I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of California’s largest state park—Anza-Borrego—before researching desert hiking options near San Diego. After 10 busy days in LA and San Diego on a Spring Break holiday, I was ready for some quiet, nature time. I’m so glad I discovered Anza-Borrego State Park. The park’s desert landscape is stunning, and it has a “far away from it all” feel, despite being only a two hour drive from San Diego. We made the most out of our short stay and it left me itching for more.
Anza-Borrego has 500 miles of dirt roads and a 110 miles of hiking and riding trails. It features outstanding desert vistas, and depending on the season, spectacular wildflower and cacti displays. Visitors stay at hotels in and around the small town of Borrego Springs, or at the park’s campgrounds (3 developed and 9 primitive). A good place to get your bearings is at the excellent Visitor Center just beyond Borrego Springs.
By the time we arrived at the park it was already mid-afternoon. We (or should I say I) were anxious to do a short hike. My son would have been happy hanging out at our hotel’s pool. The folks at the Visitor Center suggested Palm Canyon, a lovely 3.25 mile loop that starts just beyond the Center at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. If you’re cheap like us, you can save the $8 day use parking fee, and park for free at the Visitor Center. This adds 2 easy miles to the hike.
Palm Canyon Trail is great to do in late afternoon. The popular trail is less busy and the late day lighting is gorgeous. The scenery on route is beautiful, but the highlight is the dense palm oases at the end of the trail. In this stark desert environment, where cacti and low, shrubby vegetation are the norm, the huge palm cluster looks completely out of place. It’s a remarkable sight.
The next day, a park ranger suggested we hike Plum Canyon. This is a great hike with a nice variety of cacti. Most of the hike is on a sandy/rocky single track through a valley that gradually ascends to a ridge with lovely views and welcomed breeze. I don’t know how long it took because we stopped to take so many photos, but you should count on 2-3 hours.
On the way back to Borrego Springs we did the short 1 mile Cactus Loop. Just across the street from the Tamarisk Campground, this is a perfect hike if you’re short on time or just need to stretch your legs. Pick up an interpretive pamphlet at the trailhead and learn about the cacti and other unique vegetation in the area.
Sadly we were out of time. I loved our little pit stop at Borrego Springs. It’s a small, low-key place with no fancy shopping or dining, but makes an awesome base for nature enthusiasts to explore the treasures of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.