Death Valley National Park: Darwin Falls

Hike up this narrowing canyon along a trickling creek to Darwin Falls.
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Hike up this narrowing canyon along a trickling creek to Darwin Falls.

This moderate, relatively short hike is near Panamint Springs on the far west side of Death Valley National Park.
Turn off Highway 190 about one mile west of Panamint Springs and drive 2.4 miles on gravel road to the trail head parking lot. The road continues from here to Darwin, roughly 10 miles away, and requires 4 wheel drive.
The first part of the hike follows a a wide wash with canyon walls on either side. Look for typical Death Valley vegetation along the way, such as creosote bushes, desert holly, and mesquite. The canyon gradually narrows, the trail following the spring-fed creek, which flows year-round and is thick with cattails and grasses. Farther into the shelter of the canoyn, the creek supports more lush vegetation, including willows and other trees. This area can, in fact, be overgrown, and requires multiple crossings of the creek, which is clear and not very deep, but cold. Strategically placed rocks and logs help, but you'll need good balance and perhaps an extra pair of socks, as getting your feet wet is a distinct possibility. In some spots, expect to scramble over rock.
The trail ends at a pool below Darwin Falls. There are additional falls above here, but reaching them requires navigating treacherous cliffs. Given the distance from amenities such as medical care, proceed with extreme caution.
Hike Death Valley in spring, winter, or fall; average high temperatures in May are 99 degrees F, and more than 100 degrees June through September. Even in October, highs can reach 92 degrees.The park's extreme weather results from its location behind a series of moisture-trapping mountain ranges to the west. Some years, Death Valley sees no recorded rainfall. The deep valleys trap the heat of the sun, leading to those impressive summer temperatures. The area's geology is as fascinating as its weather and biology, with active fault lines criss-crossing the park. Tilting and rotating of these faults created Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level, and the mountain ranges on either side of it, one of which has a peak of 11,049 feet. Despite the efforts of erosion, which has washed salt, silt and gravel into the low places for millions of years, the basin continues to drop thanks to its active geology.
In addition to camp grounds, Death Valley NP offers hotel type accommodations at Furnace Creek (high-end), Stovepipe Wells Village, and Panamint Springs (budget).

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 3.1

Waypoints

Trail head parking lot

Location: 36.327663, -117.514682

The parking area is 2.4 miles down a gravel road off Hwy 190 one mile west of Panamint Springs.

Rocks

Location: 36.326747, -117.514323

Rocks line the trail, which at this point is following a wide, rocky wash.

Gate

Location: 36.32498, -117.514637

There's a metal rail across the creek bed; this gate provides access.

Turn

Location: 36.321653, -117.516256

The trail takes a gentle right turn here.

First stream crossing

Location: 36.320751, -117.518208

25-JAN-10 12:30:56PM

Narrowing

Location: 36.320383, -117.519592

The canyon narrows here, and the trail follows the small stream

Another creek crossing

Location: 36.320121, -117.521564

25-JAN-10 12:37:21PM

The falls

Location: 36.320589, -117.523767

25-JAN-10 12:50:02PM

Kiosk at the trail head.

Location: 36.327504, -117.514744

Rocks mark the trail.

Location: 36.326639, -117.514325

Gate through barrier.

Location: 36.325481, -117.514669

Vegetation.

Location: 36.32313, -117.515956

Narrowing trail.

Location: 36.321315, -117.5166

Crossing the small stream.

Location: 36.320813, -117.518381

A scenic stretch.

Location: 36.320312, -117.519754

Tiny falls.

Location: 36.320295, -117.521943

Logs across shallow stream.

Location: 36.320433, -117.522243

Darwin Falls.

Location: 36.32058, -117.523997

Headed back.

Location: 36.320113, -117.521283

Some scrambling required.

Location: 36.32058, -117.522678