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′)
  • 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.

Escondido RV Resort – Escondido, CA

Our very first week as full-timers was spent in Escondido, in San Diego’s North County. We rolled back into Escondido 266 days later. We had quite literally gone full circle. Seriously, check out our travel map — we actually went in a full circle, extending as far east as Wisconsin, between our stays at Champagne Lakes RV Resort and Escondido RV Resort. We had 7500 miles, 16 states, and 50 different stops under our belt. We stayed for six weeks, which is the longest we have stayed anywhere. We were looking forward to being in familiar territory — the house we sold that allowed us to buy our truck and Airstream was literally 15 minutes away in San Marcos — and spending time with friends. We were looking forward to California burritos and the ocean and trivia at the brewery and being able to slip back into a normal routine. We were looking forward to having a temporary home base that actually felt like home. And we definitely got all of those things while staying at Escondido RV Resort!

Escondido RV Resort

1740 Seven Oaks Road, Escondido, CA 92026

www.escondidorv.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Dog Run
  • Pool with Spa
  • Propane Fill
  • Wi-Fi
  • Cable TV
Site 110

As I try to write this review, I keep typing and deleting. On the surface, Escondido RV Resort is a great place to stay. It’s well landscaped, well maintained, and the people who run it are very nice. It’s right off I-15 and one exit north of the 78, which is the main east-west highway in North County San Diego. As we lived in North County for a bit and most of our friends live in North County, we were able to get to where we wanted to go within a decent amount of time. The trade off is that the resort is RIGHT off the 15, which means the sound of traffic is pretty audible most times of the day from most parts of the park. We were lucky with our particular spot (site 110) as it backed up to a tree line that helped buffer the traffic noise. The Wi-Fi was decent but in order to access it we needed to set up a (free) account and reconnect to it daily. They had great HD TV, but in order to use it, we needed to borrow a cable box from them to hook up in our trailer. There is very nice landscaping throughout, but it’s watered every night and the sprinklers tend to be pretty aggressive with their spray field and leave behind hard water spots on the lower half your trailer — so, obsessive trailer cleaners beware. There isn’t one blade of grass in the park, which is understandable as it’s Southern California, but leaves a little to be desired when walking a dog. There are two different dog areas, one on each level (the park is set up on two different levels). The one on the lower level is fenced in, so it’s off leash, but is quite a hike to get to if you’re staying on the upper level. The one on the upper level is small, but doable. Both have wood chips as a base. Rod McLeod Park is located right next to the RV park and is accessible through a locked gate from the upper level of the RV park. It’s a big grassy space with a playground and restrooms, and was a nice alternative for walking Max. However, due to it’s seedier side — people living in cars in the parking lot, a handful of homeless people, and quick transactions of some sort taking place — I didn’t feel comfortable walking Max by myself and would only visit the park when Travis was around. The laundry room was nice and clean and the machines used credit cards instead of coins, which is fantastic. The only issue is that the credit card machines didn’t always work. A few times I had to try multiple cards and one time, the person in the office had to run a special card through the reader in order to get the machine to work. Also while we there, someone tried to steal a bike from someone’s site. Luckily, the maintenance guy saw him and stopped him. The bike was retrieved, but the would-be thief ran off before the cops arrived. Obviously, there is potential for theft at ANY place we stay, which is why we never leave anything of value outside.

With all of that being said, none of those issues are anything that would prevent us from staying there again. But there is one thing — the AT&T signal in that area is terrible. Basically non-existent. Luckily, we also have a phone and hotspot on Verizon, so along with their Wi-Fi, we were able to work without too many issues. We just weren’t able to use our personal phones very dependably, which was pretty inconvenient. 

And our very last issue with Escondido RV Resort was the price. When we first booked our stay there, if was originally for four weeks, so just shy of a month. At that point, we understood why we weren’t getting the monthly rate. But we changed our travel plans and a couple weeks before arriving, we extended our stay an additional two weeks. Six weeks. Which is more than a month. Which means we should have received the monthly rate. But we received the weekly rate. While they were very nice and gave us a nicer site — we were supposed to be on the first level, but they moved us to a larger site on the second level — I didn’t understand their explanation as to why we weren’t getting the monthly rate, and honestly, I don’t even remember what their explanation was anymore. The only benefit to paying the weekly rate versus monthly rate is that electricity was included in our rate and is not included in the monthly rate. We paid about $1900/month with the weekly rate when the actual monthly rate for the spot we reserved was $1100, so yes, we were frustrated. To add to the frustration is what I recently found on their website:

$800 if you’re in an Airstream?!? Must be nice!

