The largest state park in California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is an adventure traveler’s playground. Encompassing 600,000 acres, this vast park is also the second-largest state park in the contiguous United States, after the Adirondack Park in New York State. If you’re wondering what to do in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, we’ve got you covered in this informative blog post.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – An Introduction
Situated in southern California, the park is an important part of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve. Although much less famous than other desert parks in California—most notably Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers equally as superb outdoor adventure opportunities.
Its twelve wilderness areas, 500 miles of dirt roads and more than 100 miles of hiking trails provide you with an unrivalled—at least in a state park—chance to explore the south Californian deserts.
Even though it’s an arid landscape characterized by sand plains and rugged mountains, this is the perfect habitat for a large number of animals. If you’re lucky, you may spot a roadrunner, golden eagle, bighorn sheep and even a red diamond rattlesnake.
Note that water is very scarce in the park so you’re advised to bring plenty of it during your visit. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a huge and empty park. Light pollution is absolutely minimal, if not non-existent, which results in spectacular night skies.
What to Do in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park?
As always, the best place to start any visit to a national or state park is its visitor center. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center lies two miles to the west of the Borrego Springs town center, which lies within the park. You’ll find it just off County Road S-22.
At the visitor center, you’ll find a wealth of information. You can get hiking maps and park brochures, watch an informative slideshow and stroll through the exhibits.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is not a park to fly through in just one day. This is a place you need to take your time for. There’s plenty to discover. Consider spending three nights and two full days in this expansive park, allowing you to explore it in greater detail.
One mile from the visitor center, you can pitch your tent or park your RV at the Palm Canyon Campground. This well-equipped campground is the perfect base from which to explore the park.
With more than a hundred miles of hiking trails, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is best explored on foot. When camping at the Palm Canyon Campground, the first thing you should do is walk the 3-mile Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail. This easy trail takes you to a California fan palm grove.
Assuming that you only have a 2WD vehicle, you won’t be able to get to many trailheads in the park. That, however, doesn’t need to be a problem. There are plenty of places you can get to without 4WD as well.
Another recommended hike near the visitor center and campground is in Hellhole Canyon. The trailhead lies south of the visitor center, off County Road S-22. This 5-mile roundtrip leads through a canyon, across desert flats and to a small waterfall.
A third suggested hike is to the 100 Palm Tree Oasis. Situated in the southern part of the park, the trailhead lies off S-2 near the Mountain Palm Springs Campground. The trail is 2 miles out-and-back.
Even if you don’t have a 4WD vehicle, you can still go for a fantastic scenic drive in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The wonderful Erosion Road is a self-guided drive from the visitor center east along S-22. Running through the Borrego Badlands, this 21-mile tour takes about one hour to complete. Of course, allow for more time if you’d like to do some exploring on the way.
One of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s biggest attractions is its spring wildflowers. The peak of wildflower season falls between late-February and early-April. In this period, millions of wildflowers carpet the desert floors and hills, slowly moving to higher elevations as time progresses. If there’s any time of the year perfect for visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, it’s early spring.
Lastly, because of the remoteness and emptiness of this vast region, it offers world-class stargazing. This is one of the main reasons you should spend more than one day there. Set up camp for a couple of nights and spend some time looking up at the most impressive of night skies.