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 California fan palms and, after a little bit of boulder scrambling, to a pure desert miracle: a waterfall in the middle of the desert – not only one, but two.
The 5 mile roundtrip hike up Hellhole Canyon is somewhat similar to the more popular hike up Borrego Palm Canyon. The only difference is that Hellhole Canyon isn’t advertised much, so therefore it doesn’t have as many people hiking the trail. Being closer to the Anza-Borrego visitor center, Borrego Palm Canyon typically attracts a lot of hikers. Furthermore, Hellhole Canyon has an added attraction, a waterfall surrounded by maidenhair ferns, suitably named Maidenhair Falls.
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 visitors center.
At about 1.4 miles, turn left onto County Route S-22; if you instead continued straight at this point, you would head into the park visitors center. Parking for the trailhead will be reached, on the right side, 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.
Below are some pictures of what you will see along the way.
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For most of the hike, the trail is easy to follow. A large kiosk will be found at the parking lot which displays available 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 peeled for all kinds of plants. February and March are the best months to see wildflowers.
About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, the canyon walls of Hellhole Canyon begin to narrow and you will soon notice that you are in a classic desert canyon. The trail twists around many large boulders and crosses the drainage often. At any point, you will notice that there is actually water flowing in the drainage. In the distance, you will see the palm trees of Hellhole Palms.
The grove of Hellhole Palms is reached about 2.2 miles in from the trailhead. Starting here, the trail becomes difficult to follow because trails cannot be built or maintained over large stretches of boulders. Furthermore, every year usually brings new flash floods that rearranges all of the boulders and plants which changes the trail’s path.
Reaching the two waterfalls requires some keen path-finding skills and patients. 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 never see the waterfalls. But they do exists as our pictures prove! Finding the falls requires repeated creek crossings and scrambling over boulders. Another hint: listen for the waterfalls.
Enjoy the views and the challenges!
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