Distance (round-trip)

2 mi

Time

1.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

20 ft

Season

Spring
Winter

Weather

A decidedly non-desert landscape in the middle of one of the hottest, driest deserts in the world – Darwin Falls is one of the only permanent fresh water sources in the park. A spring-fed creek flows through a narrow canyon, allowing grasses, trees, and all forms of life to flourish in a very small pocket of land. This is a hiking experience that is not to be missed.

I have been to my fair share of desert oases, but I can honestly say I’ve never been anywhere quite like Darwin Falls. This is a fairly short and easy hike, but the broad range of terrain and shocking amounts of greenery make this quick hike a must-do if you’re in the western edge of the National Park.

The trailhead begins at a small parking lot 2.6 miles down a rough but passable dirt road. I drove a 2WD Honda Accord down this road with no trouble other than my own innate anxiety. At the small parking area, you’ll see that the road continues, but this section is only passable with high-clearance 4WD vehicles. Besides, that’s not where the hike is, so park here and gear-up!

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Hike past the gate and into the broad wash. At this point, everything looks fairly nondescript – it’s your standard desert wash, and there isn’t really anything special to note … except for an old metal pipe you’ll see hugging one of the canyon walls. This pipe is an aqueduct to nearby Stovepipe Wells Stovepipe Wells, and is the only source of year-round water in the area.

Continue walking on the sandy wash. At 0.3 miles, you’ll note a broad, canyon-wide fence used to prevent vehicles from entering the area. Pass through and continue into the canyon.

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As the canyon begins to narrow, you may notice a few more plants hugging the ground. You are coming close to the magic of this hike – water.

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At 0.6 miles into the canyon, you will cross a small but very full-fledged stream, lined with green. And this is really just the beginning of the experience. In just a few more moments of hiking, you will find yourself in a narrow, lush riparian canyon. Cottonwood trees and willows cover the ground and birdsong fills the much-cooler canyon air.

The trail makes many crossings of the stream here. There are some makeshift wooden bridges and rocks to hop across, but if you’re wearing waterproof boots it should almost always be shallow enough for you to just tromp through it.

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Just when you think this place can’t get any more un-desert-like, you’ll come across it just a mile into the hike: Darwin Falls.

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The first cascade you’ll see is the 25-foot lower falls – and it’s gorgeous. There isn’t a whole lot of room to sit at the base of the falls, but you’ll definitely want to spend some time relaxing here in view of this extremely strange desert sight.

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If you backtrack a bit from the falls, you’ll notice a large, green-tinted granite wall on the south side of the canyon. It is possible to scramble along this wall to get above the first cascade, where you will be treated to a view of a three-tiered 140-foot waterfall above the lower falls.

My hiking companions and I tried to scramble up, but couldn’t find a safe route. The granite here is both well-polished and dusty, and that combined with wet boots from the stream crossings makes for some very slippery footholds. If you do decide to give the scramble a try, please exercise extreme caution and proceed slowly.

However, even if you don’t decide to scramble, you will feel very rewarded having done this hike. Return out the same way you came, and be prepared for a shock once you get out of the greenery and back into the desert. Everyone in my hiking group had to stop to take it all in – there’s not really a transition … one minute you’re in the shade of trees, and the next, out in a desert wasteland.

While short, this really is one of the best, most fascinating hikes I’ve been on in a long time. Definitely make time for this one if you’re in Death Valley.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Historical Interest

Kid-Friendly

Water Features

Waterfall

Trail Map

5 Comments

EarnYourBacon Nov 19, 2015 00:11

When I planned my second US Roadtrip, I was glad to find your website with the detailed description for the Syncline Loop in Canyonland NP. Knowing that I will visit Death Valley, too, I looked here for nice hikes. And what I found was just unbelievable: a waterfall in Death Valley. I just had to get there. And I did. It was stunning. Beautiful, out of this world.
I had to share it at home and I like to share it with you and all of you that love hiking as much as I do. As a German girl, I write my posts mainly for my country, but I decided to translate it into English, too. So feel free to follow me on my adventure into the Darwin Falls, that I would have never found without this Website. Thanks a lot.

http://earnyourbacon.com/darwin-falls-how-to-find-the-only-waterfall-in-death-valley/

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Casey Schreiner Aug 23, 2014 16:08In reply to: Seth Winter

Thanks for the catches, Seth! The post has been updated.

I'd love to go back and climb up past the first falls - the rocks were pretty slippery when we mapped this out and our shoes weren't giving us a whole lot of grip on those rocks. Next time!

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Seth Winter Aug 23, 2014 15:08

Nice guide, I enjoyed the pictures. Just to let you know though the closest camping isn't Immigrant it's Panamint Springs Resort, they have a huge campsite with dirt sites, tent cabins and RV hookups. And it's probably the nicest in the park. Other campgrounds (although Immigrant is nice) is are glorified Wallmart parking lot.

Also the pipeline doesn't go to Stovepipe wells, which is about 32 miles away. It goes to Panamint Springs Resort which is 6 miles away.

The falls behind the first are well worth the hike if you're willing to do a bit of clmbing.

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Casey Schreiner Dec 1, 2013 21:12In reply to: B.G. Berg

ooh, yeah, that looks like a MUCH longer journey. Next time, try the trek from the east - it's very manageable and a great journey!

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B.G. Berg Dec 1, 2013 21:12

According to the DeLorme California map, you can access the falls by driving through Darwin town site on Main street and down the Darwin Wash. Not! I imagine you could get to the falls when you get to the part of the wash where the road disappears, but you would need a guide and I imagine it would be a tough scramble. I really enjoyed the video, and I plan to get to the falls on the correct route on my next try.

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