Darwin Falls: The Only Water Canyon in Death Valley

Rappelling the ‘real’ waterfall of Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls is a little waterfall people can visit from a hiking trail in Death Valley, but the real gem is the 150ft waterfall unseen from the trail but just above. It is only accessible by canyoneering and in the sole water canyon in Death Valley. Darwin Falls (3B II) was our first canyon of the Death Valley season and was much changed since the prior descent in 2020.

In the Fall of 2022 there were record floods that closed much of Death Valley’s roads. The road to Darwin Falls was ‘not recommended’ but upon visit, only had one washed out section at the beginning. We had planned to walk the road leading to the trailhead, but were able to take a friend’s truck over the first washed out section and get all the way to the trailhead.

From here we walked up the road until a small road to a turnout veered off right and immediately, a clear hiking trail on the side of the hill is visible.

View of hiking trail when on it. Much more visible from the side when you approach it.

We hiked this trail for less than an hour before taking a right towards a canyon filled with vegetation.

Approaching Darwin Canyon

Upon reaching the canyon, the reminder of the brush-whacking came in full memory. However the canyon was changed. The 10ft tall reeds we had fought through were all flattened and there were log jams and overturned trees in the canyon. We fought our way through the brush across the canyon, did a little side-hilling and then returned to crashing our way back through the brush towards the middle.

Can you spot the person brush-whacking behind me?

This is my second time through this section and I still don’t know if there is a better way than just committing to the brush. Going up on the sides of the canyon only brought you higher and the canyon lower, never rejoining the watercourse. Going through it means a decent face full of branches.

Before long, we were through the worst of the brush and the small stream running through the canyon was now cradled by smooth rock. This is where the canyon felt like a real canyon. There were a few notable sections. One easy section traversing alongside the stream.

Some scrambling. You can see the flattened reeds on the right.

A down climb by a short waterfall.

A little more sensitive traverse alongside a small pool.

Soon after, we reached the first rappel. A 100+ foot rappel off a pinch point, alongside a waterfall with muddy feet, into a hidden alcove.

Slung chockstone anchor for the long waterfall rappel

From here the first person can walk alongside the water pool on the right to reach the rocks. The pool this time was about 4 ft at deepest.

View looking down first rappel

From the rocks, you can have the next group rappel all the way to the ground, then swing them over to you across the waterfall onto the rocks to avoid the wading for everyone else.

A short walk on rock later, we reached a small drop with a tree about 30 ft from the base. This is the drop into a pool I had to swim on my last decent. However, when I got there everyone was doing this don’t fall, R-traverse on the right to bypass. It was pretty heady in my soaked shoes but there was a half foot long rusted pin in around the corner of the worst of it that can be slung for anyone feeling timid. Personally, I think the safest thing is to do the swim, but I guess our team had the head for the traverse and we met people hiking to the base of Darwin Falls shortly after.