Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: The Complete Guide

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park at Sunset
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Anza Borrego State Park

Address
Borrego Springs, CA 92004, USA

Anza-Borrego is California's largest state park with over 600,000 acres full of wildflowers, palm groves, and gorgeous views of the Colorado Desert. Some say, that you'll find more wildflowers here than any single person could see in a lifetime. With over a hundred miles of hiking trails, you'll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the views of this desert landscape.

It is best known for the wildflower spectacle that lights up the desert with vibrant colors every spring. The bloom is made up of over 90 different flowering plants, the abundance of the bloom varies every year depending on conditions like precipitation and temperature. Even when the flowers aren't blooming, the park is still an amazing place to visit.

When visiting the park, you may also see a rare and endangered desert bighorn sheep, which explains how the park got the name of Borrego which is Spanish for sheep. Around the park, you'll find a few palm grove oases that pop around small springs and may spot a Swainson's hawk soaring overhead. The bird has one of the longest migrations of any American raptor, their 6,000-mile spring migration from Argentina to their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska.

Things to Do

Aside from the wildflowers and wildlife, visitors can enjoy the park's many different landscapes and rock formations from the badlands to the wind caves and slot canyons. Many trails travel through these landscapes, some of which you can take your bike or horse on. If you want more time to explore the trails, you can book a campsite for the night and one of the larger campgrounds or the more primitive backcountry sites.

If you're just making a quick visit to Anza-Borrego, the desert garden outside the Anza-Borrego State Park visitor center is a concentrated version of the park's entire 600,000 acres. Besides desert plants, it also includes a pupfish pond. They might not look like much, but pupfish are fascinating creatures that can thrive in water from fresh to water that is nearly as salty as the ocean and survive temperatures from near freezing to 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius).

Sand Verbena Wildflowers (Abronia villosa) and Dune Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides), Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California, USA
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Best Hikes & Trails

This huge park is full of hiking trails, but some are more popular than others. Trails vary in difficulty and lengths ranging from loops that are less than a mile to 32 miles long. Elevation can also vary from just 62 to over 1,800 feet above sea level.

  • The Slot: This 2.3-mile loop is extremely popular as it travels through a slot canyon with 40-foot high walls and an uphill climb halfway through.
  • Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge: At 5.7 miles long, this loop passes through a wildflower area and can also be used for mountain biking. Halfway through, you'll reach the unique bridge.
  • Pictograph Trail: On this 2.6-mile out and back trail, you'll find a waterfall and Native American pictographs on a large boulder.
  • Palm Canyon Loop: About 2 miles long, this is an easy trail to do in a day. Your final destination before turning around is the palm oasis and sandy bank next to a small river.

Wildflowers

Many visitors come to Anza-Borrego for the wildflowers, which bloom from January or February through March or April. The number of flowers and timing of the bloom varies every year, which makes it hard to plan for. To make matters worse, by the time it's clear when they will be at their peak, every hotel room within 100 miles will be lighting up their "no vacancy" signs. Your best bet to catch the flowers at their peak is to check the park website for updates or call the wildflower hotline at 760-767-4684.

If you miss the wildflower bloom or are visiting the park out of season, you can still see many flowers. If flower-spotting is your priority be sure to stop in at the Visitors Center to ask the rangers for recommendations on where to find blooms in the park.

Where to Camp

You can find developed campsites inside Anza-Borrego Desert State Park that are well-stacked with amenities to provide your water and electricity needs, but there are also many primitive backcountry sites if you prefer more rugged camping. Like all California state parks, it pays to make your reservation in advance if you want to secure a campsite.

  • Borrego Palm Canyon Campground: This campground has 122 campsites available, plus running water, restrooms, and hot showers. Campsites are limited to eight people per group.
  • Tamarisk Grove Campground: A smaller campground, there are 27 sites for RVs and tents, plus cabins. Here, there are also restrooms and showers, but there is no potable water.
  • Bow Willow Campground: This first-come, first-served campsite has just 16 primitive sites and is very secluded. There are only chemical toilets.
  • Mountain Palm Springs Campground: This extremely rugged campground has just a vault toilet, but is very remote. You will need to bring all your own supplies and water.
  • Blair Valley Campground: Another remote campsite with only a vault toilet, this is a small valley campground with several sites available.
  • Culp Valley Campground: This tiny campground is remote and located at an elevation of 3,300 feet. Sites are first-come, first-served.

