A GUIDE TO: ANZA BORREGO STATE PARK
Fresh Off the Grid spent a week in early February hanging out in Anza Borrego State Park. With its mild winter climate, Anza Borrego is a popular retreat for snowbirds, long term travelers, and anyone looking to escape the cold. As California’s largest state park, there are plenty of outdoor activities and natural attractions to check out. So many, in fact, you might find it hard to leave.
When to visit:
The best time to visit Anza Borrego, and really anywhere in the Southern California desert, is during the winter and early spring. In the town of Borrego Springs (which is surrounded by the state park), the average daytime high between the months of December and March is 72 F degrees, with the average nighttime low being 45 F degrees.
The warm weather attracts travelers from all over, and you’ll see plenty of RVs, Sprinter vans, and Westfalias with license plates from Oregon, Washington, and Canada. While it’s strange that most people are from out-of-state, the upswing is that everybody tends to be very happy and agreeable. And why wouldn’t they be? They’re all on vacation.
Where to Camp:
Free Dispersed Camping
One of the big perks of desert camping is the abundance of free camping options. For example, you are allowed to camp anywhere in Anza Borrego for free under the following conditions:
- Car must be parked no more than one car length off the road, though you may walk in further to set up your site.
- Set up your camp at least 100 yards from any water source.
- No ground fires are permitted – you’ll need to bring a metal container with you and then pack the ashes out.
- Pack in your own firewood. Because the desert is a sparse and fragile ecosystem, collecting twigs and branches is not permitted.
- Brush up on Leave No Trace Principals and be sure to follow them while camping in the Anza Borrego backcountry.
Read more about dispersed camping in Anza Borrego here.
Free Car Camping
In addition to dispersed camping, there are a variety of free dry camping areas that are popular with the RVers and vanlifers. These areas can be easily accessed with two-wheel drive vehicles, but offer zero amenities. Drinking water must be packed in and any waste must be packed out (hence the term dry camping). If you’re interested in seeing some cool adventuremobiles, it’s definitely worth checking a few of these spots out.
Check out these free sites on Campendium: Dry Rockhouse, Pegleg, and Clark Dry Lake (we particularly enjoyed Rockhouse, which was our home for the week and offered beautiful views of both the mountains and desert).
Camping at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground
This is a full service campground with fire rings, picnic tables, shade awnings, and hook-up sites. If you’re looking for the traditional car camping vibe, then this is your spot. It has well-kept bathrooms, token-operated showers, and firewood for sale on site. It also serves as the starting point for a variety of hiking trails, including the trail to the Palm Canyon Oasis (See below).
Make a reservation here on reserveamerica.com
What to See:
Short but sweet. While this narrow siltstone canyon is only 0.8 miles long, it is one of the most epic hiking experience in Anza Borrego. Locally known as “The Slot”, this water carved trench grows progressively taller and narrower the deeper you progress, forcing hikers to squeeze through in some spots.
Find directions to the trailhead as well as a full trail description on HikeSpeak.
Palm Canyon Oasis
Behind Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is the entrance to Palm Canyon. Follow the gradually ascending 3 mile trail and you’ll arrive at spring-fed oasis. Relax in the shade of giant fan palms and dip your feet in the cooling waters. A park ranger fondly referred to the oasis as “The Promised Land” and shared that every year around Easter weekend, the bighorn sheep in the area come down to the waters with their young, giving you an opportunity to catch a glimpse of this otherwise elusive animal.
Modern Hiker has a fantastic write up of this trail here.
If there was enough rain during the winter, then you might catch the bloom of desert wildflowers. Typically wildflowers bloom between February and April (call the Wildflower Hotline at 619-767-4684 to get up to date info for this year’s blooms), with early March typically being the peak.
Iron Sculptures of Ricardo Breceda
In additions to natural attractions, Borrego Springs is also home to a collection of magnificent metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. There are 130 larger-than-life statues spread all across town, inspired by the animals that roamed this section of desert millions of years ago. Dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, saber toothed cats, and wild broncos are just a few of the many iron figures that can be found here. Pick up a map from the park’s visitor center and find yourself in an area-wide scavenger hunt!
In the center of Borrego Springs, there is a large traffic circle with a park in the middle. In addition to public restrooms and water fountains, the park also offers free electrical jacks at the base of nearly every tree as well as free WiFi. For long term travelers this park serves as a modern oasis. Disclosure: This article was written underneath a palm tree in Christmas Circle Park.
So if the winter weather is getting you down, then come spend some time in Anza Borrego. But be warned, you might find things so agreeable that you never leave. As one resident exclaimed to us while waiting in line at the grocery store: “This is Borrego. Nobody’s in a rush to go anywhere!”
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