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Kayaking Death Valley National Park

I spent a few days kayaking Death Valley National Park and lived to tell the tale. Whether you want to kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, this is a proper guide full of tips gleaned from kayaking alongside folks who live in the park and first-hand experience.

Kayaking death valley national park

Kayaking on Lake Manly, nestled within the striking landscapes of Death Valley National Park, offers an unparalleled adventure. A rare spectacle that emerged in the Badwater Basin at the end of 2023, following significant rainfall, transformed the lowest point in North America into a several mile long body of water, perfect for kayaking.

Gliding over its shallow waters, paddlers find themselves surrounded by the vast salt flats and towering mountains of Death Valley. The contrast between the desert’s rugged terrain and the tranquil waters of Lake Manly creates a backdrop that is nothing short of spectacular.

Kayaking death valley national park mk holding kayak
Michael Kahn raises his kayak into the air in excitement to kayak Death Valley National Park.

First Things First

Before you even begin planning further for aynything regarding kayaking Death Valley, check the current conditions.

https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/conditions.htm

Updated 3/4/2024 10:00 am

Temporary Lake closed to boating

“Lake Manly” is a temporary lake that forms very rarely in Badwater Basin. It formed after remnants of Hurricane Hilary on August 20, 2023, but was only a shallow relfecting pool. An atmopsheric river February 4-7, 2024 added additional water, raising the level back to a foot (0.3m) deep in some places. Then intense winds from February 29 through March 2 blew the lake to the north, spreading it out, resulting in shallower water. The lake is now too shallow and too far from the road to transport and launch watercraft without damaging the landscape. Therefore, it is now closed to boating.

No Pets Allowed at the Lake

Pets are prohibited on trails and in wilderness areas. This includes being carried/pushed in backpacks, strollers, purses, etc. Please check out the NPS website for places to go with your pet.

Kayak Launch Points

Lake Manly offers a few different launch points to kayak from. The one showing up in so many social media spots is the parking lot. If you are a little more adventurous, and willing to drive an extra five to ten minutes, you can quickly identify some easier and less crowded spots to setup at.

Badwater Basin Parking Lot

Kayaking death valley national park badwater basin parking lot

The most popular launch point is at the official parking lot and boardwalk. This has paved access, but you will end up pulling or carrying your kayak quite a ways, trudging through sludge and mud and salt to get to a spot deep enough to actually float and paddle. There is a bathroom here, which is probably the best part of this spot.

As you can see in the photo, it is quite a walk to carry your gear from your vehicle to the water.

Google Maps

Alternate Launch Point #1

Kayaking death valley national park launch point 1

Drive a bit further around a few bends and you will find a launch point with near immediate access to deeper water. Pull out on the shoulder, safely, and its about a 25-foot walk to the waterline. This whole straight line of road is great to park on and launch your kayak from.

Kayaking death valley national park launch point mk

This photo was taken from the car window – you can see how close to the lake I am.

Google Maps

Alternate Launch Point #2

Kayaking death valley national park launch point parked cars

Right before Launch Point #1, this spot is great too, with a little more distance and steeper walk down to the water. A lot of people stop at this point before venturing further.

Google Maps

Kayaking Around Lake Manly

Lake Manly is about 6 miles long, between 1 and 3 miles wide, and up to several feet deep. Expect your paddle to never be fully submerged while paddling. Try not to scrape the bottom and keep it intact for when the lake dries.

Make sure if you are using an inflatable kayak, it is properly inflated to offer better buoyancy. I noticed with some friends in their inflatable, that as it was slowly losing air, they started dragging butts on the ground, which made paddling a little more frustrating. When they started and the kayak was completely full to the ideal PSI, they glided easily in the water.

Different parts of the lake will showcase different landscapes. Some areas will have more of a muddy texture. Some have flat salt crusts. Other parts have strangely shaped salt formations. Paddle around and explore, taking it in.

