Darwin Falls

Death Valley National Park / Panamint Springs, California, USA

Rating: 1.5     Difficulty: 2
Darwin Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Darwin Falls is said to be a rare year-round waterfall in Death Valley National Park, which is one of the driest places on earth. However, I should caveat that statement with the fact that the Panamint Springs area (where the falls resides) is an annexed part of the national park.

What makes the falls possible in such a harsh environment is that it's fed by springs, which are underground watercourses (or aquifers) mostly protected from the evaporative conditions (i.e. heat of the desert sun and low humidity since the whole of Death Valley sits in the rain shadow of the 14,000ft peaks of the Eastern Sierra) that conspire to rob a stream of its moisture. The original source of the water are both monsoonal desert thunderstorms in the Summer and snow in the Winter from storms that deposit their moisture atop the Panamint Ranges, which then seep beneath the surface of the mountains, join aquifers, and then re-emerge at the base of canyons such as that found at Darwin Falls.

The end result is a desert oasis where all sorts of wildlife and flora manage to eeke out an existence in otherwise inhospitable conditions. In fact, this also happens to be the water supply for the developments at the Panamint Springs resort area. Thus, they don't allow swimming, wading, washing, or any other means of contaminating the creek.

After finding the unpaved car park and trailhead (see directions below), Julie and I walked up a wide wash following a trail. The wash was initially exposed to the sun and we didn't notice any creek or running water. However, as we went deeper into the wash, the canyon walls quickly closed in and we found ourselves hiking alongside a gurgling stream flanked by plenty of vegetation exploiting the precious water to grow.

As the canyon walls continued to close in, the hike degenerated into a walk that bordered on a scramble as we followed narrow use trails with some minor stream crossings. Julie and I noticed there were some toads floating in the creek or hopping about outside the creek. We weren't sure if they were endangered native species or introduced, but they were remarkable in that we never expected to see amphibians of this size in a place as harsh as Death Valley.

After about a mile or so from the trailhead (2 miles round trip), we were right before the reportedly 30ft waterfall, which had a bit of an upside-down Y shape due to a rock splitting the drop. There were some other folks who were here that mentioned there were more waterfalls further upstream, but further scrambling looked to be tricky at best. So we contented ourselves with enjoying this waterfall oasis before heading back.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Although the distances are long (on the order of 50 miles or so between attractions), if you've made it out to Darwin Falls and the Panamint Springs area, you mind as well keep going east into the heart of Death Valley National Park.  Among the roadside attractions en route was this large sand dune area with windswept groovesAmong the roadside attractions found in Death Valley was this large sand dune area with windswept grooves
On the way to Badwater from Panamint Springs, we stopped by the Natural Bridge Canyon, which was also near the picturesque Golden Canyon.  This big natural bridge was the main draw of the namesake Natural Bridge CanyonWe also stopped by the Natural Bridge Canyon, which was also near the picturesque Golden Canyon. This big natural bridge was the main draw of the namesake Natural Bridge Canyon
A surprising feature of Death Valley was Scotty's Castle showing that even in the harshest of environments, it's still possible to thrive in a place like thisA surprising feature of Death Valley was Scotty's Castle showing that even in the harshest of environments, it's still possible to thrive in a place like this
If your vehicle is up for it, you can go up towards Scotty's Castle, then take an unpaved road near the Ubehebe Crater for quite a ways to the remote Racetrack PlayaIf your vehicle is up for it, you can go up towards Scotty's Castle, then take an unpaved road near the Ubehebe Crater for quite a ways to the remote Racetrack Playa
Julie hiking in the wide open washJulie hiking in the wide open wash

The canyon walls close in the further you goThe canyon walls close in the further you go

A toad sitting in the streamA toad sitting in the stream

A toad floating in the cool pondA toad floating in the cool pond

Partial view of Darwin Falls from the end of our walkPartial view of Darwin Falls from the end of our walk

Another look at the miracle of Darwin FallsAnother look at the miracle of Darwin Falls

Julie heading back to the carJulie heading back to the car


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS




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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

To get here, you'll have to take either of two approaches east of Hwy 395 either at Olancha (188 miles or under 3 hours drive north of Los Angeles) or Lone Pine (211 miles or over 3 hours drive north of Los Angeles).

From Olancha, we drove about 14.6 miles on CA-190 before turning right to continue east on CA-190. We then drove about another 30 miles to get close to the Panamint Springs Resort area. However, about a mile before the resort, we took a fairly rough and unpaved road on our right for about 2.5 miles to the car park. We saw passenger cars make it here so we know they can make it as long as you take it slow.

From Lone Pine, go south on Hwy 395 for just under 2 miles then turn left onto CA-136. After 17.6 miles, CA-136 becomes CA-190. Then, continue for just under 30 miles to reach the unpaved turnoff on the right for the wash leading to the trailhead.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



Click here for the full World of Waterfalls map





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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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Death Valley National Park 
I along with my family have been to Death Valley National Park in Summer. It was too hot that time and completely dry. We didn't find any waterfall over …

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