Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five-hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas and miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California Desert. The park is named after Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish name borrego, or bighorn sheep. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti and sweeping vistas. Visitors may also have the chance to see roadrunner, golden eagles, kit foxes, mule deer and bighorn sheep as well as iguanas, chuckwallas and the red diamond rattlesnake. Listening devices for the hearing impaired are available in the visitor center.
The Park is located on the eastern side of San Diego County, with portions extending east into Imperial County and north into Riverside County. It is about a two-hour drive from San Diego, Riverside, and Palm Springs.
Many visitors approach from the east or west via Highways S22 and 78. From the coast, these highways descend from the heights of the Peninsular range of mountains with spectacular views of the great bowl of the Colorado Desert. Highway S2 enters the park from the south off of Interstate 8.
The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor's Center is an excellent place to begin your park visit. Maps, books, brochures, exhibits on the desert environment and a superb slide program will give you a general overview of the park and the many points of interest within the park boundaries. The Visitor's Center is located 1.7 miles west of Borrego Springs on Palm Canyon Drive. The Center is open daily 9 AM to 5 PM October through May and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays 9 AM to 5 PM June through September.
Borrego Palm Canyon is located one mile from the Visitors Center. It is the location of the Palm Canyon Campground and the trailhead for an easy three-mile round-trip nature trail that leads to a grove of native California Fan Palms. A free self-guided trail brochure is available to introduce visitors to the canyon and palm grove.
Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail is the jewel in the crown of America's scenic trails, spanning 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through three western states. The trail passes through five California State Parks: Castle Crags and McArthur-Burney Falls in Northern California; and Silverwood Lake, Anza Borrego Desert and Mt San Jacinto in Southern California. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is an excellent source of information for anyone planning a trip on the PCT. Location-DirectionsTurn north (left) off 78 onto Highway S3, drive about 6 miles, and turn left onto Borrego Springs Road (Highway S3). Another 5 miles or so will take you to Christmas Circle in the town of Borrego Springs. Drive counterclockwise around the circle and turn off at Palm Canyon Drive west. Drive about 3 miles and follow the signs to the Visitor Center. Look for the American Flag; the Visitor Center is built into a hill, so it is mostly underground.
Galleta Meadows Estates is private land open to the public. History is unfolding in a town already filled with its own unique historical milestones, Borrego Springs with the first placement of the Gomphotherium free standing art structures. These creatures lived in the area about 3 million years ago Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs envisioned the idea of adding 'free standing art' to his property with original steel welded sculptures created by 'Perris Jurassic Park' owner/artist/welder Ricardo Breceda based in Perris, California.
Coyote Canyon is famous for its year-round stream and lush plant life. The canyon is used by hikers, horseback riders and those with sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicles. The roads are rough, but the hiking and riding trails are good. The historic trail of explorer Juan Bautista de Anza passes through Coyote Canyon.
Carrizo Gorge Railroad follows the old railway route between Campo to El Centro and Imperial Valley.
Desert Gardens is a lovely garden of ocotillo, cactus, and other desert plants. As with any garden, the thing to do is to walk around and look at the plants which often include a stray wildflower or two at the base of the mountain ridge. Click here to continue reading about this location.
The attractions of Lower Willows are the fresh waters of Coyote Creek running through it and the color, density and variety of the surrounding vegetation.
Ocotillo Flat starts at Coyote Creek and stretches across soft sandy soil to the naked hills and canyons to the east and north. It is bird country, reptile country, and cactus country with wildflowers in season. It includes one of the most impressive stands of ocotillo anywhere.
Truckhaven Rocks are orange-colored sandstone slabs that are tilted at a 45 degree angle. They are a favorite spot for desert photographers and can be reached by a 1.5 mile roundtrip walk through a wash. The Truckhaven Rocks can be seen from S-22. Trailhead starts at mile 35.5 on the S-22.
