The Lowest Points on Earth and What to Do There

Many of us dream of hiking the highest peaks – Mount Everest, K2, Matterhorn, Mount Whitney. But have we ever stopped to think about the lowest elevation points on the planet?

Photo by Jorge Tung
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Many of us dream of hiking the highest peaks—Mount Everest, K2, Matterhorn, Mount Whitney—to high elevation levels. But have we ever stopped to think about the lowest elevation points on the planet? From Death Valley in North America to Lake Eyre in Australia, our planet is covered with interesting spots at low elevation. Here are some great locations with strenuous hikes and captivating attractions to shake up your trip plans.

Dead Sea, Israel

Sitting at 1,410 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea in the southern desert of Israel is an other-worldly experience. Just beyond the sea lies Jordan, and surrounding areas include amazing hiking spots such as the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve that features small falls, botanical gardens, and more. Of course, while you are close by, make sure to wake up early and hike Masada National Park. Once you are done hiking, head to the Dead Sea and soak those muscles! There are resorts all around that you can stop at, but it isn’t necessary.

Here are some tips to enjoy the Dead Sea: Rub mud all over your body so the salt of the Dead Sea won’t dehydrate your skin. Make sure you are aware of any cuts on your skin and keep in mind that the salt will create a burning sensation within the cut, that will hopefully pass. Do not get salt into your eyes and don’t even think about peeing in the sea! If you do get salt anywhere, make your way out and rinse off at one of the many outdoor showers. Remember that you can’t swim, so sit, float, and enjoy.

A white salt island with a tree in the Dead Sea
Photo by Konstantin Tretyak

Death Valley, USA

Death Valley sits 282 feet below sea level on the border of California and Nevada. It is dangerously hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, so it’s best to visit in spring and fall. Death Valley has myriad attractions from salt flats to sand dunes and some rock canyons to hike through. Hike Golden Canyon to Zabriskie Point to get some epic views of the park. Drive through the Artist’s Palette at sunset to see the beautiful colors of the rocky terrain.

Lake Assal, Djibouti

Sitting at 492 feet below sea level is Lake Assal—a lake surrounded by black lava and inactive volcanoes. It also is the lowest place in Africa. Make sure to camp overnight to experience both sunrise and sunset and watch as the sun highlights the surrounding mountains. Just like the Dead Sea, swimming may be difficult. It is recommended to sit, float, and enjoy the sun. The shore is salty and can be painful to walk on, so make sure to wear some water shoes. The Teva Hurricane Sandals are a great option for water shoes or walking around town.

Around the lake, there are salt flats you can hike on and trails that will lead you to the peak of the volcano. This environment is harsh so plan your trip carefully, wear sunscreen, and bring extra water.

Caspian Depression, Russia and Kazakhstan

The Caspian Depression, 92 feet below sea level with some sections at 422 feet below, is situated at the southern tip of the Ryn Desert and encompasses the northern part of the Caspian Sea—the largest enclosed body of water on the planet. This natural phenomenon was formed by tectonic plate movement, which caused the Caspian Depression to separate from the ocean in ancient times. A part of the Silk Road ran through this region many years ago. This depression is one of the largest, if not the largest, flat lands in Asia, spanning over 77,220 square miles. Salt, oil, and gas are some of the resources extracted here.

Salton Trough, USA and Mexico

At 236 feet below sea level, the Salton Sink within the Salton Trough is the second-lowest point on the North American continent, just after Death Valley. The Salton Sea fills the lowest part of the Salton Sink and is the lowest lake in North America. If you visit this vast land, keep in mind that the Salton Trough is plagued with earthquake swarms and inactive lava domes. The Salton Trough covers southeastern parts of California, like San Diego, and shoots into the California-Mexico border. Interested in hiking the Pacific Crest Trail? You may get a great view of the Salton Sea.

