Borrego Springs California is one of those off the beaten track desert communities that you can't help but fall in love with. It's eclectic, artistic and hippie charm, make it easy to visit and get lost in exploring for awhile. It's the only city in California to be surrounded by a huge and beautiful state park—the biggest in the state—which is a prime attraction there along with it's fabulous night skies and funky art scene.
Like most desert towns, Borrego Springs is hot and dry. The cooler temperature months between November and March are the perfect time to visit, but if you don't mind the heat, summer can be just as fun! If you've got a weekend or more to spend, here's what not to miss:
1. ANZA-BORREGO STATE PARK
Quick Info: Official Website
Fees: $10 per vehicle | Camping: YES | Dogs: Only allowed in campgrounds and designated roads and trails
At 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the largest state park in California, and a place you'll want to spend most of your time in when visiting Borrego Springs! Just 2 hours from San Diego, and just over 3 from Los Angeles, this park features some of the most diverse desert landscapes in the country. It's part of the Colorado desert, and is filled with over 110 miles of hiking trails, and 500 miles of off-road/dirt roads allowing for lots of time to explore. One of the coolest things about this park is the free dispersed camping. This means you do not have to plan months in advance to reserve a campsite, as you can set up camp anywhere in the park!
2. PALM CANYON HIKE
Length: 3.2 miles RT | Level: Easy | Duration: 1-2 hours | Elevation: 425 | Fees: $10 State Park Entrance
Ready to see some random palm trees in the desert? And no, they weren't planted there--this popular hike in the Anza-Borrego State Park, Palm Canyon is a fun trail that takes you through a rocky desert landscape to a hidden little natural palm grove. Grab the map at the visitor center and begin the trail right by the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. It's a beautiful hike that follows a stream up through to the wild palm grove. Wildlife are also present here as many big horn sheep frequent the spot. It's a real desert oasis!
3. FONT'S POINT LOOKOUT
Length: OHV 4 miles out and back | Duration: 1-2 hours | Elevation: 1253 | 4x4 Vehicle: strongly recommended
Directions and full info here
If you have a 4x4 or AWD vehicle, this spot is a must see to get one of the best overlook views you will see in southern California. Some people call this the Grand Canyon of California, but it reminded me more of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The layers and colors on this sweeping desert landscape are really incredible! When visited at sunrise you can see the sun coming up over the Salton Sea. I ventured out there at dusk on a rainy overcast day which did help with the sand trail as at the time I did not have a 4x4 vehicle. The park strongly encourages a 4x4 vehicle on this road. I would only proceed without one if you have a vehicle that is a truck with good tires that you trust to handle well and have off-roaded before.
4. THE SLOT TRAIL
Length: 2.3 mile loop | Level: Easy | Duration: 1-2 hours | Elevation: 300 | Dogs: NO
My favorite hike in the park! The Slot is super fun, and definitely a place that everyone should explore on your visit. It's Borrego's slot canyon trail, similar to the larger favorites like Antelope Canyon but on a smaller scale. Unlike Antelope, you can get more intimate with this as you can explore weaving and squeezing in and out of the canyons yourself. Some places can be tight, but it is really cool and such a fun way to spend the afternoon. The slanted rock slab bridging a narrow gap (above) is a notable picture spot in the Slot, and is visible not too far from the entrance. This is a very flat hike, with just a small descent into the canyon so it is accessible for all levels. This trail can be done as loop to see the whole thing, or a simple in and out—go as far as you like and turn back.
5. GALLETA MEADOWS
Taking a trip to Borrego Springs wouldn't be complete without checking out the art scene. These famous sculptures known as Galleta Meadows are iconic to the town, and a whole bunch of different creatures—dinosaurs, prehistoric elephants, and much more are scattered all around. Many of them you can see just by driving around as they are out in the open plains and are visible from the streets. The sea dragon is the biggest of all the sculptures and it crosses a main road so it is impossible to miss. Created by sculptor Ricardo Breceda, pick up a detailed map at the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association bookstore to find them all!
