Hellhole Canyon Hike to Maidenhair Falls
This fantastic desert hike up Hellhole Canyon to Maidenhair Falls is located not too far from Borrego Springs. Hiking this trail will take you through classic desert landscapes, pass through a wild grove of native California fan palms and, after a little bit of boulder scrambling, to a pure desert miracle: a waterfall in the middle of the desert. And not just one, but two waterfalls!
What’s in our Guide:
- How to find the Hellhole Canyon
- What you’ll see along the hike up Hellhole Canyon to Maidenhair Falls.
- This trail visits two different waterfalls.
- This trail is similar to the more popular Borrego Palm Canyon but you’ll encounter less people.
- Covers the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) to Culp Valley.
- What times of the year are best to hike the trail.
- Navigating the tricky boulder-strewn trail.
- Tricks for finding elusive Maidenhair Falls.
Click below to expand.
The trailhead for Hellhole Canyon is 2 miles from the center of Borrego Springs at Christmas Circle. From this unique traffic circle located in the center of town, reset your odometer and drive west on Palm Canyon Drive towards the Park Visitor Center.
At about 1.4 miles, turn left onto County Route S-22. Continuing straight here would take you to the Visitor Center. Parking for the trailhead is on the right side at 2.2 miles from Christmas Circle. The dirt parking lot can easily accommodate 10-15 vehicles and is located about 100 feet west of S-22. Just beyond the parking area on Highway S-22 is the base of Montezuma Grade, which takes travelers over the mountains.
- See directions to trailhead on Google Maps.
The 5 mile roundtrip hike up Hellhole Canyon is somewhat similar to the more popular hike up Borrego Palm Canyon but with a couple of big differences. One is that Hellhole Canyon isn’t advertised much so there are a lot fewer people hiking the trail. Borrego Palm Canyon typically attracts a lot more hikers because it’s closer to the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center. The other big difference is that Hellhole Canyon has the added attraction of a waterfall surrounded by maidenhair ferns, appropriately named Maidenhair Falls.
For most of the hike, the trail is easy to follow. There’s a large kiosk at the parking lot that gives valuable information about the hike. This is also the trailhead for the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) that climbs the ridge to the south and heads over the mountains and into Culp Valley. About a quarter of mile from the trailhead, the CRHT turns left and climbs the steep ridge to the south.
The first mile or more of the hike is on a mildly slopping alluvial fan that drains Hellhole Canyon. Alluvium is ideal growing habitat for a multitude of desert-type plants indigenous to the Sonoran Desert so keep you eyes open for a nice variety of plants. February and March are the best months to see wildflowers.
At about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, the canyon walls of Hellhole Canyon begin to narrow and you will soon notice that you’re in a typical desert canyon. The trail twists around many large boulders and crosses the drainage often. Watch for water flowing in the drainage at any point along this hike. Also look for the palm trees of Hellhole Palms in the distance. The grove of Hellhole Palms is about 2.2 miles from the trailhead. At this point, the trail becomes difficult to follow because of the large boulders here. Trails cannot be built or maintained where there are long stretches of boulders plus each year can bring new flash floods that rearrange all the boulders and plants which, in turn, changes the path of the trail.
Reaching the two waterfalls requires some keen path-finding skills and patience. Our best suggestion to any hiker is to follow the majority of the footsteps. We are certain that many hikers that make the effort to come up this far have never see the waterfalls but they do exist! Our pictures prove it. Finding the falls requires repeated creek crossings and scrambling over boulders. Another hint: listen for the waterfalls.
Enjoy the views and the challenges!
Water is lifeblood to any desert.
Getting There Map
See tips on using the interactive map.
Parking lot and trailhead to hike.
California Riding and Hiking Trail (CRHT) goes left and climbs ridge.
Trail ends and the rest of the hike is in the drainage.
The first palm trees are encountered.
Approximate area of waterfalls.