Death Valley Oasis at Darwin Falls!

Beautiful Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
Beautiful Darwin Falls

A perennial waterfall?  In Death Valley?  You’ve got to be kidding!  But really – blazing hot summer, parched autumn, or during the (slightly less arid) winter/spring, Darwin Falls in the far west of Death Valley National Park is a beautiful waterfall – not just a trickle, but a real waterfall (though only 18ft. high, it’s still quite impressive).  Most of the water is piped down to the Panamint Springs Resort, so no swimming is allowed, but the pipe begins downstream of the falls, so it always has water.  Actually, there’s another small waterfall below the more famous one, so you get two waterfalls for the “cost” of one!

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 2.2 miles Trail Type: Out & back Elevation Gain: 605ft. Pets: No Fees: $30/vehicle

Brittlebush flowers we found along the trail to Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
Brittlebush flowers we found along the trail to Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls used to be an almost unknown attraction, but now the National Park Service sends visitors there.  That, combined with the uniqueness of the hike and the fairly short length, has made it popular (though not in the ballpark of Badwater).  Be ready to wait for a parking spot in busy seasons such as Spring Break.

Early on hiking the Darwin Falls Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
Early on hiking the Darwin Falls Trail

The trail begins by the gate.  It goes downhill, crosses Darwin Wash, and then picks up as a not-too-sandy trail that heads generally up the wash.  After a quarter mile, the trail crosses the Wilderness Boundary.

Heading up the canyon to Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
Heading up the canyon

The views going up the canyon aren’t particularly interesting.  In November, there were some pretty wildflowers – even though most of the water is piped out of the area, it’s still wet enough to let plenty of undergrowth and flowers grow.

Willow Baccharis (aka pretty white wildflowers) near Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
Willow Baccharis (aka pretty white wildflowers)

You’re following the pipeline most of the way up the canyon.  It’s never really in the way, but it’s there, usually on the right (north).  Some of the connections are leaky – I guess it doesn’t leak enough to matter to the Panamint Springs Resort, but it leaks enough to grow algae and plants!

A leaky pipe along the Darwin Falls Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
A leaky pipe along the trail

After about 0.75 miles, the trail begins to duck under trees and follow the canyon wall (trees?  In Death Valley?!?)  A short distance beyond this, there are a couple of pools of water – this is the beginning of the pipeline.  Do not put anything into the pools, as this is the drinking water supply for the resort (I’m sure they must clean it, but still…!)

The pipeline and trail along the cliff face, Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
The pipeline and trail along the cliff face

After the pools, the canyon becomes even lusher with grass and brush and the sound of flowing water.  You’ll come to a small waterfall on the left – there are rocks here, and it seems that many people turn around (or at least hang around) here.

The first waterfall below Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
The first waterfall

But to get to Darwin Falls, continue upcanyon on the now very narrow trail.  The ground is sometimes soggy, but helpful hikers have put down brush and logs to help keep your shoes dry.  The smell here is amazing – that water-in-the-desert fragrance that I’ve never before smelled in Death Valley.

An anthurium just below Darwin Falls - I have a feeling this isn't natural to Death Valley, but it is pretty, California
An anthurium just below Darwin Falls – I have a feeling this isn’t natural to Death Valley, but it is pretty

Then suddenly there’s a small clearing.  The first thing I noticed was an anthurium (wow!), but then I saw the waterfall.  It’s hard to get a good angle on it, but it’s very impressive.

First view of Darwin Falls - the reeds block the bottom of the falls from view, Death Valley National Park, California
First view of Darwin Falls – the reeds block the bottom of the falls from view

The best way I found to be able to see the falls was to hug the wall to the right until your toes hit the pool.  It’s a side-view, but at least you can see the entire falls!

The full length of Darwin Falls from the right cliff, Death Valley National Park, California
The full length of Darwin Falls from the right cliff

The other good place to get a view from is to scramble up the rock wall to the left of the clearing.  The bottom of Darwin Falls is obscured, but it’s a great vantage point – just watch your step, as the rocks are steep and slippery.

