Darwin Falls (Death Valley)

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 27, 2011
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
When my brother Chris and I visited Death Valley National Park for the first time, in April 1996, I bought a small book of photography of the park, and in it was a picture of "Darwin Falls, Argus Range." To say the least, I was amazed to see a waterfall set in a desert landscape, and the nation's hottest and driest at that.

As we explored more of the park the following year, renting a Pathfinder so we could get into remote sections of the park and behold its wonders, we made time to stop at Darwin Falls. There was nothing there but dry mountain walls. What I did not know at the time was that there is a short trail leading from the parking area signed for Darwin Falls to the falls themselves; I had mistakenly thought the falls were there at the roadside and had already dried up for the year. And for 14 years, I carried the disappointment and hoped I might once get back there in a wetter season or at least right after a heavy rain so that I could see the falls flowing.

What I learned while wasting time on the Internet at my parents' Las Vegas home last spring in between trips to Zion and Death Valley was that there is indeed a trail, that the springs provide the entire water supply for the tiny resort outpost of Panamint Springs Resort, and that the water, and the falls, flow year-round. Feeling a little stupid, I planned a trip for me and my wife to see the falls after our short climb of Lake Hill.

Darwin FallsUpper cascade
Darwin FallsLower Cascade

This trip report is to showcase the riparian ribbon that is Darwin Falls and Creek and to provide some simple route details. The location is hardly a secret, so I'm not risking the despoiling of some hidden desert gem by doing this. There are several cascades but three principal ones; the lower and middle falls are about 25' high, and the upper fall about 50'. The upper fall is especially spectacular because it is in a narrow, rock-bound setting and spills into a dark, deep-looking pool. Darwin Falls and other features with that name in the area is named not for the famous naturalist but for Dr. Darwin French, who was a local rancher, miner, and explorer.

Darwin FallsMiddle cascades...
Darwin Falls
Darwin Falls

Location: To get there, look for a dirt road on the south side of CA 190 about a mile west of Panamint Springs. Then drive that road until you reach the signed parking area for Darwin Falls. The road is passable to most cars but is quite rocky, so high clearance is best.

Route: Hike the easy trail up the canyon for a mile to the lower falls. Near the end, where the canyon narrows, the trail gets a little rougher, but no scrambling should be necessary. To view the other falls and a grotto, find a steep use trail to ascend the side of the canyon or scramble up (Class 3/4, respectable exposure depending on the exact course). You climb around 100 vertical feet in maybe a quarter-mile to reach a ledge with excellent views of the upper falls and the grotto.

I found what seems to be a different route to the upper falls here. The description makes it sound as though one stays lower.

Collared Lizard
Beavertail Cactus


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Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Dec 30, 2011 6:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Thanks!

Thanks-- I'm glad you liked it and hope it might be useful for you someday. I can't remember for sure, but I think they didn't want people swimming there since it was the local water supply, but try telling that to someone when it's 100 degrees!

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