Darwin Falls is a remarkable place to visit and take a short hike (about one mile in each direction) to see the amazing impact that a spring can have on the desert landscape. It is definitely a popular tourist destination for all those visiting the western portion of Death Valley National Park. We were most recently there on a rainy and cold day in March but found the parking lot to be completely full of vehicles. We had to park in the overflow area along the dirt road next to the parking lot. As we hiked out to Lower Darwin Falls, lots of other hikers (including families) were coming and going. For the most part, this is a family-friendly hike. However, during the latter portion of the hike, the creek is crossed a number of times and you can't avoid getting at least the bottoms of your shoes wet. This can make it extra slippery when climbing over solid rock surfaces and could result in potential falls. When visiting Darwin Falls, please also keep in mind the need to stay out of the water, especially the pond beneath the waterfall. You will pass by a pipe system which carries water from the pond and creek down to nearby Panamint Springs Resort. Please take caution not to pollute their water source in any way. In addition, the trailhead sign states: "Help protect this unusual habitat by staying out of the water, traveling on established trails, not stepping on vegetation, and not harassing wildlife, which depends on this area as a sanctuary from the surrounding desert
The hike starts out from the parking lot by following general use trails through the wide open wash of Darwin Canyon. It is typical desert scenery for the first 6/10 of a mile. Then, a small amount of greenery and flowing water appears. The greenery soon gets much more abundant and includes many willow trees. A constriction is passed through where the canyon wall closes in next to the creek. The canyon then narrows down (although not to an extreme degree) and the walls grow in height until they are towering all around above you (see Sample Photo #1 below). The entire landscape goes through a dramatic transition from dry desert to a lush, overgrown creek area during the final 4/10 of a mile. Progress is slowed down a bit as there can be various hiking path options to choose from including finding the best way past a few obstacles. There are some minor cascades, pond areas where the creek overflows, and lots of plant and bird life to enjoy. At the end, Lower Darwin Falls is reached, which is one of the most photographed spots in western Death Valley (see Sample Photo #2 below). Lower Darwin Falls is an 18-foot high waterfall with a stream of water that plunges over the top and then splits in two about 3/4 of the way down. The water deposits into a large pond which prevents you from getting too close to the waterfall. But there are good viewpoints for getting photographs. This is considered the end of the hike and it is recommended to turn around here and head back. There are additional waterfalls up canyon including the larger 60-foot high Upper Darwin Falls, but reaching that area requires scrambling up an unstable hillside, exposure along narrow ledges, and treacherous hiking terrain. Trying to reach Upper Darwin Falls is not a hiking route that I am recommending to the general public
. Regarding this, the trailhead sign states: "Climbing above Darwin Falls is not recommended. The terrain is treacherous and physically demanding
." Due to my experience level (having spent over twenty years hiking in Death Valley), I was able to reach the upper falls. But after doing it once, I don't think I would ever go back. It just didn't feel safe and thus I am not providing any route information. Since I did make it there, I will include a few bonus photographs showing Upper Darwin Falls (see Sample Photo #3 below). To watch a short video clip that I filmed of Upper Darwin Falls, click here
. But again, please do not attempt to follow in my footsteps to reach this area. Our hike took place on March 21, 2019.