Distance: 6.0 miles (10 km) roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
Difficulty: Easy for the first half, strenuous for the last 1 mile
Season: September - May
Hellhole Canyon is a spectacular canyon of granite boulders, multiple California fan palms, and a 20 foot waterfall drapped by maidenhair ferns. It is located just 1/2 mile away from the Anza Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center on the S22 heading toward Warner Springs.
The trail begins out on the flat alluvial fan well outside the canyon containing typical California desert vegetation of ocotillos, brittlebrush, chuparosas, and numberous wildflowers. The first 2 miles of the trail follows a wide flat sandy trail up the alluvial fan and into the canyon. The rocky walls close in slowly until it begins to confine the normally dry wash.
As you approach the canyon, the terrain gets rockier and numerous parallel trails begin to weave in and across the wash, all heading up canyon. Eventually, the trails turn to mostly dusty tracks between rocky piles. You have to start figuring out which route to take over the boulders and numerous creek crossings will be required. This section is only of moderate difficulty.
Once you reach the first set of palm trees, the grade goes from moderate to strenuous. Not only is the route difficult to follow, but the terrain gets very rough, and the vegetation turns into jungle-like thickets of palms, sycamores, canyon grape, and those pesky catclaw acacias.
The Maidenhair Falls is located at the 4th significant palm grove. So, keep count. It is not easy to get there, but keep pushing on. There is a "false" falls which is about 10 feet high at the 3rd grove. So, keep going to the next one.
Remember, that going up is always easier than getting down. So, be prepared to slither down boulders and navigate a different route that you took up. But, it is a beautiful hike to say the least.