National Park Service closes Lake Manly to further boating

Visitors to Death Valley National Park wade in the temporary waters of Lake Manly.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park on Feb. 26 wade in the temporary waters of Lake Manly.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Sorry, bucket-listers. The National Park Service has officially closed Lake Manly to further boating adventures by visitors to Death Valley National Park.

For one glorious month, people could bring their canoes and kayaks to paddle in the shallow waters that had collected in the saltwater flats of Badwater Basin, a sight not seen since the lake last appeared in 2005. But last week, powerful, 40-mph winds pushed the lake two miles north, spreading its surface area but reducing its depth.

Sarah Woodall, an outdoors vlogger who lives just on the east side of Death Valley in Tecopa, managed to experience the intermittent lake just in time. She joined her neighbor over Presidents Day weekend to paddle in a canoe on the lake. “The day that I went, it was the worst time,” Woodall said, explaining that the wind was already starting to pick up. “The water was choppy, but I felt like ‘Oh my God, I may never have another chance to do this again.’”


Although visitors are still able to walk the mudflats, park ranger Nichole Andler said, the park service closed the lake to water recreation to protect the natural features of the basin. As the water has become shallower, visitors might disturb untouched parts of the basin just to find deeper waters.

A temporary lake in Death Valley National Park doubled after recent rains and is now deep enough to launch a kayak. Prior to August, the lake hadn’t appeared in 19 years.

Feb. 21, 2024

Andler explained that would-be kayakers would have to wade pretty far into the lake to reach a point deep enough for their vessel to float, “and then you probably don’t float very well and will end up hitting the bottom with your paddles.” The potholes and footprints created in the process “tend to stay for a long time,” she said, given that years may elapse before Lake Manly returns to the desert.

It isn’t common to see natural water features in one of the driest, hottest and lowest points in North America. But storms over the last seven months brought waters that could be seen from space. The since-downgraded storm Hilary left water pooling on the surface of Death Valley’s Badwater Basin last year, and then the atmospheric rivers that drenched Southern California this year dropped enough water in the basin to float boats.

It’s hard to say if the water attracted larger crowds; the park service didn’t collect survey data about the lake. But Woodall says she saw neighbors and tourists flocking to the site. “I’ve seen cars with kayaks strapped to the roof and, well, I guess they’re headed to Lake Manly — there’s literally nowhere else,” said Woodall.

Another Californian vlogger, Jon Tuico, was drawn by the social media pictures of the horizon reflected in the lake’s serene surface. Tuico has visited Death Valley at least three times before, but he said the view of Lake Manly was truly unique as he used a 16-foot-tall tripod to capture a portion of the immense landscape on his iPhone.

Burney Falls, a secluded but Instagram-famous waterfall in Northern California, will be closed during the busy summer season.

Feb. 16, 2024

“I was amazed because this lake is very salty. And I know how this lake looks when it’s not filled up,” Tuico said. He drove 10 hours from his home in Cerritos to Death Valley and back, but he said the trip was worth the sight.


“It almost looks like there’s an explosion of salt crystals coming out of the cracks in the dry lake [bed]. Knowing how amazing that looks, and then seeing [Lake Manly] as a mirror, that made it special for me,” Tuico said.

Badwater Basin is best known for the unique geometric forms that emerge from crusts of salts and other minerals left behind after water evaporates. “We want them to come back and be the classic beautiful white salt flats that they should be,” Andler said of her appreciation for the salt polygons.

Now is the time to visit Death Valley, Tuico said, before the desert returns to its dry and arid state. Once April rolls around, the heat in the desert will become unbearable until fall arrives. At the dwindling Lake Manly, one can still witness the echoes of the Ice Age when water spanned all of today’s Badwater Basin.