Hiking Palm and Hellhole Canyons

Borrego Springs, CA

Right behind our campground is a trail leading up into Palm Canyon.  This is one of those hikes that can go on and on for miles if you are up to the challenge.  We had hiked it once before two years ago, but since it is so close to us and it was later in the day, we decided to tackle it one more time.  The main destination for hikers is a classic California palm oasis, complete with a grove of California Fan Palm Trees, the only palm native to the Western United States and the country’s largest native palm .

As we approached the Palm Oasis we could hear water trickling through the canyon, an unusual sound in the desert.  We were surprised to find a flowing stream with a pretty fair amount of water.

We didn’t see any water at the mouth of the canyon, so where did it go?  We followed the stream and found a spot near the trail where it became a trickle before disappearing into the sand.

The stream disappears into the desert

This park is known for its Peninsular Big Horn Sheep (borrego is Spanish for sheep) so we kept our eyes on the sides of the canyon as we hiked.  Our diligence was rewarded just before we finished when we spotted a group feeding on the nearby hillside.

The next day we drove just a couple of miles up highway S-22 to the trailhead for Hellhole Canyon.  This was another hike we did during our last visit, but there is suppose to be a twenty foot waterfall in the canyon that we didn’t find on that hike.  We were determined to find it this time!

Hellhole Canyon Trailhead

You wouldn’t want to be in this canyon in the summer, as temperatures reach 124 degrees!

Heading in to Hellhole Canyon

Looking back east toward the desert

There is a great deal of variety in the hiking on this trail.  The first mile and a half is over flat desert.  Once in the canyon we had times where we had to navigate thick vegetation followed by some pretty challenging scrambling over rocks.

After three and half miles we knew that we had again missed the falls.  The canyon began to flatten out so there was no way there could be a significant drop for water.  At this point we turned around, disappointed that we had again failed in our quest for the falls.

Heading back down

At certain places in Hellhole Canyon there is no main trail, as people have created a number of different paths through the large rocks.  On the way back down we ended up on a path different from the one we used going up.  As we made our way around a large rock formation we came to a drop off of about twenty feet.  Ah, the elusive falls!

Since there was little water in the canyon, the falls was almost completely dry.  But there was a bit of moisture dripping off some vegetation at its base.  As you can tell from the photo above, the “falls” is hidden by vegetation and difficult to see.  No wonder we missed it!

OK, so the “falls” wasn’t very exciting.  But the hike to it and beyond was very challenging and the views back toward the desert were very good.  If you go on this hike take your lunch and plenty of water.  You’re going to need it!

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43 Responses to Hiking Palm and Hellhole Canyons

  1. LuAnn says:

    Given how few bighorn there are in such a large park, how exciting to have seen some. Those photos look more like paintings. 🙂 And Hellhole Canyon looks like one heck of a hike!

  2. Ingrid says:

    Amazing how you guys always manage to find bighorn. Sounds like a couple more challenging hikes for the duo.

  3. Amanda says:

    We had the same experience with the Hellhole Canyon hike- only a tiny trickle of water. I read somewhere that it’s more likely to be a true waterfall in the spring. How cool that you saw some Big Horns!

  4. Two good hikes. Love the Big Horn pictures!

  5. cathy says:

    Looks like two great hikes! Love the pics of the sheep!

  6. Sherry says:

    With the terrible western drought I’m surprised you found any water anywhere. These look like two great hikes with some serious rock scrambles. That second shot of the bighorn is fantastic.

  7. jimandbarb says:

    Glad that you were able to find the falls and the palm oasis is very cool. You guys sure take some interesting hikes

  8. Gay says:

    I love it that I can count on you two to fine the bighorn sheep! And its way cool to find an oasis!
    Hope Jessica is fairing well in the blizzard!

  9. pmbweaver says:

    I hope we get to see Big Horn Sheep. They look so lovely!

    I love the….They didn’t bring enough water sign. What a hoot! Hellhole Canyon lives up to its name. I wrote this one down but need to talk to you about it. I love all the different terrain. Pam…at one point it looks like you were caught between a rock and a hard place…hehe

  10. libertatemamo says:

    More great hikes. I knew you’d love the area!

  11. Nan & John says:

    You are in one of our very favorite areas.

  12. Well I see you guys are still going strong! Great pictures and I learned something new. I now know that borrego means sheep. Thanks for the fun and educational blog!

  13. Looks like a tough but fun hike! Great pics, wish I was there instead of in the North East! Someday!

  14. Jodee Gravel says:

    Water in the desert is fascinating to me, and the shot of the “final point above ground” of the fresh spring is great! Wonder how deep and how far it goes underground from there? The sheep is so majestic, makes me feel like I should bow! Glad to see a forest of dried brush and several giant boulders didn’t slow you down – and that you found the elusive falls 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      The water in various areas in the desert has been fascinating, Jodee. We, too, were wondering how far down the spring went.

      I never tire seeing the sheep so tall and posing for the camera. They are majestic with the huge horns.

      It is sad that we don’t let giant boulders and thorny bushes stop us. My legs wish they would 🙂

  15. Janna says:

    We too are always surprised when seeing water running in the desert. We are off to the Hassayampa River again today–the water there also disappears underground.

  16. Becky says:

    Hellhole Canyon looks like an interesting hike. It is always fun when you have to fight off the vegetation that taller than you. Great picture of the bighorn sheep.

  17. Well, so we didn’t see any sheep and we couldn’t find the falls. Guess we definitely need to hike with you guys!

    • placestheygo says:

      Jim and Barb, we never really found the falls…it found us!! We just by chance took the path that led above it. It would be next to impossible to find on your way up unless you took that one particular trail. It is so well hidden.

  18. heyduke50 says:

    I do need to spend a longer stay in that area… we always seem to be in the area but never stay very long…

  19. Only you can make a stay in the desert very enticing and compelling. And oh my goodness, you guys are putting us to shame. Great hikes and great photos.

  20. Nancy says:

    You got two shots of The Bighorn??????? When we were out there I did not take my eyes off the hills…NOTHING, I tell you! NOTHING! So very jealous!! Neat hike.

  21. rommel says:

    Urgh! I didn’t see a bighorn sheep when I was in Anza Borrego. Only the diligent adventurers get to see it, I guess. Love them rocks on the trail. Real real cool! I love BS. 😀

  22. Laurel says:

    We never tire of the Palm Canyon hike — it’s always so beautiful arriving at the oasis. You guys totally scored with the Bighorn sheep! Your photos are terrific. We had up close encounters with the sheep a few years ago, but since then only far away viewings. Maybe we’ll have good luck this year. We also did the Hellhole Canyon hike a few years ago and found the same as you did, more ferns than water.

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