Pegleg's Monument is located at the intersection of Pegleg Road and Henderson Canyon Road. Here you will find a large pile of rocks, a monument, guest sign in book and a good story about one of the most famous prospectors of the time, trapper/gold seeker "Pegleg Smith" traveled through this region (in the 1830's). It's rumored he discovered black gold pebbles somewhere in the east part of the Park. Where he found his gold has never been discovered, or if it has, the location has never been published or verified. The discovery of black gold by Pegleg remains just a legend, though many have searched the desert hills looking for the area where he found it. A sign at the Monument reads: "Let those who see Pegleg's gold add ten rocks to this pile."
17 Palms, 5 Palms and Una Palm are Palm Oases located near the Arroyo Salado Primitive Campground off of S-22. There are many palm oases located within the Park boundaries. These areas are well-known watering holes for the regional wildlife of the Borrego Badlands. The palms at the Oases are often green and brilliant compared to the stark and barren desert that surrounds them. Click here to read more about these oases and directions on how to get to them.
Pumpkin Patch his unique landscape is the result of wind and water continuously eroding the surface soil and revealing globular sandstone concretions that look much like pumpkins in size and shape. Such concretions are believed to be formed by the natural cementing of sand particles to a small object such as a piece of shell, a grain of sand or even an insect.
Font's Point offers a commanding view of the Borrego Valley and Borrego Badlands. This prominent viewpoint is reached by a sandy four-mile primitive road, which more often than not is soft and rutted. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are required to reach the view point. Check the road conditions board at the Visitor's Center prior to attempting to visit Font's Point. If you can get to Font's Point the view is well worth the effort. It is one of the most breathtaking viewpoints in the southwest desert regions.
Ocotillo Wells OHV Area includes over 80,000 acres of magnificent desert area open for off-road exploration and recreation. The area includes campgrounds, miles of ATV trails and tracks. Self-guided vehicle tours are available. Check the nearest bulletin board, or visit the Ranger Station to find out about current activities.
The narrow divide between the Fish Creek Mountains and the Vallecito Mountains is called Split Mountain. Split Mountain is a geological wonder, formed by numerous earthquakes and floods revealing layers of geological and paleontologic history within its walls. You can often drive a passenger car to its entrance for the view from inside a mountain. A walk or drive through the Split will open new worlds for the visitor and the terms "geology," "faults" and "erosion" will take on new meanings.
Take Split Mountain Rd. where it intersects from Ocotillo Wells (Hwy 78) heading South. You will continue South on Split Mountain Rd. for approximately 8 miles where you will turn right (West) on Fish Creek Wash towards the Fish Creek Primitive Campgrounds. Fish Creek Wash will take you through Split Mountain.
The Elephant Tree Trail — Only one living Elephant Tree remains, but this hike through a rocky wash is still a delight. This easy walk covers 1.5 miles and takes about one hour. The Elephant Tree Trail turn off is on Split Mountain Rd. approximately 5.9 miles from Ocotillo Wells and Hwy 78.
Fish Creek Wash will take you to the Fish Creek Primitive Campground and on through Split Mountain. The wash is a jeep trail that you can walk, bike or drive through in a 4WD vehicle. Fish Creek Wash points of interest include: Anticline, Wind Caves, Elephant Knees, Loop Wash, Sandstone Canyon and Olla Wash.
Split Mountain Wind Caves — The sandstone wind caves and arches are created from erosion caused by wind. You can explore the caves by hiking approximately 1 mile from the Wind Cave Trailhead (2 miles round trip). Trail head is located in Fish Creek Wash just past Split Mountain.
Mud Hills Wash and Elephant Knees - One of the most spectacular sights in the Split Mountain area is a formation known as Elephant Knees. It's a mudhill ridge with thick fluted ridges that look like the knees of elephants.
From the road, you look up at it and view it from a distance. You can also walk Mudhill Wash, to the east of Elephant Knees, to get a closer view. The flat top of Elephant Knees is a layer of marine sediments. You can look at it, but you mustn't climb on it. Click here to read more about Elephant Knees.