Kayaking at Death Valley National Park

When you think of Death Valley National Park, it is unlikely that kayaking comes to mind. But that is exactly what we were able to do in February 2024. A series of unusual weather events contributed to the formation of a huge inland lake in Badwater Basin. As deep as 2 feet in places, Manly Lake was 6 miles long and 3 miles wide. We were able to kayak 2.25 miles across the lake before our kayaks started to bottom out. It was incredible.

Saltier than the ocean, the water was very buoyant. But it had to be the strangest kayaking ever. Drops from the paddles left salt crystals on your legs and arms. In places, you could even see the crystals floating on the top of the water. 

Water in Death Valley

Water occasionally pools in Death Valley, in particular after rare “flooding events”. But at 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin, there really is nowhere for the water to go. It simply sits on the surface until it evaporates. Usually this happens quite quickly and rarely is there enough water to think about paddling.

Death Valley averages 1.9 inches of rain per year, usually protected by the “rain shadow” as storms move from west to east.

Hurricane Hilary

Hurricane Hilary came from the south and hit Death Valley square on.

On August 20, 2023, they received over 2 inches of rain. But that was just how many inches were recorded at Furnace Creek. Other locations received far more rain. In fact, Telescope Peak, the highest point within the park got over 13 inches of rain in one day. All that rain flowed into the basin and collected at the lowest spots. 

In fact, it would have been possible to kayak on Lake Manly in August 2023, had anyone been able to access the park. In anticipation of the hurricane, the National Park Service evacuated all but a few essential workers. Good thing, because 227.6 miles of roads were totally destroyed by the flooding.

Fortunately, they were able to clear the way so that staff could return in a few days, but the National Park remained closed until October. It took that long to repair the major roads.

Atmospheric River

Fast forward to February 2024. The remnants of storms made their way through Death Valley and dropped another 1 1/2 inches in one day, and more in the higher elevations. This water once again flooded Lake Manly, offering a brief opportunity for paddlers to get out on the lake. 

The salt flats were flooded, with the boardwalk out to them ending in the water!

Death Valley is truly an amazing place. You may not be able to kayak, but if you are interested in visiting the park, be sure to check out our other blogs to learn more about the park.

Are you trying to visit all the National Parks, or National Park Units?

If your goal is to visit them, one or all, we’d love to help you strategize. Give us a call at (480) 609-3978 or drop us a note here. We always enjoy talking with people who share our passion for visiting these gems of the National Park Service.