Hiking in the Anza-Borrego State Park

Hiking in the Anza-Borrego State Park

As I mentioned in the previous post, Anza-Borrego State Park is 600,000 acres of rugged mountains, harsh badlands and dangerous, sneaky plant and wildlife.  Most “trails” are completely unmarked.  Some of our best hikes were discovered by talking with others who were familiar with the area.  We would have never have discovered them on our own.  I can only think of one trail that we hiked that was pretty easy to follow from start to finish.  During the majority of our hikes, we would lose the trail many times.

This hike started out on a trail, then it disappeared – Rock House Canyon

Even the most popular, busy trail in the park, a hiker could easily get turned around on if they were not paying attention.  Given that this place is desert, there are no overgrown areas that make it easy to identify the trail, so it’s very easy to walk down something that looks like a trail, but then it completely stops.  Most of the time this is not a problem since typically you can see where you need go with the wide open views.  I was concerned of getting lost on only one hike.  This particular hike went up into a canyon where smaller canyons split off in different directions.  We kept track of landmarks to help ensure we could easily get back to our starting location.

Making note of landmarks, too hot to get lost on this day

When you are rationing your water for a given amount of time or distance, you don’t want to end up heading down a wrong path and add more miles than you protected for.

Below are short descriptions of some of our favorite hikes.  There are many more hikes we did and love, but there are many, many more we want to tackle, but they will have to wait until our next visit.

Borrego Palm Canyon

The prize for this hike – Borrego Palm Canyon Oasis

The Borrego Palm Canyon hike is the most popular hike in the park. It’s an easy 1 ½ miles up to the palm oasis and for the slightly daring there is an alternative hike on the way back that adds another ½ mile and a little more rock scrambling.  Oh, and way fewer people.  Since the trail head was only a 1/4 mile from our camp spot, this was one of our go-to hikes to get some exercise.  We even hiked it at night without a flashlight during the March full moon.  Hiking under a full moon is an incredible experience and I can’t believe I waited 53 years to try that!  Could be that a full moon never occurred on a weekend or during my yearly week vacation…or….it was cloudy in Michigan!

As like anywhere else in the park, you are free to trail blaze, so you can continue on past the oasis if you desire.  One of the top three peaks to go after is Indian Head.  One way up is through and beyond the Borrego Palm Canyon trail.  After the oasis, major rock scrambling is required to move on.  We ran out of time during this visit to hike up to Indian Head, but it is on the list for next season.

Beyond the oasis – Borrego Palm Canyon

If you are lucky, you might even get to see the namesake Borrego (Big Horn Sheep) on the this hike.

Big Horn Sheep – Borrego Palm Canyon

In my mind this is the easiest trail in the park.  Despite that, during our short stay in the campground, the ambulance was called at least 6 times for problems related to heat stress, rattle snake bites and a couple of ankle issues.   No matter how easy the hike, you must be prepared when heading out into nature, especially the desert.

Villager Peak

On top of Villager Peak

The desert is very efficient at extracting moisture out of everything.  When hiking in the desert, even in the winter, it is very important to have plenty water.  It is also important to know your limits.  We attempted to hike to Villager Peak during our first visit.  The trail goes 7 steep, rocky miles straight up the mountain from 850 feet altitude to 5500 feet at the peak, no switch-backs on this baby.  We made the decision to turn around at 5 ½ miles as I felt we did not have enough water or energy to make it up and then return 7 miles.  It is always disappointing to miss a peak, but we would return another day to blast it out.  Having adequate water and fuel, we made the entire 7 miles up in a little over 4 hours.  Shorter than it took to get to 5 ½ miles on the first try.  We were not ready the first time, understood our limitations and turned around before anything became critical.

This hike is by far the most grueling hike we have done.  The trail when you can find it, is very steep with plenty of loose rock.

“Always stick to the ridge if you lose the trail” – Tribal Knowledge

Most hikes are pretty easy on the way back down, but due to the loose rocks and steep decline it was absolutely brutal on the quads.  I usually don’t have to rest on the way back down, but the rubber legs would set in about every 15 minutes.  It took a couple of days to recover from this hike.

The views on the way up Villager Peak are unbelievable.  Non-stop panoramic views the whole climb, taking in Borrego Springs on the west to the Salton Sea on the east.

View of Borrego Valley

Once you make it to the 5 ½ mile mark, you start to see the Coachella Valley to the North.

Coachella Valley – 65 miles away by car.

We could not have asked for a better day, blue sky, no wind and starting temperatures in the 50’s.  An incredible experience and challenge.  Finishing a difficult hike always leaves you with a great feeling.  This one will remain in the memory banks.

California Riding and Hiking Trail / Hell Hole Canyon

View of Borrego Springs from the California Hiking and Riding Trail

The California Riding and Hiking Trail, CRHT is one of the easier trails to follow.  The elevation gain adds a challenge, but for the most part it is a fairly easy hiking trail.  So….we had to step it up a couple of notches.  We had heard through a fellow hiker that a challenging hike existed by dropping down into Hell Hole Canyon from Culp Valley above. We decided to hike up to Culp Valley via the CRHT then scramble down the mountain into Hell Hole Canyon. This would make for about a 10 mile round trip hike.  When we finally got back to the car, we were scraped up and bruised.  I destroyed a pair of trail running shoes and almost got bit by a rattle snake.

Bruised and beat up after some bush whacking into Hell Hole Canyon
Destroyed a perfectly good pair of shoes in 2 miles






If we attempt this bush whacking hike again, we will wear hiking boots, long pants and a long shirt, carry hiking poles and go when the temperatures are in the low 50’s to ensure that the rattle snakes are slow-moving.

We went on this hike a week after the Super Bloom had peaked down in the valley.  With only about a 1,000 feet elevation gain, we ran into many incredible flowers, some we have seen below and others that were new.

Calcite Mine / The Slots

The Slots – Borrego Mountain

The slot canyons of Calcite Mine and Borrego Mountain were not difficult to negotiate, just a little climbing and jumping, but they are a little scary.

Earthquake zone, giant rock above my head!

Being in an active earthquake zone and very close to the San Andreas Fault, it was a little freaky being in these slot canyons.

Aside from worrying about an earthquake, playing around in these slot canyons is fun, fun, fun.

Let the fun begin


Only one way out or turn around and go back

Each time we went, we had the place to ourselves.  If these slots were jammed with people, the fun factor would have dropped to zero :).

To keep this post from getting too much longer, I’ll stop here with our top four hikes.  We enjoyed every other hike we went on.  The flora and fauna change quickly as you move around the park, so each hike was unique.  Every time we went out on a hike, we ran into new flowers or saw a new critter.   You have to get out and explore to get a glimpse of the incredible beauty of this park and hiking is are favorite mode to explore.

I thought we might have gotten sick of hiking after 6 months on the road, but rather we get quite restless if a few days go by without getting out into nature.  This park will not disappoint in delivering a unique desert experience.  We can’t wait to return to explore some new areas.


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