remains of ponds in Death Valley’s Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes as seen on Nov. 5, 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

Rangers don’t know how long the lake will remain at Badwater, but experts say it will likely evaporate into salt crystals by the end of this month.

Two side-by-side images show the same desert, but in the left image, the landscape is dry and in the right image, there's a lake.
Badwater Basin as pictured from Badwater Road in July 2021 and November 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

How to Visit the Lake in Death Valley

Making the 10-hour road trip to Death Valley from the Bay Area is not for the faint of heart—but a chance to see Lake Manly makes it especially enticing. 

Because of ongoing road repairs, Highway 190 requires an escort for the 12 miles near Stovepipe Wells. Though officials say delays can take an hour each way, the wait was only 15-20 minutes each way last weekend.

Two pickup trucks behind orange cones block a roadway, where a person in neon yellow workwear holds up a stop sign.
A flagman controls traffic near a damaged portion of Highway 190 between Lone Pine and Stovepipe Wells on Nov. 5, 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

Park roads are now open to the major sights in the park, including Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, Artist’s Drive, Golden Canyon and Desolation Canyon. Temps top out around 80 degrees in November, compared with the 120-degree highs of the summer months.

An overhead view of craggy, arid desert mountains.
The Artists Drive scenic road is open in Death Valley as of Nov. 5, 2023. | Source: Maryann Jones Thompson for The Standard

The entire Oasis at Death Valley lodging area (formerly known as Furnace Creek Ranch) is also fully open. And after a $200-million renovation, the two properties look an awful lot like an Old West amusement park, replete with a massive, spring-fed, 87-degree pool, golf course and numerous food options. 

Staying overnight in Lone Pine makes the trip shorter and more economical, given that rooms at the Oasis now command high-season rates.

Another upside of staying in Lone Pine? Sunrise on the peaks of the Eastern Sierra and all the other glorious views along Highway 395.

Questions, comments or concerns about this article may be sent to

Couples dance while clad in Victorian era clothing at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.

Great Dickens Christmas Fair Returns to Cow Palace After Boycott

San Francisco Japantown's Osaka Way with the Pease Plaza in the background.

Where To Shop in San Francisco’s Japantown for the Holiday Season

Items made by local San Franciscan makers are displayed at Fleetwood clothing store

This Might Be the Coolest Shop in San Francisco’s Coolest Neighborhood

Colorful lanterns hang in a narrow San Francisco alleyway that has a red terrace and a red sign.

San Francisco Chinatown Holiday Season Shopping Guide: 2023 Edition

The tasting room at Ram's Gate winery is decked out for the holidays.

Make a Happy Holiday Trip Up to Sonoma County