Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is humongous and spans nearly 650,000 acres. It’s located just east of San Diego County and is home to about 600 or so desert bighorn sheep (aka borregos) that typically keep to the remote areas of the park.
Hop in your car and take to the many roads that crisscross the park. You’ll enjoy exploring the surprisingly diverse terrain from sweeping vistas and broad canyons to the random rock formations and alien-like plants dotting the open desert. It’s great place for a day trip or weekend camping adventure!
Do and See
You may initially be underwhelmed when you arrive at Fonts Point, but once you walk up the hill, behold, nature at it’s best! The many ridges of these badlands were originally formed by water because, yes, this area was once underwater proven by that fossilized sea shells unearthed there. Time your visit for sunset for a particularly noteworthy view.
Scale up the short, steep trail to explore the Wind Caves nestled atop a hillside overlooking the Carrizo Badlands. Once you’re done exploring the curious sandstone rock formations, look to your left for Elephants Knees, a large mesa made of mudstone that got its name for a reason. One thing: it’s a long and bumpy twenty-minute drive on the primitive road to the trail starting point. Prepare yourself mentally!
Although Sky Art metal sculptures by artist Ricardo Breceda are peppered throughout the park, it’s the 350-foot long serpent that has won a special place in everybody’s heart. Go at sunrise or sunset for a better chance at a stunning photo.
After driving through Blair Valley, you’ll go on a short and easy walk to one of the park’s archaeological sites. The drawings pictured below are just off the trail and are easy to find. Rumor has it there are others in the area if your up for exploring. Not much is known about the meaning behind the drawings or the area’s purpose to native Kumeyaay people, but some anthropologists speculate that it was related to a coming-of-age ceremony.
Borrego Palm Canyon
Pack tons of water and a picnic lunch for this hike to the palm oasis. The water will help keep you cool during the hot walk through the gorge. Once you arrive at the oasis, enjoy a bite to eat while you cool down under the shade of the palm trees. Some hikers report seeing big horn sheep on this hike, but we weren’t lucky this time around.
When I asked an outdoorsy co-worker for an Anza-Borrego must-see, she immediately replied, “Slot Canyon, hands down!” This is a fairly easy hike where you’ll work your way through the canyon—sometimes squeezing through the narrower spaces and maybe even bouldering once or twice—until the end of the hike opens up to a wide wash.
Eat and Drink
Make a stop by this quaint, family-owned grocery store in the middle of town. It’ll have anything that you forgot for your campground meal and is decently priced.
This locals-only bar is highly recommended but perhaps that’s because it’s the only real bar in town. Grab a beer on tap and a burger if you’re hungry.
Full-disclosure, we didn’t actually step foot in this restaurant but it’s at the top of the list for our next visit. Modern setting, wood-fired pizza, craft beer and a wine bar, need I say more?
Marked as “developed camping” on the map, there are a number of clean and comfortable camping grounds that cost $25 a night. We recommend a night or two at the Tamarisk Grove Campground, a small site that is surrounded by tamarisk trees originally imported from the Middle East.
Next time we’ll be a bit more adventurous and camp for free in Blair Valley. This is a primitive camping ground, which means there are no amenities or running water. However, there is a rudimentary bathroom at the entrance of the campground.
Not much of a camper? Our fancy friends suggest staying at at the La Casa del Zorro Desert Resort.
Tips and Tricks
Visit the Visitor Center
Once you enter the park, make a quick stop at the Visitor Center (200 Palm Canyon Drive). The rangers and volunteers will answer all of your questions and can give you advice on what to visit. Be sure to pick up one the park’s magazine or a basic map to help you get around.
Annual Wildflower Bloom
Many choose to venture out this way for the annual wildflower bloom. The peak of the bloom often occurs in late February or March, but varies widely depending on the winter rainfall. Check out the park’s website or cal their Wildflower Hotline (760) 767-4684 to get more detailed info.
While there are many paved roads in the park, you’ll need a 4WD for the primitive dirt roads that are quite sandy and rocky in certain parts. Many people rent Jeeps for their stay at the park.
P.S. Here’s a travel guide from our semi-recent trip to Moorea, Tahiti. More travel guides are coming soon!