Did you know Anza-Borrego is not only California’s largest state park but also the largest state park in the lower 48 states? With over 640,000 acres to explore and being recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, we can guarantee there will be an adventure for everyone both during the day and night. After visiting this location several times this past year, we wanted to share our ideal 3-day itinerary, which we believe encompasses the best experiences in Anza-Borrego State Park.
Activities to do:
What’s great about Anza-Borrego being recognized as an International Dark Sky Park is that it makes for great stargazing as light pollution is almost non-existent in the park. If you’d like to take a tour of the night sky, then the Borrego Night Sky Tour with astronomer Dennis Mamanna is for you. With several openings throughout the year, there is a different sky for you to look at every time you visit.
While stargazing may be one of the most popular activities to do at night, hiking takes the cake during the day. With over 45 trails that range drastically in both distance and elevation, there will be a new trail for you to try each day on your visit. Some of our favorites are The Slot Canyon Trail, The Palm Canyon Trail, and Fonts Point. To learn more about these trails and the others in the park, visit the AllTrails Anza-Borrego State Park website.
Would you think it’s strange for us to recommend the Visitors Center? Well, we thought this one could be the exception. The Anza-Borrego Visitors Center is considered the park’s Natural History Museum and is home to the most completed Southern Mammoth fossil in North America. Here you can learn more about how the team recovers these pieces of history from California’s Badlands and preserves them.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park inside California and with that comes a variety of Off-Roading options and a diverse terrain to explore. With more than 500 miles of roads in the park, you’ll have access to washes, rocky hills, canyons, and adventurous loops to drive through. While off-roading is controversial in many parks, Anza Borrego does offer it however drivers must stay on roadways at all times and not venture off the trails. Even though the majority of the dirt roads are passable with a regular passenger car, we highly recommend only visiting here with a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Also, make sure that you have all the Essential 4×4 Campervan Accessories. Here are some of the best trails to go off-roading in Anza Borrego.
- Split Mountain
- Blair Valley
- Borrego’s Badlands Font Point
- Coyote Canyon
- Slot Trail
- Grapevine Canyon
Passes & Permits:
While you can access most of the park without any permits, there are a few trails and campgrounds where you will need to obtain a parking pass to display on your dashboard. Some of these areas are the Borrego-Palm Canyon Trail and the Visitors Center. For up-to-date information on the park’s permit status, check out the Parks and Recreation website for Anza-Borrego.
When planning your trip to Anza-Borrego, the most important factor to consider is the weather. While it may be a beautiful 75 degrees summer day in San Diego, the temperatures will quickly rise on your two-hour drive to the desert and be in the triple digits once you arrive. Anza Borrego having elevation levels that range from sea level to 6,500 feet, the weather in this state park can truly vary. Here is what you can expect during each season!
Summer – The summer season is beautiful but it’s a hot one. You can expect daily temperature highs to be in the triple digits and overnight lows to be in the 80s. It’s also the most popular season to expect the unexpected. With summer being Anza-Borrego’s Monsoon season, unpredictable and quick thunderstorms come and go commonly creating Flash Floods.
Fall – The weather is still hot, but you’ll see less of those triple digits temperatures as each day goes on. This season, you’ll see the wildlife become more active during the day and the park campgrounds filling up again so be sure to book your campsite now or look into the several dispersed camping options the park has to offer!
Winter – This time of year is Anza-Borrego’s busiest as temperature highs are in the 60’s and the lows are in the 40’s. It makes for perfect camping weather as you can get the California winter experience without the struggles of snow.
Spring – The season where the wildflowers paint the desert! With temperatures starting to rise and snow flowing down from the mountains, it will moisten the desert floor and allow for a gorgeous spring bloom. This is also the start of the Milkyway season, heaven for any astronomer or admirer alike. If you’re planning your trip for this time of year, don’t forget your camera as you’ll have plenty to capture during the day and night.
Many visitors love Anza-Borrego because of the diverse landscapes and plethora of photo opportunities. With your choice of mountains, waterfalls, deserts, and canyons, there will be plenty of photos on your camera roll. Pictures really do say 1,000 words so if you’re looking to grab a souvenir that will last a lifetime, check out our list of the best places to takes photos –
- Hollywood & Vine Sign
- Slot Canyon Trail
- Metal Sky Art Sculptures
- The “Pumpkins”
- Fonts Point
- Borrego Palm Canyon
Remember, be mindful of those around you and keep the park clean & pristine so we can continue to share it with others.
While the park is spread out as far as the eye can see when it comes to needing to know where the closest town is, there are three you’re going to want to keep in mind. They are Borrego Springs, Ocotillo Wells, and Ranchita. In each of these towns you get your basic necessities, fuel up, and have access to a stable cell signal.
