Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

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 and World Biosphere Reserve. Learn about Anza-Borrego hikes, the local flora and fauna, nearby places to stay, and what else there is to do in this desert state park. 

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 with the rangers, and Anza-Borrego is no exception.

I can give you a few ideas, but Anza-Borrego has more than 500 miles of roads and lots of places to go. Instead of just depending on one resource or those of a bunch of random strangers, make the visitor center your first stop and talk to the experts.

If you're just making a quick visit, 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.

Many visitors come to Anza-Borrego for the wildflowers and cactus, which bloom from January through March. The quantity and timing of the bloom vary every year and your best bet to catch them at their peak is to check their website or call the wildflower hotline at 760-767-4684.

Anza-Borrego is also home to almost half the world's population of Peninsular Bighorn Sheep. The best time to see them is summer when you may see them in canyon bottoms, or 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.

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 ahead 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 7 days a week, October through May and on weekends from July through September. They charge a state park entry fee.

The best time to visit is when the wildflowers bloom January through March.

Summers can be extremely hot. Dark skies at Anza-Borrego make any meteor shower a great 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.