Kayaking in the middle of Death Valley National Park in California is likely not on your paddling bucket list. Forgivable, considering most days there is nowhere to launch a boat in the driest place in North America. But right now, in early 2024, it’s one of the hottest paddling destinations in the U.S.

Why Death Valley Is A Kayak Hotspot Right Now

Southern California has seen multiple major precipitation events in the past six months. There was Hurricane Hilary back in August. And just recently, a four-day atmospheric river. These events and others have brought Death Valley nearly five inches of rainfall in the past six months. However, it’s a place which typically sees little more than two inches of rain over the entire year.

All the excess water has found its way down, 282 feet below sea level, to fill an ancient lake bed within the Badwater Basin.

The ancient lake is known as Lake Manly. During the Ice Age, it was hundreds of feet deep, but it dried up about 1,000 years ago. Today, its major tributary is technically the Amargosa River, which originates in Nevada. The Amargosa though usually evaporates and is absorbed into aquifers before any substantial amount of water can reach the lake basin.

“You might think with no drain to the sea, that Death Valley would always have a lake,” park ranger Abby Wines shared in a statement. “But this is an extremely rare event. Normally, the amount of water flowing in is much less than the evaporation rate.”

The recent rainfall in the region has changed the situation. According to the park, as of mid-February, the temporary lake is about six miles long, three miles wide, and one foot deep.

Kayak on Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California.
Kayaking at Badwater Basin on February 9, 2024. Featured Image: NPS/Michael Kohler

Catch Lake Manly While You Can

“The lake was deep enough to kayak for a few weeks after Hurricane Hilary, but unfortunately people couldn’t come enjoy it then,” said Wines. “Every road in the park was damaged by flash floods, and it took two months to open the first road into the park. Now most of the main roads are open, so it’s a great time to come visit.”

The park believes the lake may only be deep enough to kayak for a few weeks. Paddlers have already started to flock to the basin. If kayaking an intermittent ancient lake in Death Valley was on your to-do list, you’d be best to get to it.


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