There are a lot of things to do in Death Valley National Park, but they are really spread out across the expansive park, so we needed a plan of attack to be as efficient as possible with our time.
We had three days to adventure on our own, and other two days to adventure with my in-laws, so we decided to start the trip with the hikes and activities farthest from our hotel in Furnace Creek and work our way back toward the hotel. Luckily, this also meant we did the most difficult or longest hikes of the trip first as well.
Our first day began with a quick stop in Stovepipe Wells for gas, ice, and coffee and a 63 mile drive out to Father Crowley Vista. Then we hiked to Darwin Falls, visited Panamint Springs Resort, and checked out the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns.
Darwin Falls is a 25 foot, spring-fed waterfall in a narrow Death Valley gorge that flows year-round. When we found out that there was a waterfall in Death Valley, it because a must-do hike for our family. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to see a sparkling waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation in the middle of the hot, dry desert.
To reach the waterfall, we turned off CA-190 onto Old Toll Road about three miles before the tiny town of Panamint Springs. Old Toll Road is a 2.5 mile dirt road that leads to the Darwin Falls parking area and trailhead.
The hike to Darwin Falls is relatively easy, one mile out and back trip that totals two miles. While there is no official trail, all you need to do is follow the canyon floor as it narrows and winds back to the waterfall. If you ever doubt your direction, simply look for the water pipe. Darwin Falls is a water source for Panamint Springs, and the pipe carries water from the waterfall through the canyon and along the road to town.
Throughout the hike, the canyon floor stays mostly flat until you reach the lower falls area where the trees create a canopy of shade and the vegetation around the trail becomes lush and green. Toward the end of the hike, you’ll need to climb over a few rocks and cross the stream a few times, jumping from rock to rock, or carefully stepping from log to log.
The reward for your one mile hike is reaching the end of the canyon and the beautiful, 25 foot Darwin Falls. The waterfall pours over the rocks, splits in two and drops into a small pool. A tree leans out over the pool toward the falls, inviting kids to climb the tree for a photo in front of the falls.
Know Before You Go
- Darwin Falls is located on Old Toll Road (also called Darwin Falls Road) just off CA-190 in Darwin, California 93522 in Death Valley National Park. The road is dirt and gravel, and while passable in a sedan, it is more comfortable in a high-clearance vehicle.
- The Darwin Falls trail is an easy to moderate, out and back trail that totals two miles — one mile to the waterfall and one mile back. It takes roughly 1.5-2 hours.
- The Darwin Falls parking area is pretty small and is not recommended for large RVs as there is no room to turn around.
- There are no restrooms. The nearest facilities are located at the privately owned Panamint Springs Resort.
- There is no swimming allowed in the pool or water surrounding Darwin Falls — for people or animals — as it is a drinking source for Panamint Springs.