6. FISH CREEK WASH /SANDSTONE CANYON
Length: 29 miles out and back | Level: Easy | Duration: 1-2 hours | Elevation: 1916
Directions and full drive info here
If you have a 4x4 off road vehicle do not miss this canyon. It is one of the best off roading trails I've ever been on! With sandstone similar to The Slot but on a much larger scale, this trail is a dramatic scenic drive through narrow golden canyons. You absolutely need a well equipped 4x4 vehicle with decent clearance—do not attempt otherwise as you will get stuck. I did this in a Nissan Xterra 4x4 with high tires and though a bumpy ride, had no issues. The drive is rough, rocky, sandy and even muddy if it's recently rained so prep accordingly. There are some sketchy parts toward the end as it gets really narrow, but if you can get at least to that point before turning around, it's so worth it. This is a great place to spend an entire day as it's also where you'll find access to the popular Wind Caves hike (details below), as well as many turnoffs to have a picnic or camp.
7. WIND CAVES HIKE
Length: 1 miles RT | Level: Easy | Duration: 1 hour | Elevation: 150 | Dogs: NO
The Wind Caves is a short, beautiful hike that features several caves and tunnels to explore, with stunning views of the whole Fish Creek Wash and Sandstone Canyon. To get to the trailhead, you'll need a 4x4 to follow Fish Creek Wash past Fish Creek Campground for about 2.5 miles. The road then opens up with a big area to park and you will see a well marked sign on your left for the Wind Caves Trailhead. Though a short hike, it is very hot and there is no shade until you reach the caves so be sure to pack some water. This is a good place to make a stop if you are planning a longer day to explore the full Fish Creek Wash/Sandstone Canyon. Enjoy the scenery as you make your way up, as it really feels like being on another planet!
8. CLARK DRY LAKE
What's a desert without a dry lake bed? Like Death Valley, Borrego Springs delivers on all the crazy diverse landscapes you can only find in a desert. Just about 20 minutes from the center of town off the S-22, Clark Dry Lake is super accessible and is also an interesting historical spot. This dry lake was used as an airfield during World War II, and then later a radio observatory. It's a quick stop you can fit in on your way to Font's Point, but for a longer day, the full walk around the entire lake bed is about 9 miles.
9. THE PUMPKIN PATCH
This unique landscape is not part of Anza-Borrego State park, but it's neighbor instead Ocotillo Wells. This one is hard to find and you will actually need a paper map of Ocotillo Wells California OHV Area, as there is no service at all using a GPS. The easiest way to find this is to take the main fire road, Poleline Road off of highway 78. Then make a left on Tule Wash, and you'll run right into a small bathroom station that is across from the Pumpkin Patch. The rest of the roads on this map are not well labeled so if you decide to explore a little be prepared to get a little lost and have to ask the locals for help. It is a fun stop, and beautiful at sunset!
There is no better place to watch stars than in Borrego Springs! It is an official dark sky community so once the sun goes down it gets super dark and the stars are crazy bright and visible. Try driving without headlights on one of the back country roads and you'll see what I'm talking about! It is one of the best places to stargaze which is why they have tour companies where you can book Night Sky Tours. With or without a tour, it's easy to find a backroad, setup a chair and be mesmerized by the skies!
QUICK TRAVEL TIPS
When to visit? Borrego Springs is beautiful all year round, but the most mild climate is in the winter months, November- March.
Do I need a 4x4? No, but it is great if you have one due to the many OHV trails you can explore.
What's the weather like? It is a dry desert heat. In summer expect high temperatures up in the 100s (F), with evenings in the 70s (F) and in the winter highs will be 60s (F) with cold nights down to the 30s (F).
Much of Anza-Borrego is wild and remote, accessible only via primitive roads or on foot—so rent that 4x4 if you have too!
Just over 3000 people live in this small community, and tourism is its primary industry.
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