A Few Days in the Desert: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The drive from Temecula to Anza-Borrego is a bit curvy with grades, so our short drive day took a little longer than expected, but it was worth it! As previous San Diego residents, we had never been here before, which feels a bit blasphemous now. The nights are quiet, the sky is huge, and the stars shine bright — all things everyone could use a little bit more of in their life, I believe.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in the lower 48 and lies in three Southern California counties, making up one-fifth of San Diego County with its 600,000 acres. It’s also a certified International Dark Sky Park, which is “a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.”

There are multiple campgrounds throughout the park ranging from no reservation, dry camping to reservation needed, full hookups. As with many California State Parks, and state parks in general, getting a reservation isn’t the easiest and does require some planning. We were able to reserve two nights in the no hookup section of Borrego-Palm Canyon Campground a few months ago, and at a later date, after a cancellation, were able to reserve two more nights in the full hookup section.

NOTE: Check in time is 2pm with no exceptions, and they definitely adhere to it. We arrived at 1:38 and they let us preregister, but would not allow us to go to our site. We drove over to the Visitor Center where there is RV parking, and bought some souvenirs and picked up all of the literature we would need for our visit, before heading back to the campground.

Borrego-Palm Canyon Campground

200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, CA

www.reservecalifornia.com

  • Dry Camping Sites (Max Length 25′)
  • Full Hookup Sites (Max Length 35′)
  • Dump Station
  • Restrooms with Flush Toilets
  • Token-Operated Showers
  • Water Spigots
  • Fire Pits
  • Picnic Tables
  • Shade Structures in Dry Camping Sites
  • Firewood for Sale

Our first two nights were spent in Site 72 in the dry camping section of the campground. The literature for the campground states that the max length of these sites is 25′. However, our trailer is 28′ from hitch to bumper, and we were able to squeeze in while still being able to park our truck at the front of the site. When reserving a site here, I looked at not only the listed length on the website, but also the Google Map satellite image where I could see that we’d be able to back up quite a bit further than the length of the pad. Not all of the sites would have fit us, so do your research if you have a longer rig — we were definitely the longest trailer in this section of the campground! The sites in this section are sporadically placed and offer more distance from your neighbor than the sites in the full hookup section.  The sites with the best views are 73, 75, 77, 79, 81, 83, 84, 85, and 87. The restrooms and showers aren’t anything special, but they are clean and all individual, so you have privacy and safety.

An iPhone photo in no ways does the night sky any justice, but as you can see, even with bright moonlight and campfires burning, the stars were out in force.
We just fit into our site!
We backed up as far as we could without hitting the shade structure and still being able to deploy our awnings — which is key in the desert without A/C.
Our site was a little odd in that the fire pit and picnic table were opposite the door side of our trailer, but the site itself is spacious with nice views.

We spent the next two nights in site 33 in the full hookups section. All of the sites here are pull throughs and the sites with the best views are 50 and 51. The sites here are definitely longer, with us being able to park our truck in the same direction as the trailer, as opposed to perpendicular to it. Also, when friends visited, they were able to park their car at an angle behind the Airstream.

At site 33, there is shrubbery and a palm tree to give some separation from the neighboring site.

Borrego Palm Canyon is one of the quietest places we’ve ever stayed. People seemed to go to bed pretty early, but especially in the dry camping section, where there are a lot of tents and vans.

There are about 110 miles of hiking trails throughout Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and there are three trails that leave right from Borrego Palm Canyon Campground:

  • Trail to Visitor Center — Dog and bike friendly; Flat; Easy; Paved; .7 mile one way.
  • Panoramic Overlook Trail — Moderate with loose rock and 300′ of elevation gain; 1.6 mile roundtrip.
The wildflowers are out in force!
View of Borrego Palm Canyon Campground from the overlook.
  • Borrego Palm Canyon Trail — Fairly flat with loose rock and some scrambling; 375′ of elevation gain; Currently open portion is about a 2.25-mile loop.
The landscape along the trail is absolutely beautiful!
We were lucky to see at least a half dozen endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep.
Friends from Oceanside drove out to spend the day with us and the Ocotillo.
Due to a fire, the portion of the trail that leads to the palm oasis and waterfall was closed, but there was still a lot of beauty to see along the way, like these beavertail cactus.

Another fun hike that’s about a 25-minute drive from the campground is The Slot, which, in cased you haven’t guessed, is a slot canyon. The road to the trailhead, where you’ll find pit toilets and a parking lot, is about 2 miles of washboard gravel, but not awful. It’s an easy, 1.6-mile out and back hike through a narrow slot. There’s an option to make it a loop if you continue past the end of the slot, but as we didn’t have the AllTrails app open to follow the correct route (there’s no defined trail) we turned back after a bit because we didn’t really feel like getting lost in the desert that day.

This is what it looks like when you exit the end of the slot canyon — it’s pretty wide open and difficult to tell what direction to go, so make sure to have a map!

Galleta Meadows is privately owned land in Borrego Springs that’s home to over 130 metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. The Meadows are unfenced and open to the public — and definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in the area!

Our stay in Anza-Borrego was our last stop before wrapping up our winter in California and it was definitely a highlight! There’s a lot of boondocking to be had in this area, but seeing as this was our first time here, we took the safe route and stayed in a developed campground. And as it got really hot on Friday of our stay, we were glad to have an electric hookup to use A/C. Of note, gas is extremely expensive out here. Make sure to fill up before the trip out and search for gas stations a bit removed from Borrego Springs if you need to fill up again. About 45 minutes outside of Borrego Springs, we passed a gas station that was at least $1.50 less per gallon. Also, there’s a small market in town that is a catchall type of store and has the necessities — but I would not call it a grocery store. If you need specific items, bring them with you.