A flat, dry, cracked landscape under a blue sky
Photo by Eduardo Gutiérrez

San Julian’s Great Depression, Argentina

San Julian’s Great Depression in Argentina sits at 345 feet below sea level. Laguna del Carbon within the Great Depression cannot be entered without permission and is private property. Only a few adventurers have made their way to San Julian’s Great Depression and Laguna del Carbon. This salt lake, similar to the Dead Sea and Lake Assal, is the seventh-lowest point on Earth and has a high salt-to-water ratio. Nearby dinosaur fossils have been found here.

Lake Eyre, Australia

Lake Eyre is 435 miles north of Adelaide and a mere 49 feet below sea level on the Australian continent. This very shallow lake is the lowest point in Australia and can also be the largest lake after a heavy rainfall. When the lake is at its fullest level it has the same salt content as seawater, but becomes hypersaline when the water evaporates during the summer. The lake was originally named after Edward John Eyre, who was the first European to see the lake in 1840, but the name was changed in 2012 to Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre, combining the original name with the aboriginal name, Kati Thanda.

Perhaps the most spectacular characteristic about the lake is that when it is hypersaline and much of the water has evaporated, the lake turns pink! The lake will only fill completely three times every 160 years, so double check the weather before you plan your trip. Camp at the nearby campgrounds and explore the surrounding environment that the Outback has to offer.

Qattara Depression, Egypt

Located in the Northwest region of Egypt is the Qattara Depression. It is covered in salt flats, salt dunes, and salt marshes. Known as the second-lowest point in Africa, second to Lake Assal, the Qattara Depression is twice as big as Lebanon. The land is home to the Bedouin, a nomadic group, and one settlement known as the Qara Oasis. The Qattara Depression is 435 feet below sea level, occupies 7,000 square miles, and was impassable by military groups during World War II.

The Qattara Depression is so low that a 50-mile tunnel to the Mediterranean that is filled with seawater could be used to power all of Egypt. The salt water would continue to fill and evaporate, which would create a large amount of hydroelectric power.

Turfan Depression, China

If you like the sun and the heat, head to the Turfan Depression in Western China. The Turfan Depression, also known as the Turpan Basin, is a fault trough with its lowest point at 502 feet below sea level. The neighboring Tarim River and Lop Nur areas are somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea level (quite a change). The basin is farmed well and is popular for its grapes, Hami melons, apples, peaches, apricots, cotton, silk, nuts, and grains. The higher, northern section of the basin once was a part of the Silk Road. While you’re here, hike the sand dunes and eat some fresh fruit at the top.

Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

At 410 feet below sea level and in the Afar region of Northern Ethiopia is the Danakil Depression. It is also one of the hottest and most inhospitable places on Earth, with temperatures similar to those of Death Valley—so don’t visit in the summer. However, the Danakil Depression has beautiful sights to explore: sulfur springs, volcanoes, geysers, and salt flats. The most interesting are the colorful mineral-deposits lakes that bring color to the desert. The volcanic activity heats the water that carries sulfur and iron to the surface. This creates yellow, green, and orange deposits around the water. Many locals will trek across the salt flats to mine salt in the depression.

A photographer in the background of a vividly orange and green landscape
Photo by Jorge Tung

Karagiye Depression, Kazakhstan

The lowest point in Kazakhstan and the fifth-lowest depression in the world at 433 feet below sea level is the Karagiye Depression. It also happens to be near the Caspian Sea and is known as the Karagiye Mountain Trench. Natural wildlife that live there include mouflon, snakes, hares, corsac, and vultures. The depression is the only spot inside the Mangyshlak Peninsula where mushrooms grow. If you want to hike in the valley, it is recommended to go with a guide. Interestingly, many UFO sightings and other flying things have been spotted from within the valley.

Interested in changing up your trip plans? So many of us focus on looking up, when there is so much below us to see and explore. From colorful lake deposits to salt flats, sand dunes, and unseen wildlife, these spots will show you unseen wonders. Go hike volcanoes in Ethiopia and pick mushrooms in Kazakhstan and float your worries away at the Dead Sea. Have you been to any of these places or want to go? Hit me up through my profile and let’s chat about all things outside!

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Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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