The Darwin Falls Wilderness area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and was established in 1994. The area has a total of 8189 acres and is adjacent to Death Valley National Park on its eastern border, and Sequoia National Park situated just over 30 miles to the west. These national parks provide ideal locations for RV camping. To explore the area with an RV, check out Death Valley, California, RV Rentals.
The Darwin Falls Wilderness is named for the falls which are actually situated in the Death Valley National Park to the southeast. These falls are unexpected in the dry desert landscape of Death Valley and flow year round, supplied by a natural spring that spills into the Darwin Canyon, creating an oasis lined with vegetation. The falls flow down a narrow gorge into a large pond surrounded by trees and moss, which provides a unique habitat in the desert area. There is no swimming in the pond, as this is a drinking water source. Two other springs on the eastern boundary also provide additional water supply, supporting local flora and fauna. The area is known for providing habitat for over 80 species of birds. Temperatures in the area are extreme and oppressive during the summer months, usually reaching well in excess of 100 F. The springs in the Darwin Falls Wilderness, and the trees they support, provide welcome water and shade to wildlife.
The wilderness area is characterized by the Darwin Plateau, with the Darwin Hills to the south. The plateau is crisscrossed with canyons and natural depressions, with exposed volcanic rock faces. The vegetation in the area is mostly creosote bush scrub, desert wildflowers, and grasses, common to the Death Valley region with some Joshua tree, pinon pine, mesquite, California Juniper, fan palm, cottonwood, and desert willow copses at higher elevations and in riparian areas.
The Bureau managed lands at Darwin Falls Wilderness are accessible for hiking and primitive camping, but there is no motor vehicle access into the wilderness area.
Access to the Darwin Falls Wilderness is from State Route 190 in Panamint Valley, about 30 miles east of the town of Olancha, or from the Darwin Road, which runs south from the state route to the town of Darwin, and Darwin Canyon Road. The main access point to the wilderness area and the Darwin Falls trailhead is on Darwin Canyon Road about halfway between Darwin and Olancha.
Primitive camping and hiking are permitted in the Darwin Falls Wilderness, but there is no access into the Bureau lands by motor vehicles. You must park your car at least 30 feet back from the wilderness boundary.
The Canyon Road is naturally surfaced and rough, and there is a sign indicating that it is appropriate for 4x4 vehicles only. Darwin, California, is the nearest settlement where some services are available.
When venturing down difficult terrain on access roads, make sure your vehicle is equipped to handle conditions and that you have equipment and supplies such as tow straps, a full-size spare tire, and several gallons of water. The temperature extremes in the area make travel in the summer undesirable, as the temperature in a closed parked vehicle quickly reaches lethal levels, and the heat is hard on cooling systems. Travel in the fall, spring, and winter months is advised.
Death Valley National Monument campgrounds are located to the east and accessible from State Highway 190 and access roads in the park.
Furnace Creek Campground is located near Death Valley National Park and is a large designated campground with 100 sites. Reservations are available for up to 14-day stays, and the peak season is from October to April. During the summer months, the campground is available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The campground is popular for its many amenities, which include restrooms with flush toilets, RV dump stations, water supplies, and a visitor center. Eighteen of the sites have full hookups for RV campers. Reservations are recommended during peak season, as this is a very busy campground that is popular with visitors to the national park.
There are some trees and vegetation in this campground, and roads and sites are paved. Hiking trails to the surrounding wilderness areas are accessible from the campground. Sites accommodate large RV units and tow trailers, and have picnic tables and fire pits. Generators are allowed between 7 AM and 7 PM.
The Wild Rose Campground is located in the Panamint Mountains at high altitude and has 23 primitive campsites. There is running water, restrooms, and sites have picnic tables and fire pits. Sites are limited to RV units 25 feet and under.
Mesquite Springs Campground has ten first-come, first-serve campsites that are accessible for smaller RVs and travel trailers. The campground has running water, restrooms, and a dump station.
Texas Spring Campground is open from November to April and has 92 RV friendly sites suitable for smaller units due to the tight turns at the sites. Amenities here include water, restrooms, and a dump station. There are some shade trees and great views due to the hilly location above Furnace Creek.
Sunset Campground has 270 sites and is open from November to April with accessibility for larger RV units. The campground has water, restrooms, and a dump station. The campground is exposed, with no trees, on a paved surface, but is centrally located for day excursions into Darwin Falls Wilderness and the National Park.
Stovepipe Wells Campground is open from September to May, with 190 sites that can accommodate all sizes of RVs, and there is a general store and ranger station situated nearby. Some sites have hookups for RV units.
