- Location: Inyo County, near Olancha. From US 395 (20 miles north of the junction with highway 14), look for Cinder Road, signed for Fossil Falls. Turn right and follow Cinder Road for 0.6 miles to a junction. Turn right and follow the access road another 0.6 miles to its ending at a small parking lot. (Don’t take the turnoff for the campground).
- Agency: Bureau of Land Management/Ridgecrest Field Office
- Distance: Up to 1 mile
- Elevation gain: Level
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Suggested time: 45 minutes
- Best season: November – April
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Easy Hiking in Southern California
- Dogs: Allowed on leash (Exercise caution on warm days; also note that the rocky terrain may be difficult on their paws)
- Cell phone reception: Good
- Water: None
- Restrooms: Vault style toilets at trail head
- Camping/backpacking: Camping available at the Fossil Falls Campground ($6 per night)
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
- Rating: 7
Fossil Falls is a pair of dry waterfalls in a volcanic field a short distance from US 395. A short hike brings you to this unique geological site, which is a perfect spot to get out of the car and stretch your legs if you are headed up to Mammoth Lakes or Bishop. Fossil Falls is located about 45 minutes north of Red Rocks State Park; the two could be done as a long day trip. (Fossil Falls is about 1.5 hours north of the Antelope Valley and 2.5 hours from downtown L.A., depending on traffic conditions).
Geologically, Fossil Falls is a baby, having been formed no more than 20,000 years ago from glacial runoff. Water and lava have created an intricate series of crevasses, caves, knobs and other shapes, unlike any other landscape in the L.A. area. The dramatic backdrop of the eastern Sierras adds to the scenic appeal.
From the parking area, follow the signs to the trail, which leads across the lava field for a quarter mile. There are a few spots where the route is a little ambiguous, but odds are there will be other people here too (especially during winter weekends) so it will not be hard to find your way around. At the fissure, you can explore as much or as little as you like. It is not difficult to climb into the gap and check out the bottom of the stream bed, but still, exercise caution, especially if you are with kids. (If you are hiking with dogs, you’ll probably want to keep them on the higher ground.)
The stream bed descends gradually southwest toward the lip of the 40-foot fall. A “tributary” comes in from the north, dropping down two levels. The spot above the confluence of these two dry rivers provides the best views.
Text and photography copyright 2017 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.