Darwin Falls from the left cliff - this was my favorite vantage point, Death Valley National Park, California
Darwin Falls from the left cliff – this was my favorite vantage point

Darwin Falls was named for an army physician, Erasmus Darwin French, who came west during the Mexican American War in 1846.  He prospected for silver in the area – the ghost town of Darwin is also named after the doctor.

Hiking back down Darwin Wash, Death Valley National Park, California
Hiking back down Darwin Wash

Round Trip Trail Length: 2.2 miles out & back

Elevation Gain: 605ft. (2,475ft. to 2,831ft.)

Facilities: None

Fees: $30/vehicle, valid 7 days.  America the Beautiful and Death Valley Annual Passes also accepted

The pool at the beginning of the pipeline down to the Panamint Springs Resort, Death Valley National Park, California
The pool at the beginning of the pipeline down to the Panamint Springs Resort

Trail Notes: Don’t try to scramble up above the falls – there isn’t much to see and it’s pretty slippery from what I read.  I did see some rock climbers coming back down (either from the falls or elsewhere in the canyon), but don’t try it unless you’re well prepared.  The trail is fairly busy and the parking area fairly small – go early to get a parking space.  The road to the trailhead has washboard but should be accessible by low clearance vehicles in good weather.  The road beyond the parking area is 4×4 only.  No swimming is allowed!

Grass in Death Valley on the Darwin Falls Trail, California
Grass in Death Valley

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

The pipeline along the Darwin Falls Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
The pipeline along the trail

GPS Coordinates for Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls TH: 36.3276167°, -117.5147500° (N36° 19.657′ W117° 30.885′ / 36°19’39.4200″, -117°30’53.1000″) (2,434ft.) (0.0)

Wilderness Boundary: 36.3245333°, -117.5150667° (N36° 19.472′ W117° 30.904′ / 36°19’28.3200″, -117°30’54.2400″) (2,494ft.) (0.24)

Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls: 36.3208000°, -117.5239000° (N36° 19.248′ W117° 31.434′ / 36°19’14.8800″, -117°31’26.0400″) (2,665ft.) (1.16)

End: 36.3276500°, -117.5147500° (N36° 19.659′ W117° 30.885′ / 36°19’39.5400″, -117°30’53.1000″) (2,634ft.) (2.16)

Willow leaves - did you know that Death Valley has fall color?  Darwin Falls Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
Willow leaves – did you know that Death Valley has fall color?

The gpx file for Darwin Falls can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

Download GPX File size: 34.4 KB Downloaded 3 times

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

Darwin Falls from beside the right cliff, Death Valley National Park, California
Darwin Falls from beside the right cliff

Getting to Darwin Falls Trailhead

From Furnace Creek, drive north on CA-190W (toward Stovepipe Wells).  Continue on CA-190 for 56.1 miles.  After passing through Panamint Springs, turn left (0.9 miles after the resort) onto the Old Toll Road (signed for Darwin Falls).  The dirt road is kept in good repair and should be accessible to low-clearance vehicles – take it slow, though, as there is a fair bit of washboard.  After 2.4 miles, turn right into the parking area.  The road beyond the parking area is 4×4 only.

Black-banded Rabbitbrush in bloom near Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
Black-banded Rabbitbrush in bloom

From the west, take CA-190E up to Father Crowley Vista (worth a 5 minute stop).  After 6.9 miles, turn right onto the Old Toll Road (signed for Darwin Falls).  The dirt road is kept in good repair and should be accessible to low-clearance vehicles – take it slow, though, as there is a fair bit of washboard.  After 2.4 miles, turn right into the parking area.  The road beyond the parking area is 4×4 only.

Visual trail map and elevation profile for my hike up to Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, California
Visual trail map and elevation profile for my hike up to Darwin Falls

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