Backcountry camping is permitted in the Bureau of Land Management’s Darwin Falls Wilderness. There are no motorized vehicles permitted in the wilderness area, so camping here is limited to primitive camping, accessible on foot. Hiking and backpacking in the wilderness area are best done in the fall, winter, or spring, as summer temperatures are extremely hot. You will need to pack in an adequate water supply and ensure you have clothing that is breathable and protects from the sun.
The desert wilderness here has natural vegetation including trees that provide shade. However, you are not permitted to collect deadfall for fires, so you will need to bring in your own fuel. BLM camping is limited to 14 days per site and visitors are encouraged to use previously disturbed sites to minimize the impact on the environment. This is a harsh environment and best suited to experienced backpackers with knowledge of desert camping.
The natural springs in the Darwin Falls Wilderness provide riparian areas that support a variety of vegetation, which is not usually so plentiful in this desert region. Shade from trees provides shelter and relief from the blistering sun, and grasses and vegetation provide food for local animal species.
There are over 80 species of birds that have been spotted in the Darwin Falls wilderness, making it a haven for bird watchers. Unique avians in the area include quail, vultures, hawks, eagles, prairie falcons, roadrunners, and woodpeckers. Mammal species in the area include some feral horses and burros, as well as badger, bighorn sheep, porcupines, and raccoons.
There are also a variety of reptiles, including lizards, desert tortoises, gopher snakes, long-nosed snakes, eastern shovel-nosed snakes, and rattlesnakes. Take a camera out to photograph your finds and research Death Valley species online so you can identify them. Check out local wildlife in the spring and fall when temperatures are more amenable, and wildlife are more active.
Check out the Darwin Ghost Town south of Darwin in the Coso Range. The town was settled when silver-lead deposits were found in the area after 1874, and named for an early explorer in the area. By 1876 there were nearly 1000 inhabitants, over 200 frame houses, approximately 20 mills, and five smelter furnaces.
Today the ghost town of Darwin is just a collection of broken-down residences, shacks and the “Defiance” smelter, complete with rusted machinery. Investigate the ghost town and take in the local history in any season but summer. Heat in the area makes wandering around the deserted sections of the town unpleasant.
The Darwin Falls Wilderness is a plateau carved with canyons and natural depressions. Informal, unmaintained trails in the area can be explored on foot in the spring, fall, and winter, which are the peak season for trekking the area to avoid soaring summer temperatures.
The Darwin Falls which are located in the National Park to the east can be accessed from the wilderness area on a 5.8 mile, out and back trail, with an 826-foot elevation change that is rated as moderate in difficulty. The trail involves creek crossings and is heavily vegetated with a beautiful and unexpected waterfall on the route.
For a different experience, visit Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at the north end of the Death Valley National Park. This two-mile round trip provides views of the dunes and the rocky surrounding landscape.
The Darwin Falls seem starkly out of place in the Death Valley Region. Actually situated just east of the Darwin Falls Wilderness in the expanded Death Valley Monument, these falls well up from a natural spring, and run down a narrow gorge to create a cool pool that nurtures local wildlife.
The falls run all year, providing a constant water source, and are 20 feet high, surrounded by lush vegetation. You can hike to the falls from a trailhead at the base of a gravel bottom canyon. It is a two-mile round trip from this trailhead to the falls that will involve several creek crossings, so have appropriate footwear.
There is no swimming in the pool at the base of the falls, as it serves as a local drinking water source. You can visit the falls at any time of year; however, the shade trees and local riparian areas make this spot more accessible in the summer months than many of the surrounding desert areas are.
During the summer, Darwin Falls Wilderness and the adjacent Death Valley National Park are very hot, and hiking and outdoor activities are difficult in the extreme climate. Instead, enjoy the region from air-conditioned comfort in a vehicle.
Although motorized vehicles are not permitted in the Darwin Falls Wilderness, there are opportunities to discover the beautiful desert landscape in and around the wilderness area. Head out on local scenic drives or check out local private outfitters in the Death Valley region. They provide sightseeing tours of the dunes, salt flats, and colorful canyons from jeeps or air-conditioned vehicles, so you don't have to exert yourself or overheat.
Enjoy the wonderful dark night skies in the wilderness areas at the BLM Darwin Falls Wilderness and Death Valley National Park. This remote region experiences little light nose from civilization, making the night sky come alive with a plethora of visible stars and features.
Grab a portable telescope and take it along with a star chart to survey the heavens. Don’t rely on star charts on mobile devices as cellular data is unreliable in the region. High viewpoints and plateaus in the natural wilderness region offer excellent vantage points for some celestial observations.