If you sit still on the lake, salt crystals will form both on your kayak and paddle, which is a cool site to behold.

Kayaking death valley national park salt crystals on lake
Salt crystals begin to form

If you want to learn a whole bunch more about Lake Manly as a whole, check out my other blog post here: Lake Manly in Badwater Basin.

Weather Conditions

You’ll want to check the weather for the day in advance, but not too far in advance. In the mountains, the weather for Death Valley can change rapidly. There is no cell reception once you get to the lake. Keep in mind the lake is in a valley, so if wind or gusts are reported, expect the wind to intensify down at the lake.

If the wind is more than 15mph, you’re going to get a ton of salt and mud sprayed all over your gear and face. You will probably eat it. This has been unfortunately verified through personal experience.

The best way to check weather is just by using the Current Location on your phone’s app. There are a ton of microclimates and it changes quickly. However, without cellular reception, it will be difficult for you to check once you’re in Badwater Basin. I would look up multiple locations of the Death Valley in advance and try to average it out. There were still points in time where it changed so much my research was completely off.

NPS Conditions: https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/conditions.htm

National Weather Service: https://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?zoneid=CAZ522

Gear to Bring

Make no mistake, kayaking Death Valley National Park is fun, exhilarating, and also contains an element of danger. There is no reception and medical help is a long ways away. Potentially hours. You’ll need to be prepared, but also balance with the right amount of gear to have an incredible experience.

Kayaking Gear Essentials

OutdoorMaster Shark SUP Pump – Electric pump up to 20 PSI.

TEAR-AID Vinyl Repair Kit Type B – Patches to handle the sharp salt crystals and rocks. Can be applied wet.

Reef Safe Sunscreen – Even if the weather seems cooler, you’ll want to put on some sunscreen out in Death Valley. Using a reef safe option will help keep the water intact so everyone can continue to enjoy it while the lake exists.

Quality of Life Gear

Black Diamond Rocklock Carabiner – One handed operable, can hold up in watery environments. Great for attaching different things.

D-Ring Patches – Stainless steel rings with paddle clips to hold and configure equipment.

Hornet Seat Cushion – Waterproof anti slip cushion for sitting.

Paddle Drip Rings – Extra drip rings to reduce chances of salt water dripping on photo gear in multiple spots.

Extra towels – I ended up needing towels on the car seats, and to wipe down gear. I used a combination of both large bath towels and hand towels.

Change of socks and pants and shirt and underwear – the water, mud, and salt gets through everything.

Galoshes/PVC/Rubber boots to go over your shoes – If you don’t want to be covered in salt and mud, this is the way to go.

Baby wipes to clean lake mud and salt off your face and body.

Sanitizer with moisturizer for after the wipes. The salt dries out your skin so fast and cracks it, this helps a little. You’ll still want to use your own favorite hand cream or lotion when you’re completely done for the day.

At least several gallons of water to wash off your gear from the lake.

Vibe Gear

Kayaking death valley national park night lights vibe
Getting ready for night kayaking Death Valley National Park on Lake Manly in Badwater Basin.

Water Resistant Hybrid Lantern – Lantern that can be charged by both USB or solar. Helps you both see and be seen when kayaking at night.

Glow in the Dark Neon Gaffer Tape – Glow in the dark / UV gaffer tape to help secure items.

LED Rope Lights with Battery – For creating just the right vibe. String them over or under your kayak.

Kayaking the lake at night, mountains reflecting on the water

Paddleboarding and Canoeing on the Lake

Kayaking death valley national park paddleboarding lake manly
A paddleboarder cleans all of the salt from a leisurely float in the lake.

Kayaking is the preferred mode of lake activity for the simple reason of that the lake is very shallow, being only a few feet deep at the deepest points.

Canoes can sit a little lower in the water, which will cause you to scrape more and get stuck. If you happen to be in possession of a canoe that sits higher on the water, this can be a great choice too.