Where to Stay Nearby

Borrego Springs is the nearest town to Anza-Borrego, where you can find a place to stay, eat, or stock up on groceries. It's also possible to visit Anza-Borrego on a long day trip from Palm Springs or San Diego However, there are plenty of nice resorts and hotels nearby where you can stick around to enjoy the beauty of the desert while relishing the invention of air conditioning.

  • Borrego Springs Resort & Spa: Every room in this luxury resort has a balcony overlooking either the Santa Rosa mountains or the pool.
  • La Casa del Zorro Resort & Spa: This enormous resort has many sporting courts for tennis, shuffleboard, and even offers yoga classes in the fitness center. Across the 42-acre property, there are 28 pools.
  • Palm Canyon Hotel & RV Resort: Here you'll find unique vintage trailers and airstreams, but can also bring and park your own RV.

How to Get There

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is 84 miles (134 kilometers) northeast of San Diego and 88 miles (142 kilometers) south of Palm Springs. Because it's such a big park, there are many different ways to get there from either city.

The drive from San Diego to Anza-Borrego is especially scenic, crossing the mountains and descending into the desert floor. From San Diego, you should travel north on the I-15 until you can travel west on the Scripps Poway Parkway and eventually get on the I-67 going north. This road will turn into CA-78, which you will follow until you can go north on CA-79. From CA-79, you'll make a right on Montezuma Valley Road and follow the road for approximately 22 miles until you reach the entrance.

From Palm Springs, the route is a lot more simple. Travel east to get on the I-10 towards Salton City until you can continue south on CA-86. When you get to Salton City, you'll turn west on the Borrego Salton Sea Way until you reach Borrego Springs.

Accessibility

Travelers with disabilities will find a few accessible hiking trails in addition to accessible campsites at some of the campgrounds. Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, Tamarisk Grove Campground, Bow Willow Campground, and Horse Campground each have anywhere between one and three accessible campsites with accessible restrooms. There are three trails that can be accessed by wheelchairs.

  • The Campground Visitor Center Trail: This is a .75-mile trail that connects the Visitor Center to the Borrego Palms Campground.
  • Visitor Center Loop Trail: This short educational trail is .4 miles long and features interpretive panels which are also written in braille.
  • The Culp Valley Trail: A half-mile long each way, this route starts at the Culp Valley Campground and is made of compacted soil that could work for some wheelchairs. The trail is generally flat with slopes between five and nine degrees, but there are a few armored crossings that could pose some difficulty. You can also find accessible parking an accessible restroom at the trailhead.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The Visitor Center is open seven days a week, October through May, and on weekends from July through September. They charge a state park entry fee.
  • In the summer, you might get a glimpse of Anza-Borrego's elusive Peninsular Bighorn Sheep in the canyon bottoms. They are also active from August through December during the mating season.
  • The desert is hot year-round, but especially so in the summer so the best time to visit is in mid-winter or early spring.
  • Dark skies at Anza-Borrego make any meteor shower a perfect time to be there, especially if it happens when the moon is dark or just a sliver.
  • If you'd like to take a guided tour around the park, try California Overland for group and private tours, as well as desert camping experiences.
  • Dogs are only welcome on designated roads and campgrounds, which are listed on the park website.
  • There are many ways to get involved in the ongoing research in the park as a citizen scientist, such as volunteering to count Swainson's hawks and bighorn sheep.
  • Art-lovers should keep an eye out for the Ricardo Breceda scrap metal sculptures that are scattered throughout the park. There are over a hundred sculptures that represent prehistoric animals like dinosaurs and more recent historical characters like a gold prospector.
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The Complete Guide to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park