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Birding Around Salt Creek
Birding Around Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park
Birding Around Salt Creek
Death Valley National Park, Salt Creek
Beginning of the Salt Creek boardwalk (view northwest).


With few exceptions, the overwhelming impression one gets of the floor of Death Valley is that it is an extremely hot and dry land that is unencumbered by the burden of dirt and vegetation. To most birds, the entire area probably looks barren. Salt Creek, a stream and saltmarsh meadow that stands in stark contrast to the surrounding desert, is one of those exceptions.

Water from springs at the head of Salt Creek supports a lush saltmarsh meadow with pickleweed, saltgrass, pools, and running water, but no trees. The vegetation provides food and cover for a variety of birds and other animals. The birding can be quite good during migration because birds from miles around are concentrated around the water.

Death Valley National Park, Salt Creek
Middle of the boardwalk. This picture was taken during late summer when the creek was dry, but during spring, this is a good place to see Salt Creek Pupfish (view northwest).

There is a 0.8-mile wooden boardwalk along the lower reaches of Salt Creek. This nice, little loop-trail runs through stands of pickleweed and saltgrass and provides viewing opportunities of the marsh, creek, pools, and the surrounding badlands.


Salt Creek is located in the central portion of Death Valley National Park, about 12 miles north of Furnace Creek.

From Las Vegas, drive northwest for about 2.5 hours to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 712) in Death Valley National Park. From the Visitor Center, drive north on Highway 190 for about 11 miles to the Salt Creek Road (Site 768). Watch for signs directing you onto a dirt road that runs down into the bottom of the valley. Turn left onto Salt Creek Road, which can be a bit washboarded, and drive west for about 1 mile to the end of the road (Site 713), which is where the boardwalk begins.

Death Valley National Park, Salt Creek
Near the upper end of the Salt Creek boardwalk (view northwest).


The park is always open, but Salt Creek is a day-use area.


After getting into the park, there are no additional fees.

salt creek


Salt Creek is good for finding migrants and desert species, but the species mix depends on the season, and during migration it depends on just who is moving through at the time. Review the park bird list for some ideas on what to expect during the time of year when you will be visiting. I never know what to expect there, except that there are always some little, striped sparrows that pop out of the pickleweed, flutter a short distance, and drop back the vegetation, all before you have a chance to focus your eyes on them, let alone your binoculars.

salt creek The salty water provides habitat for the endemic Salt Creek Pupfish, a species found nowhere else. Springtime is best for seeing the pupfish because the lower stream is dry during summer and the pupfish are dormant during winter. Also watch for the burrows and footprints of Desert Kangaroo Rats in the soft sand. These nocturnal rodents dig burrows (about 3 inches in diameter) in the soft sand. On hot days, Salt Creek is also a good place to find Zebra-tail Lizards; watch for them on the boardwalk -- if you see one, you will not forget their name.

Table 1. GPS Coordinates for Highway Locations (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
712 Death Valley Visitor Center 36.4616 116.8657 512030 4034954 -186 Yes
713 Salt Creek Nature Trail, trailhead 36.5908 116.9895 500935 4049280 -210 Yes
768 Highway 190 at Salt Creek Road 36.6048 116.9798 501811 4050836 -188 Yes

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
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