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5 Things Hikers Should Know About Visiting Fossil Falls in California

5 Things Hikers Should Know About Visiting Fossil Falls in California

Fossil Falls is one of California's many beautiful natural wonders. Here's our guide to visiting Fossil Falls in the Golden State.

Xavier Johnson


2 min read

September 18, 2023

Exploring Fossil Falls is a delight for any nature enthusiast, and especially for hikers looking for an unparalleled geological experience. Nestled in California's eastern Sierra Nevada, this area offers a mesmerizing blend of nature's artistry. If you're gearing up for a hiking adventure at Fossil Falls, here are five additional insights tailored for you:

Diverse Trail Options

While the primary path to the falls is a brief 0.5-mile trek, surrounding the main site are various unofficial trails meandering through the volcanic rock formations. These allow for extended hikes and the opportunity to witness different vantage points of the sculpted landscape. While these trails aren't extensively marked, the area is relatively compact, making it challenging to get truly lost. Nevertheless, always inform someone of your plans before setting off.

Prepare for the Elements

The Eastern Sierra region is known for its variable weather conditions. In the span of a hike, you might experience gusty winds, sudden temperature drops, or even an unexpected rain shower. Layered clothing is your best bet. Lightweight, moisture-wicking materials, a windbreaker, and a hat for sun protection are ideal. The unique basalt rock formations, though stunning, can be hard on feet. The polished surfaces can also become slick, especially if there's any moisture. Opt for hiking boots that offer solid ankle support and a grip-friendly sole. Hiking poles can also provide extra stability on uneven terrain.

Fossil Falls is a gorgeous place to visit that's generally approachable at any time of year.

Origins of Fossil Falls

Fossil Falls earned its name not from ancient remains but from its geological history. Thousands of years ago, volcanic eruptions from nearby Red Hill deposited basaltic lava flows across the Owens Valley. Later, meltwaters from the Sierra Nevada glaciers carved their way through these lava flows. Over time, this water, which was rich in sediment, eroded the basalt, creating the polished and sculpted rock formations we see today. The "falls" reference comes from the descending nature of the water's original path, even though no water currently flows here.

Wildlife and Plants

While Fossil Falls might appear barren at first glance, it's home to a range of desert flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for native plants like the creosote bush and various cacti. Wildlife, though more elusive, includes desert hares, lizards, and diverse bird species. Always remember to observe from a distance and avoid disturbing the natural habitat.

Camping Near Fossil Falls

For those wishing to extend their visit and immerse themselves in the desert's stillness, Fossil Falls offers a primitive camping area close to the main site. While facilities are minimal (think pit toilets and no running water), the experience is rich. The stargazing opportunities here are unparalleled, with the absence of city lights allowing the Milky Way to shine in its full glory. Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out all your waste.

Fossil Falls offers a unique hiking experience, blending both geological wonders with the serenity of the desert environment. Equipped with the right knowledge and respect for the area, your hiking journey through this part of California's natural history will be both rewarding and awe-inspiring.

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