Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a diverse and vast area. Though many think of the desert as dry and lifeless, there are actually a lot of things to do in Anza Borrego and Borrego Springs! Here are five Anza Borrego hikes that you cannot miss on your next visit to this beautiful state park.
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Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a somewhat obscure park in Southern California, located just under two hours outside of San Diego . Though most people in the USA will still scratch their head if you mention “Anza Borrego”, this state park is just beginning to gain notoriety.
In 2017, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park experienced a major superbloom (just the kind that Death Valley is known for now and then). Social media went crazy, posting photos of colorful wildflowers dotting the landscape, and the park saw an uptick in visitors as a result.
Then, Anza Borrego was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2018, and stargazers have flocked here for dreamy astrophotography shots in the dark desert.
But, you don’t need to be in the midst of a superbloom or stay here overnight to enjoy the park (though I do thoroughly recommend FREE camping in Anza Borrego if you have the chance!).
Hiking in Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a breathtaking experience. Here are 5 of my top recommended Anza Borrego hikes that you cannot miss.
Anza Borrego Hikes You Cannot Miss!
First things first. Hiking in the desert is no joke. The weather can get quite hot nomatter what the season (though of course summer is typically the most uncomfortable). The winter can produce an unexpected chill or even flash floods.
If this is your first time hiking in this environment, I highly suggest you check out my posts on hiking in the desert and desert safety tips. I cover what gear to bring, how to stay safe, and other tips that will set you up for success.
While there is no shortage of breathtaking desert scenery across Anza Borrego’s 600,000 acres, the following five hikes will illustrate the vastness and the diversity of the Mojave Desert (yes, this is the same Mojave Desert that covers half of my beloved Joshua Tree National Park!).
So read on for my top 5 Anza Borrego hikes for a great taste of this beautiful desert park.
Hike #1: Anza Borrego Slot Canyon (aka “The Slot” Trail)
Distance: 2.3 miles
Slot Canyons make for some super fun hikes, and this one is no exception! A slot canyon is a narrow skinny canyon that is taller than it is wide. Anza Borrego’s “slot” reaches 40 feet tall but only 1 foot wide, for reference. Slot canyons can be found in other Southwestern states, too, like Arizona and New Mexico.
The hike itself offers fun scenery, like boulders to scramble, wildflowers (when in season) and of course the towering slot canyon itself. The trail is fairly heavily trafficked, especially on weekends. Simple boulder scrambling may be required.
The Slot trailhead is located on Buttes Pass Road. The road is dirt and in the rainy season there can be flash floods. Check the road conditions at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center to be safe.
Hike #2: Old Overland Stage Route
Distance: 2.8 miles
This out and back trail is an easy (and mostly flat) 2.8 mile hike with beautiful desert scenery in a panoramic view all around you. Parts of the hike bring you between two rocky peaks, surrounded by cholla cacti (be careful not to get too close to these guys. They are known as “jumping cacti” for a reason!)
This hike showcases the classic Anza Borrego Desert landscape and is great for hot days as it is not too strenuous. Note, bird watchers frequent this trail as you have a wide view of their land!
Hike #3: Ghost Mountain Trail
Distance: 1.1 miles
Ghost Mountain Trail is a great hike for those who like abandoned artifacts. At a moderate but short 1.1 miles, you will follow the trail up the rocky hillside to the trails end. Plan on extra time here to discover the remnants of the Marshall South Home.
There are not a ton of artifacts leftover but the hillside holds old structural elements from his home. It was slightly reminiscent of thing I would find on Arizona hikes and it’s definitely fun to explore and daydream about life in this desolate location.
Hike #4: The Wind Caves at Anza Borrego
Distance: 1 mile
Though short, this is an amazing hike is steep! I believe this is why it is rated as “moderate” but don’t worry – it’s not too far before you reach the wind caves.
The caves are numerous, and make for great photo ops while you hear (and feel!) the win barreling through on windy days. The view from the top is amazing. rewarding you with some very unique caves.
Beware of some sandy areas you will pass over by car to reach here. I did it without a 4×4 vehicle but be mindful.
Hike #5: Pictograph Trail
Distance: 1.8 miles
Pictograph Trail provides an easy hike for all levels. It is a flat, mostly straight out an back trail, and there is a lot to see along the way.
Besides the beautiful landscape of Anza Borrego, you will come across a gigantic boulder that the Kumeyaay Indian painted pictographs on. These lined drawings are over 2,000 years old and are quite interesting to investigate and daydream about times long ago.
Be careful on the road leading toward Pictograph Trail. It can get washed out in the winter and rainy months.
If you appreciate the desert hikes that Anza Borrego has to offer, be sure to check out the additional four desert parks of Southern California, filled with hiking, camping, and photography opportunities!
Have you been to Anza Borrego? What did you think?!