Difficulty PG13 Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Hikes with free parking General information: Waterfall hikes Rating: 7-8 San Diego County - Mountains & Eastern county Season: Late Winter/Spring

Maidenhair Falls (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)


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Maidenhair Falls
Maidenhair Falls
Climbing the boulders in Hellhole Canyon below Maidenhair Falls
Jumbled boulders in Hellhole Canyon below Maidenhair Falls

Maidenhair Falls (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park southwest of the town of Borrego Springs.  From Highway 79, head east on San Felipe Road (County Road S2).  The junction is 4.3 miles north of Highway 76 and 3.6 miles south of Warner Springs.  Take S-2 for 4.7 miles and turn left onto Montezuma Valley Road.  The large parking lot for trailhead will be on the left side of the road near mile marker 16.5, just before you reach the town.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Terrain, navigation, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: December – April
  • USGS topo map:  “Tubb Canyon”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here; video about the hike here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Maidenhair Falls trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Maidenhair Falls trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This trip is similar to the popular Borrego Palm Canyon trail nearby, but longer and more difficult.  Challenges include negotiating some tough terrain, navigation and avoiding cholla and cat claw cacti that closely border the trail.

0:20 - Words of wisdom (times are approximate)
0:20 – Words of wisdom (times are approximate)

The hike starts easily enough as you gradually make your way up a wash.  You cross the California Hiking & Raiding Trail after a quarter mile and continue toward Hellhole Canyon.  There are a few false trails and washes that branch off but the main route is pretty clear.

At about a mile and a quarter you enter the canyon and soon cross the wash for the first of several times.  You make your way deeper into the canyon, occasionally scrambling over a jumble of boulders.  From here on in, your exact route may vary somewhat as you head generally west.  In addition to the first grove of wild palms (2.1 miles) and the cacti, you’ll also start noticing sycamore trees and ferns in this moist area of the canyon.

0:40 - Crossing the wash for the first of several times
0:40 – Crossing the wash

You stay on the north side of the canyon with the palms on your left, work your way over more rocks and around fallen trees.  A slanted rock at the end of the first grove requires some scrambling, though nothing too difficult.

1:00 - Rock scrambling at the end of the first palm grove
1:00 – Rock scrambling at the end of the first palm grove

Working your way farther into Hellhole Canyon, you reach the second grove.  Here, you dip down into the grove, crossing the canyon floor and emerging on the rocky south wall. (You may notice a trickle coming from your right; this is a smaller waterfall but it’s not Maidenhair Falls.)

1:15 - Climbing out of the canyon after the second grove of palms
1:15 – Climbing out of the canyon after the second grove of palms

You climb over a jumble of rocks (keep an eye out for a “window” at the bottom of the pile) and make your way to the third grove.  Duck back into the canyon, slip around a large rock and enter a small grotto where seasonal Maidenhair Falls trickles down a 20 foot wall into a small pool.  Even if the flow is just a trickle, it’s still a pleasant spot to enjoy some quiet and solitude.  The lush, cool alcove is all the more remarkable for being located in the middle of a desert.

1:25 - Fallen palms in the third grove before Maidenhair Falls
1:25 – Fallen palms in the third grove before Maidenhair Falls

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:30 - You made it!
1:30 – You made it!
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