Kayaking death valley national park paddleboarding badwater basin
A group paddleboarding around the lake

Paddleboards are the ideal watercraft if you want to bring some food and drink, lay out in the sun, and just lounge. When standing, it is very hard to paddle without scraping the bottom, which you should be trying to avoid as much as possible. Sitting is a little easier, but you can’t quite dip your paddle in the water for leverage like you would in deeper waters. Check out my other blog post on Paddleboard Accessories to fully deck out for any lake.

Kayaking death valley national park

And even if you want to experience the lake without any paddling, simply enjoying the views is an incredible experience all in itself.

Random Tips for a Better Time

Parking is limited at the Badwater Basin parking lot, if you do plan on meeting up with other parties there.

It is at least a 20 minute drive from the lake to a store or ranger station. The back and forth can take a lot of time out of your day if you need something. Taking the time to be prepared with food and water or other beverages makes a big difference.

Stovepipe Wells has the cheapest gas. Stop there on your way in and top off.

Stop at the Father Crowley Overlook and bust out your binoculars and camera with zoom lens. This is a superb spot to watch military jets do their flyovers.

Maps: Father Crowley Overlook

WiFi and Cellular Reception

You won’t have cell reception anywhere around the lake or on it. Plan all of your communication in advance. If you are with a group or multiple cars, setup meeting points and a backup plans.

WiFi is available at the Stovepipe Wells restaurant and general store. It is free and very slow, best used for text and quick check ins.

WiFi is available near Furnace Creek at both the Ranch and Inn. However you must pay for it. Speeds are around 25mbps. You can go to the Inn and pay for WiFi, then lounge by the pool and order cocktails and food. Its a great way to work, and is not cheap.

Food and Drink

The Stovepipe Wells Badwater Saloon has probably some of the best food in Death Valley. The price point is great. Cocktail and beer selection is excellent. When you go there, tell them I said hello. This ensures I get a proper high five upon my next visit.

Maps: Badwater Saloon

Panamint Springs has a restaurant with a great burger and beers, which is right before Stovepipe Wells.

Maps: Panamint Springs Restaurant

General Stores in both Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek offer plenty of food and beverage. The Furnace Creek store has a bigger selection. I ended up getting multiple microwavable frozen meals for breakfast in Furnace Creek.

Maps: Furnace Creek General Store

Maps: Stovepipe Wells General Store

Where to Stay

Your best lodging option in terms of proximity to Badwater Basin and Lake Manly along with price and value is going to be the Ranch at Death Valley. The biggest General Store is here and the property is beautiful. Rooms are around $250 per night.

The Inn at Death Valley is where I have stayed, which is essentially across the street and a 2 minute drive from the Ranch. Its a great option if you want the nicest pool in Death Valley, plenty of greenery, and a spa program. Expect to pay $500+ to several thousand per night. They also have casitas which other guests told me are well worth it.

Stovepipe Wells Village is a lodging option, although its about an hour drive to the Badwater Basin parking lot. If you plan on eating a ton of food and drinking, then just walking to your room, I would opt for this place and the extra drive for outdoor activities.

Longstreet Inn & Casino is about an hour drive and right on the Nevada border, about $100-$200/night.

Pahrump is about a 90 minute drive each way with several hotels and dining options. Expect to pay between $100-$400/night.

Tecopa is another option, with a few lodgings with hot springs. There is a great tiny food scene here. About 90 minutes away for around $100-$200/night.

Booking – review all lodging options.

Trip Cost

This was the once of a lifetime trip, and for fun, I decided to make public the cost of this trip as a last minute adventure. This includes some buying a new kayak, nice meals, lots of snacks, and staying at the most expensive hotel in the park.

Inflatible kayak: $831

Kayak accessories: $305

Lodging for 3 nights: $1420

Gas: $202

Food: $303

Total cost of kayaking Death Valley over four days: $3061

History of the Area

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Lake Manly and Badwater Basin, read my two accompanying articles here:

Visiting Lake Manly in Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park

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