I don’t want to sound like a complete Negative Nancy about Escondido RV Resort. There are some really great features too:

  • They make filling your propane tanks very easy. You just set your tanks at the end of your site and they’ll pick them up, fill them, and return them.
  • There’s a small swimming pool and spa that are nice.
  • They have a deal with the nearby LA Fitness where you can get a free 2-week membership.
  • You can have packages delivered there.
  • The close proximity to I-15 can’t really be beat!

Things To Do in the Area

We were pretty busy during most of our stay in Escondido, but most of that entailed hanging out with friends and visiting our favorite restaurants, stores, local sites, etc. However, here are a few things you should check out if you’re in the area:

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

www.sdzsafaripark.org

Pretty much everyone knows about the famous San Diego Zoo, but a lot of people outside of the area have not heard about the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. While the zoo is located down in San Diego, the safari park is in Escondido, just 20 minutes from the RV park. Like the zoo, you’ll find gorillas, tigers, lions, elephants, cheetahs, rhino, giraffes, and a variety of other animals. Unlike the zoo, you’ll find the park’s rhino, giraffes, antelope, wild ass, zebra, and buffalo roaming about in a free-range exhibit called African Plains. From the tram, you’re able to see how the animals interact with those within their species as well as with animals from other species. The newest exhibit, Walkabout Australia, is home to kangaroos, wallabies, cassowaries, and other animals from the Outback. You are able to walk through the enclosure and get up close and personal, sometimes even pet, the resident wallabies. 

A giraffe looks for a snack from one of the Caravan Safaris, which is a tour you can take for an additional cost.
Sisters Joanne and Leslie can be seen playing in the Gorilla Forest
The park’s elephant herd recently added two babies. Pictured here is Zuli, born on my birthday this year!
Tiger Trail is such a beautiful exhibit! On this day, the big cats were enjoying some meaty bones.
A kangaroo strikes a pose in the newest exhibit, Walkabout Australia
Due to being rejected by their mother, the wallabies were hand raised and, therefore, very comfortable with human interaction. This is 11-month-old Laura.
The Safari Park, as well as the Zoo, is also a botanic garden and home to some really beautiful and interesting plants.
I have no idea what this is, but it can be found in the World Gardens section of the park.

Hiking

While staying in Escondido, we went on two hikes. The first hike is kind of a San Diego bucket list hike. Anyone who’s been in San Diego long enough has heard about the hike to Potato Chip Rock. The hike begins at the Mt. Woodson Trailhead along the shores of Lake Poway in Poway, which is about a 20 minute drive from the RV park. It’s one of those hikes that you need to start early, for two reasons: 1) The sun gets blazing hot in this area year round and 2) you want to beat the crowd that makes the journey to get THE shot for Instagram. There’s a parking lot with restrooms and a place to fill water at the trailhead. It’s free to park on weekdays but there’s a $10 fee on weekends. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail. The trail is 7.6 miles roundtrip and is rated hard on AllTrails, probably due to the 2,000 feet of elevation gain. We hit the trail at 6:30am and were in shade the entire way to the top. Once we made it to Potato Chip Rock, we ate some breakfast while we waited in a short line to get some photos. It took us about 3 hours and 15 minutes, not including down time at the top. The way down started to get hot as we were in direct sun, and we were very glad we started early. Make sure to take water and sun protection!

We had beautiful sun rise views on the way up.
While waiting in line, we ate scones, because we fancy.
Tip: Find the most social-media-savvy-looking person in the crowd to take your pics!
Tip: Look at photos on Instagram before you make the trip to find oh-so-clever photo ideas.
There are a lot of fun and interesting rock formations along the trail.
This is a good representation of the quality of the trail.

The second hike is the Lake Hodges Overlook Trail out of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Escondido. It’s a moderately difficult, 6.4-mile trail that’s about a 15-minute drive from the RV park. There’s a parking lot with small visitor center, water fill, and restrooms at the trailhead. Dogs are allowed. There are actually a number of different well-marked trails within the reserve that lead to various overlooks with picnic tables and shade structures.

Beautiful views!
This photo was taken on a different day we hiked the trail, when the lake and surrounding mountains weren’t shrouded in fog.

Breweries

You won’t have a difficult time finding some great craft breweries in San Diego County. One that you should definitely check out if you’re in the area is Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, which is about a 10-minute drive from the RV park. Besides being a brewery, Stone offers a full menu as well as wine. The interior of the facility is nice, but the draw here is the outdoor patio and one-acre beer garden, complete with koi ponds and fire pits. It’s a beautiful property and while I don’t have any photos to post, trust me that you won’t be disappointed.