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Death Valley National Park now offering a rare opportunity – kayaking


By Forrest Brown, CNN

(CNN) — Because of excessive rainfall in California, a temporary lake is giving folks a rare chance to do some actual kayaking of all things in the driest place in the United States, the National Park Service said in a recent news release.

The aquatic adventure is taking place at Badwater Basin, which lies at the bottom of Death Valley National Park. It is the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level.

Badwater Basin is normally a dry salt flat, the NPS said.

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

Death Valley National Park averages about 2 inches of rain per year, the NPS said in the release. But the valley floor has gotten 4.9 inches in the past six months. The surrounding mountains have seen even more rain.

‘It’s a great time to come’

Most of the rain came in just two events: 2.2 inches during the remnants of Hurricane Hilary on August 20, 2023, and 1.5 inches during an atmospheric river February 4-7, the release said.

“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!”

Some secondary and backcountry roads are closed, so be sure to check for the latest weather information before setting out. But adventurers can currently reach Badwater Basin via paved road.

Welcome to Lake Manly

Informally known as Lake Manly, the fleeting pool is about 6 miles long, 3 miles wide and just 1 foot deep. It might be deep enough to kayak only for a couple weeks, the NPS said.

“However, park rangers believe the shallow lake will still create beautiful reflections through April,” the release said.

Park rangers ask that would-be visitors follow park rules and minimize their impact on the fragile desert environment.

“Parking lots may be full. If parking on a road shoulder, drivers should be cautious of soft shoulders and ensure they are fully out of the driving lane. Footprints in the lakeshore can last for years. People should walk on established pathways,” the release said.

All hotels and most campgrounds in the park are open, the NPS reports.

You’ll need to provide your own kayak. “Death Valley does not have any kayaks available for rent. If folks are planning on paddling in the park, they will need to bring their own gear. We also recommend bringing some water to wash the salt of your gear or person,” the park told CNN Travel on Monday.

If you’re hoping for a bonanza wildflower bloom from all that rain, you might may be disappointed.

There are scatterings of wildflowers in Panamint Valley and Ubehebe Crater, the NPS reports, but no major blooms have been sighted yet. Typical wildflower season is late February through mid-April, the NPS says.

And if the wonders of the Earth aren’t enough to lure you there, the park plans to hold its annual Death Valley Dark Sky Festival from March 1 to March 3 for some epic star-gazing.

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