There aren’t tons of Gas Stations throughout the park so it’s important to fill up when you can and if you’re looking for a more affordable tank then try and plan your stop in Borrego Springs where gas is averaging at $5 a gallon.
Expect patchy Cell Phone Service throughout Anza-Borrego State Park. However, when you’re driving through the smaller towns, you will most definitely have a strong connection – Just make sure to download Google Maps!
Make sure to acquire Firewood at a store or support the locals who sell them on the side of the road. While fires are allowed, they must be built inside a fire pit or ring and not on the ground as this can damage the ecosystem around you.
The best place to shop at Grocery Stores is in Borrego Springs as it has a few options. Outside of that main town, you’ll mostly see convenient stores and farm stands.
You can Dump Waste in every campground within the park but there is an $8 fee for dump station use only or it’s free if you’re a registered guest.
Pets are allowed in Anza-Borrego State Park but only in the park’s developed areas i.e. campgrounds, paved roads, etc. While they are allowed in these areas they still must remain on their leash and need to be supervised at all times. For more information on where you can stay and what you can do with your pup in tow, please visit this link.
Where to stay
Dispersed Camping is the most popular choice in this state park! You are allowed to camp anywhere you’d like provided you’re set up at least one car length away from the road and 100 yards away from any water source.
If you’re looking for a campsite that is a little more established there are four developed campgrounds and eight primitive campgrounds for you to choose from. For more information on where you can camp, check out the HikesPeak website.
If you’re looking to stay in town there are numerous lodging options available as well. Some are the Borrego Springs Resort & Spa, La Casa Del Zorro, The Springs at Borrego, Borrego Valley Inn, The Palms at Indian Head, and the Palm Canyon Hotel and RV Resort.
Day #1 Itinerary
Anza Borrego State Park is amazing because of the several acres you can explore and while this park is mostly accessible by a 4WD Vehicle, we put together an itinerary that serves both offroaders and two wheel drivers alike.
Morning: Your drive to Anza Borrego will take most of the morning but when you arrive head to the Metal Sky Art Sculptures. Here you can see over 130 sculptures scattered across Borrego Springs and they all make for their own great photo ops.
Afternoon: Head on over to the Visitors Center! Here you can learn about the desert, the plant life, and what animals lived there before we ever did! Considering this is the town’s own Natural History Museum, you won’t want to pass this up!
Evening: The best way to end your first day in Anza Borrego is to take an easy hike on the Palm Canyon Trail. This 2.9-mile loop hike leads you to California’s third Palm oasis and if you’re lucky you may even see some Bighorn Sheep along the way.
Day #2 Itinerary
Morning: Check out Slot Canyon! Located 30 minutes away from the visitors center, this full-coverage canyon is perfect for both a morning and afternoon hike. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours there, it’s so cool you won’t want to rush through it.
This is where our itinerary heads to more Overlanding / off-roading locations. As we mentioned above, many have done these trials in a high clearance 2WD vehicle but depending on weather and deep sand, we recommend a 4×4 vehicle.
Afternoon: We recommend driving to Borrego’s Badlands Font Point which is a maze of golden hills and sand-colored arroyos that is a 4-mile long road. To get there from the Slot Canyon you will be following a wash most of the way with tracks leading you there due to it benign such a popular spot. At sunset and sunrise, you will be treated to one of the best views in all of Southern California. Remember to bring a shovel and trackpads since there is deep sand and the potential to get stuck.
Evening: As we said, Anza Borrego is an official Dark Sky Community and you MUST stay up and watch them – Maybe even go during a meteor shower. One of our favorite places to camp overnight is in Hawk Canyon, which has 15 first come first serve camping spots and sits right below these beautiful sandstone cliffs.
Day #3 Itinerary
Morning: For the final day, we have a few recommendations that are great for photo ops and a palace to escape the heat. One very interesting spot you must visit to take a picture is the infamous Hollywood and Vine sign that is randomly put in the middle of the desert. It’s a well-known intersection in Los Angeles but an oddity for the desert. Regardless, it’s something to see and drink your coffee with gorgeous views all around.
Afternoon: Ready to go spelunking? If so, we highly suggest heading to the Arroyo Tapiado Carrizo Badlands Mud Caves. This place is a hidden gem as it isn’t not mentioned on the park’s website or in its literature. There are between 20-30 separate caves and some that extend over 1,000 feet deep. This is the perfect place to hang out and explore (especially in the heat) as the temperature drops significantly. Please make sure to bring water, take a flashlight, and go with a friend.
Evening: It may be time to head home but if you’re still looking for adventure you can continue off-roading the Vallecito Creek Road or Arroyo Seco Del Diablo which has tons of places to test your driving skills.