Who would have guessed, you can see a waterfall in Death Valley? Okay, it’s not in the actual “valley”, but it is inside the park. And you don’t even have to wait for a rain storm or mountain snow melt! Beautiful little Darwin Falls is fed by a natural spring, so it flows year-round. And to see it, all you need to do is take a short hike.
Darwin Falls is located on the west side of Death Valley National Park. From Lone Pine, take California Route 136 to 190. As you drop down to Panamint Springs, watch for a dirt road on the right. You’ll see a water pipeline running alongside the road. Follow that dirt road to the trailhead. It’s passable in any vehicle until you reach the trailhead (beyond that point, it’s a rough 4-wheel-drive road).
From Death Valley, take Route 190 west. Pass through Panamint Springs, then go around one big curve. Once again, you’ll want to watch for the water pipeline and a dirt road on the left.
The Darwin Falls trailhead looks just as barren and dry as any other part of the park, with one notable exception…
… that pipe running along the hillside. This is how nearby Panamint Springs gets its water — through a very long, pieced-together, leaky PVC pipe. And it’s the leaky parts that make this part of the trail interesting. You’ll be walking along, and suddenly hear water trickling or spraying…
… and then you’ll see a huge clump of out-of-place greenery, springing up from the moist ground.
Keep following the trail, and before long, you’ll run into more plant life, surrounding this algae-filled pool.
An old structure gathers some of the water and sends it down the pipe to Panamint Springs. Another pipe is supposed to carry the overflow to the opposite side of the trail. But in reality, this miniature dam still overflows, and the water trickles wherever it wants.
Beyond the dam, you’ll see some flowing water. Don’t worry…
… these tiny waterfalls are not the main attraction. It’s just a bit further, as you push through some vegetation…
… that you reach Darwin Falls. It’s hard to judge the size of the falls from pictures, which is why I was surprised by how big it is. You can only see the lower portion of the falls from this viewpoint, but that part alone is about 20 feet high — as tall as a two-story building.
I backtracked slightly from the pool at the base of the falls, then climbed up the side of the cliff on the left. This led to a different, but not particularly better view of the falls. I was only able to see the lower falls, but I have read that some people go further up the canyon, and see more.
The Bottom Line
Just the opportunity to see running water in Death Valley makes Darwin Falls worthwhile. This area provides a nice, easy hike, and it should be somewhat cooler than the rest of the park on hot days. Enjoy the sounds of trickling water and resist the urge to look for a faucet to turn off!
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive out to Darwin Falls:
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.