About a two-hour drive east of San Diego is California’s largest state park – Anza Borrego.
A lot of people have never heard of the park and/or since it’s a desert park, it doesn’t appeal to them. But I’m here to tell you, it’s well worth a visit. 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. There are plenty of motels, hotels, and resorts (and restaurants) in the town of Borrego Springs, which is right at the edge of the park’s main visitor center.
There are several highways that crisscross this huge state park. California Route 78 runs east to west through the middle of the park while County Routes S1, S2, S3 and S22 link the various sections of the park. So, it’s scenic drives galore.
And there are numerous hiking trails in the park. In fact, the famed Pacific Crest Trail passes in and out of the park several times. This blog post will feature a couple of easy day hikes that you can do if you have one full day in the park.
But like any desert setting, Anza Borrego gets extremely hot in the summer and evenings/early mornings can be very cold in the winter months. I went in November, and it was perfect hiking weather – around 65F and sunny during the day. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen though regardless of what time of year you go.
A popular hike suitable for most fitness levels is the three-mile Palm Canyon trail. The trailhead is located at the furthest parking area of Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. The trail itself is well marked and leads to an oasis of fan palms Keep your eye out for bighorn sheep who venture down into the canyon for water and to graze on the various plant life that depend on the oasis’s comparatively abundant supply of water.
If you’re not claustrophobic, next head over to The Slot. It’s a fun one-mile out and back level hike that winds you through narrow siltstone tall walls in a trench type maze deep inside a canyon. It’s mostly shaded so offers a nice respite from the desert heat. It’s truly one of my favorite hikes of all time, almost an amusement park ride for hikers. The trailhead is located off Route 78 by turning onto a dirt road marked Buttes Pass and driving about two miles to the parking area. It’s a sandy dirt road, so suitable for most low clearance vehicles.
Cap off your visit to Anza Borrego State Park by viewing the giant metal art sculptures dotting the landscape just off S22. They are scattered over 10 square miles, and since the landscape is so barren in the park, you really can’t miss them! There are super-sized dinosaurs, horses, sloths, tortoises, mammoths, saber toothed cats, dragons and more.
All in all, Anza Borrego State Park is an outdoor treasure of Southern California, just waiting to be discovered. You can also combine your time there with a visit to the Salton Sea (about 30 min. drive away) and the nearby quaint mountain town of Julian (also about a 30 min. drive).