fossil falls hike

Fossil Falls Hike

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • Maps For the Hike
  • What You Need For the Hike
  • How to Get to Fossil Falls
Distance0.5 miles (0.8 km)
Hike Time30-60 Minutes (Total)
DifficultyEasy
Total Ascent (?)30 feet (9m)
Highest Elevation3,310 feet (1009m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park WebsiteRidgecrest Field Office - Bureau of Land Management
Park Phone760-384-5400

The short, easy, and fun Fossil Falls hike brings you through a volcanic landscape to a 20,000 year old smooth, water-polished waterfall. The actual water disappeared 10,000 years ago when the Owens River took another path, leaving a geological wonderland for you to checkout. The landscape is beautiful and unique, and is well worth a stop to stretch your legs.

Getting To the Fossil Falls Hike

Here is the trailhead address: Fossil Falls Scenic Area, Olancha, CA, 93549, USA. The trailhead is right off of Rt 395, which is a popular route between southern California and Mt Whitney. It’s a great place for a walk and a bathroom break. There are primitive bathrooms at the trailhead.

There’s also a small campground here if you want to spend the night. There’s a fee and it’s first come, first serve. You can also camp for free on any BLM land outside of the Fossil Falls area.

Fossil Falls Hike
It’s about a mile drive down a dirt road to the Fossil Falls campground and trailhead.

What You Need For The Hike

This is a very short hike, and you don’t need any special gear to do it. It can get hot in the summer.

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Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

La Sportiva Spire

High-Tech Hybrid Shoes

Great for all hikes – short ones to 10+ miles Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.

Women’s Reviews

Men’s Reviews

Rei Flash 22

The Best Low-Cost, High-Quality Pack

This is a super-light and comfortable backpack that can hold everything you need on a hike, including a hydration bladder. It also works great as a general backpack or carry-on.

See Colors & Prices

Joby On Triee

Best Tripod For the Outdoors

Joby tripods attach to anything. The legs are adjustable and grippy, so you can put them on trees, packs, rocks, whatever. And they work like regular tripods too. Works with everything from smartphones to DSLRs.

Checkout Joby Tripods

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Gear For Off the Trail

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What to Know For the Hike

Fossil Falls Hike
You’ll see the sign for Fossil Falls Scenic Area from I-395, along with a red volcanic cinder cone, the product of an eruption 10,000 years ago.

Fossil Falls Hike Trail Maps

Click To View Map

Fossil Falls Hike Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Here’s How I Navigate The Hike

People ask me all the time, so here you go. I have a few backups that you can see on my gear page, but generally I use a combination of these tools.

Fenix 5x Hiking Nav

Garmin Fenix Map Watch

This thing does everything: maps, GPX tracks, compass, barometer, altitude, heart rate, blood oxygen, fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and the list goes on. I keep a GPX route on the watch so I can quickly glance down and make sure I’m in the right place.

Fenix Prices & Reviews

My In-Depth Review

Gaia Gps

Gaia GPS

I load a few types of offline maps onto my smartphone when I need to interact with the map in detail. I also use it before my hikes as a planning tool for all kinds of things, including finding free government land to camp on. The benefits are many, I highly recommend it.

Gaia GPS Benefits

HikingGuy Discount

Paper Nav

Topo Maps & Guide Books

Don’t be caught out if your batteries die. Take a topo map with you on the trail and learn how to read it. Some people also print my guides out for use on the hike. I’m a map geek and I love to pour over maps and guide books when planning my next adventure.

Browse Topo Maps

Great Hiking Guide Books

Don’t just rely on a cell phone, especially if you are hiking in the backcountry.

Fossil Falls Hike 3d map
This 3D map of Fossil Falls really gives you a good idea of how massive they are. The trail takes you to the mouth of the falls. You can climb down a bit or walk along the rim.

Fossil Falls Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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Turn By Turn Hike Directions

Fossil Falls Hike
The trailhead parking lot is pretty big, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot.
Fossil Falls Hike
There are bathrooms and picnic tables if you want to take care of business.
Fossil Falls Hike
Check out the interpretive signs by the trailhead before you start the hike.
Fossil Falls Hike
The small trailhead sign is right behind the interpretive signs.
Fossil Falls Hike
Shortly after starting there’s a trailhead register. You don’t normally see these on a short trail, so I’ve morbidly guessed that it’s in case someone falls off the falls.
Fossil Falls Hike
Sign in and move on.
Fossil Falls Hike
The trail is pretty defined for most of the way.
Fossil Falls Hike
There are occasional orange blazes on the rocks that let you know that you’re on the trail, but they’re sporadic. There aren’t any signs either. And to add to the confusion, there are lots of false trails where people took a wrong turn. Look for the orange blazes and paths with the most footprints. And use the GPX file with a GPS if you can. It’s a short hike, so you should be okay in general.
Fossil Falls Hike
There’s a big rock in the distance (left) that looks like it has a paint blaze on it, but I think it’s just lichen. Follow the bigger, more defined path as you continue.
Fossil Falls Hike
The path is well marked with footprints, but take care, in some places people cut the trail, split off, etc., so make sure you’re on the path that seems most travelled.
Fossil Falls Hike
Another big rock with an orange type blaze on it. Keep following the established trail.
Fossil Falls Hike
Keep bearing right on the larger trail.
Fossil Falls Hike
And all of the sudden the falls will appear! You can climb around the rocks but be safe.
Fossil Falls Hike
If you look closely at the rocks, you can see fossilized algae on them.
Fossil Falls Hike
Explore the falls and take care as you climb around.
Fossil Falls Hike
Be careful toward the end of the upper falls, where there’s a huge drop to the canyon below. You can walk up along the rim and explore if you’d like. Once your finished, just head back the way you came and that’s the hike!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

If you see trash on the trail, please pick it up and carry it out. Be a good egg and practice no trace principles.