Trail Guide For Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park.

Darwin Falls is a series of waterfalls located near the western end of Death Valley National Park. Darwin Falls has four waterfalls, although only one is easily accessible; while the last three require some moderate climbing. This is a great hiking trail for both experienced and casual hikers.

Darwin springs is the only water source for various nearby settlements including the town of Darwin and Panamint Spring Resort. Water for both settlements are piped in and then treated for use. The pipeline following the service road at the trail head provides water to Panamint Springs Resort.

Darwin Falls. 1st waterfall. Waterfall drop is approx 20 feet.
Darwin Falls. 1st waterfall. Waterfall drop is approx 20 feet. | Source

Directions

The service road leading to Darwin Falls is located just ½ mile past Panamint Springs Resort heading west on Hwy 190. Just past Panamint Springs Resort is a series of curves before the road straightens up for approx ¼ of a mile. After the straight away the road begins to climb a steep hill, if you're on that hill you've gone too far. On the west side of Hwy 190, on the ¼ mile straight away is a dirt road. This is the access road leading to Darwin Falls.


The service road is unpaved but is well maintained to allow passage by low clearance cars. Drive down this road for approx 2.5 miles and you'll see a small dirt parking lot on the right side of the road. This is the Darwin Falls trail head. The road continues up the canyon and allows you to see parts of the upper falls but REQUIRE'S a 4WD capable car.

show route and directions
A markerPanamint Springs Resort -
Panamint Springs, CA, USA
[get directions]

Good landmark to start from.

B markerDarwin Falls -
Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California, USA
[get directions]

Long straight away west of Panamint Springs Resort. To the left you can see the dirt road leading to Darwin Falls. Many people miss the dirt road leading to the falls.
Long straight away west of Panamint Springs Resort. To the left you can see the dirt road leading to Darwin Falls. Many people miss the dirt road leading to the falls. | Source
A closer look at the dirt road from Hwy 190. You can barely makeout the Darwin Falls signage.
A closer look at the dirt road from Hwy 190. You can barely makeout the Darwin Falls signage. | Source

The Hike

For the first section of the hike you'll have access to a service road that follows a pipeline to the water source. As mentioned earlier in the article Darwin spring supplies water to various nearby settlements. But about halfway through the hike the service road ends, and you'll need to find your own path up the canyon. Several footpaths wind their way up the canyon, stepping over a small stream that runs through the canyon. Vegetation becomes more abundant with the appearance of water, and soon you'll forget that you're in Death Valley National Park.

The hike to the first falls will take a casual walker anywhere from 30-45 minutes. For a good portion of the hike you'll have shade from vegetation as well as the canyon walls. Even though there is no official trails after the service road the path to the first falls is a very easy hike.

If you're planning on hiking this trail I highly recommend doing it after being a few days in Death Valley. This way you'll be able to fully appreciate what a miracle this desert oasis is.

Near the end of the service road leading to Darwin Falls. This pipeline supplies water to nearby Panamint Springs Resort
Near the end of the service road leading to Darwin Falls. This pipeline supplies water to nearby Panamint Springs Resort | Source

Second falls and beyond

After the first falls if you want to experience the remaining three waterfalls you're going to have to do some climbing. It's recommended that only experience hikers/climbers attempt to reach the other falls. People have died while attempting to climb past the 1st waterfall, so hike at your own risk. There are two paths to get to the second falls both require climbing.

Hiking group taking the first path directly to the left on the first waterfall.
Hiking group taking the first path directly to the left on the first waterfall. | Source

First Path

If you'll notice in the pictures of the 1st falls the rocks directly to the left of the falls while steep offer some handholds. It's possible to free climb past that section and get to the remaining falls. I'm going to be honest here, this path is a bit scary. But it's also the most direct path to the remaining falls. Unless you have climbing experience it's not recommended.

Above the 1st falls looking down. The first path past the falls being on the right of the picture. As noted, climbing experience is required.
Above the 1st falls looking down. The first path past the falls being on the right of the picture. As noted, climbing experience is required. | Source
One of the many foot paths that are on the right side of the canyon leading  past the 1st falls.
One of the many foot paths that are on the right side of the canyon leading past the 1st falls. | Source

Second Path

On the left side of the canyon before reaching the 1st falls several foot paths can be seen climbing up the canyon wall to a secondary ledge. This will take you past the first falls. This path will also require you to do some climbing although it's much easier then the first path, it's also a less direct route.

One of the hikers taking a break on a ledge . Hiking can be strenuousness. Make sure to bring plenty of water and a salty snack  as well a frequent breaks while hiking.
One of the hikers taking a break on a ledge . Hiking can be strenuousness. Make sure to bring plenty of water and a salty snack as well a frequent breaks while hiking. | Source
Picture of the canyon wall. Top right part of the picture is the ledge from the picture above. Don't fall ;-)
Picture of the canyon wall. Top right part of the picture is the ledge from the picture above. Don't fall ;-) | Source

2nd, 3rd and 4th Falls

Once you get past the first falls a small pool of water can be seen filled by the three waterfalls. As seen in the picture. The ground is sandy and it's a great flat area to take a break

Picture of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Falls.  You're almost there!
Picture of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Falls. You're almost there! | Source

3rd and 4th Falls

To reach the 3rd and 4th falls you have to do a bit more climbing still, but you're over the hard part already. To the right of the sandy beach is a rock slide. Halfway up the slide you'll notice a pathway to the left which will grant you access to the 3rd and 4th falls

The slide to the right of the 2nd falls, below is the 2nd falls pool.
The slide to the right of the 2nd falls, below is the 2nd falls pool. | Source
Standing below 4th falls looking down the Canyon. Large boulders provide a perfect area to stand below the falls and take a break.
Standing below 4th falls looking down the Canyon. Large boulders provide a perfect area to stand below the falls and take a break. | Source
The 4th Darwin Falls, well worth the hike. Can you spot Waldo?
The 4th Darwin Falls, well worth the hike. Can you spot Waldo? | Source

Special Note

The closest campground to Darwin Falls is Panamint Springs Resort. They have 15 room basic lodging, tent cabins, dirt camp sites and RV hookups; as well as on site showers and bathrooms. The closest food and gas is also Panamint Springs Resort. And if you're a beer fan the Panamint Springs Restaurant has one of the most impressive beer assortments I've ever seen. They have anywhere between 150 to 200 different types of beers for sale at any given time. A great place to stop after a hike.

Me. Standing below the 4th falls to put into perspective the height of the falls. I'm 6'5. The last falls is approx 80 foot fall.
Me. Standing below the 4th falls to put into perspective the height of the falls. I'm 6'5. The last falls is approx 80 foot fall. | Source

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