Federer, who can break out of a tie with Novak Djokovic with a record sixth title in the California desert, is on a collision course with three-time champion Nadal, who took on Russian Karen Khachanov in the quarter-finals.
World No. 2 Nadal took a 5-0 record over the Russian into their match and if the Spaniard extends that dominance it will set up the 39th meeting between him and Federer -- their fourth at Indian Wells.
Nadal leads their head-to-head rivalry 23-15, but Federer has won 11 of their 20 hard-court meetings, including their last five clashes.
That included their most recent encounter, Federer's straight-sets victory in the Shanghai Masters final in October of 2017.
Federer said he might not feel quite the same tingle of anticipation as fans at the prospect of facing Nadal, but he acknowledged that their clashes always raise the stakes.
"If I play Rafa there's extra energy in the building -- there's always a lot on the line," he said.
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam champion who captured his 100th career title at Dubai last month, overcame breezy conditions on stadium court and a hungry Hurkacz -- a 22-year-old ranked 67th in the world who was playing in his first Masters 1000 quarter-final and just the second quarter-final of his career.
Hurkacz's nerves in his first meeting with Federer showed when he whiffed on a second-serve return on the Swiss great's first service point of the match.
He settled down to produce some entertaining rallies and was fearless and effective at the net.
But he couldn't make a dent in Federer's serve and one break in each set was all Federer needed to seal the win after an hour and 14 minutes.
"Overall I'm very pleased with that performance," said Federer, who has reached the final four without dropping a set, winning 38 of his 39 service games.