Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Essentials

Visiting California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park at Sunset
••• Anza-Borrego Desert State Park at Sunset. Room_TheAgency/Getty Images

Anza-Borrego is California's largest state park, with 500 miles of roads and lots of places to go. During the spring, visitors flock there to see the wildflowers in bloom.

But a place needs more than just a once a year floral display to become part of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts World Biosphere Reserve. At Anza Borrego, you may also see a rare and endangered desert bighorn sheep. In fact, the word borrego in the park's name is Spanish for sheep.

You'll also find palms forming lush oases around small springs, and you might see Swainson's Hawks soaring overhead on 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 at Anza-Borrego Park

One of the best ways to find out about things to do in any state park is to stop by the visitor center and talk to the park rangers. I can give you a few ideas, but Anza-Borrego has more things to do than I've had a chance to experience. You could look online, but then you're depending on a bunch of random strangers who may or may have accurate information. To supplement what you learn before you go and find out about what's happening right now, make the visitor center your first stop and talk to the experts. 

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°F.

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 mating season.

Four-wheelers and mountain bikers will enjoy Anza-Borrego's 500 miles (804 km) of dirt roads. The park also has lots of hiking trails, some of which are part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The Palm Canyon Trail is popular with day hikers.

If you'd like to take a guided tour around the park, try California Overland who offer group and private tours, as well as desert camping experiences.

Wildflowers at Anza-Borrego

Many visitors come to Anza-Borrego for the wildflowers and cactus, which bloom from January or February through March or April. The quantity of flowers and timing of the bloom vary 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 their website or call the wildflower hotline at 760-767-4684.

If you go during another time of year, you may be surprised how many flowers you can still find blooming. That's another reason to stop at the visitor center and talk to the rangers.

Where to Stay in or Around Anza-Borrego State Park

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 (1.5-hour drive each way) or San Diego (2-hour drive each way).

Inside Anza-Borrego Park, you'll find three developed campgrounds with accessible sites, hookups, restrooms, and showers. There's also an equestrian camp (10 sites) and nine primitive campgrounds. If you want to experience the part from sunrise to sunset and don't mind getting a little rugged, camping is your best option. Like all California state parks, it pays to plan if you want to camp at Anza-Borrego. Learn how to make state park reservations.

What You Need to Know About Anza-Borrego Desert

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.

Summers can be extremely hot at Anza-Borrego.

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.

Anza-Borrego is northeast of San Diego and south of Palm Springs, in the area bounded by CA Hwys 78, 86, 79, and 371. Also, there are too many ways to get there to list all of them here. Consult a map or your GPS to get directions from your starting point to Anza-Borrego.

The drive from San Diego to Anza-Borrego is especially scenic, crossing the mountains and descending into the desert floor. Enjoy all that Southern California has to offer until you get to Anza-Borrego, where you'll find even more opportunities to enjoy the desert.