Off-Road Travel: Anza-Borrego State Park – North

Apr. 27, 2011 By Jaime Hernandez
Shane Casad in his ultra-cool Ford Bronco enjoying a day out in Anza-Borrego.

Anza-Borrego, the largest desert state park in California and second largest in the continental United States, is also home to some of the best four-wheeling trails in the southwest. Located 92 miles northeast from San Diego, Calif., and 293 miles east from Phoenix, Ariz., Anza-Borrego encompasses 600,000 acres with over 500 miles of dirt trails to explore. 

Here is a link for a FREE map of Anza-Borrego State Park [PDF]

Popular for its annual desert flower blooms and wildlife, visitors from all over the world come to experience Anza-Borrego on foot, mountain bike and four-wheel drive.

The visitor center at Anza-Borrego State Park offers a cool underground stop during warm days.

A great place to start your adventure is in the town of Borrego Springs, where the Anza-Borrego State Park visitor center is located. The visitor center offers historical and geological displays, a lecture hall and movie theatre that helps paint the picture of Anza-Borrego. The 7,000-square-foot underground facility can be a fun place to learn about Anza-Borrego and also get current information on trail and park conditions from the ranger.

Large metal Raptors at Galleta Meadows in Borrego Springs have an inviting allure to them, even if they are carnivores.

While in Borrego Springs, make sure to check out the massive creatures of Galleta Meadows Estates.  Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates, generously shares his collection of Gomphotherium steel-welded sculptures created by artist/welder Ricardo Breceda. More at

Borrego Springs is a full-service desert town that has hotels, RV parks and campgrounds. There are also some good eats and fuel for your off-road rig. More info on Borrego Springs can be found at .

There are literally hundreds of trails for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and off-roading in Anza-Borrego State Park. We highlight some of them.

Font’s Point/Borrego Badlands
The Borrego Badlands are made of sediments ranging from 250,000 years to over 2 million years old.  The fossils found in this region have revealed that at one time streams and meadows were home to freshwater snails, clams, ice-age horses, camels, sloths, bears and even mammoths. Font’s Point is named after Father Pedro Font, chaplain that accompanied Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition in 1775.

The Borrego Badlands gives a bird’s eye view of the Salton Sea, San Felipe Wash, and parts of the De Anza expedition trail that leads up to nearby Coyote Canyon.

A sandy wash takes you up to an amazing overlook that gives an expansive view across the Borrego Badlands. The trail is not difficult but it is sandy. Four-wheel drive may be required for extra traction in some sections. Font’s Point is 4 miles from highway S-22 turnoff at N33° 18.192' W116° 14.362'. Look for a sign at Font’s Wash, between mile marker 29 and 30 on S-22.

Font’s Point trail is an easy sandy wash drive that is great for beginners or warming up for more difficult trails. The scenic overlook at the end of the trail is well worth the short 4-mile drive.

Lower Coyote Canyon
Northwest of Borrego Springs, Coyote Canyon offers a scenic ride that winds through sections of the original trail traveled by Spanish explorer De Anza.

Anza's Overland Expedition - On the afternoon of December 20, 1775, 240 Sonoran colonist led by Juan Bautista de Anza made camp near this spot. With them on this first overland colonizing expedition to Alta California came more than 800 head of cattle and horse. The expedition led them through Coyote Canyon in route to Monterey and San Francisco.

Lower Coyote Canyon is a one-way trail, featuring 9.5 miles of sandy and rocky terrain, water crossings and the perfect place to spot Big Horn Sheep. The trail starts where the pavement ends at Di Giorgio Road, just outside Borrego Springs. The first three miles consist of an easy rolling road that leads up to the Desert Garden popular with hikers. The next two miles get rougher, leading up to the first water crossing at Coyote Canyon.

Land Cruisers carve through Coyote Canyon with mountains in the background covered with purple lupin.

From this point, the road is sandy and rocky. The hardest sections of the trail are the second water crossing and rocky road that heads up to the ridge for the last four miles of the trail.

We visited Coyote Canyon on a warm April day. The ocotillo plants were in full bloom and off-roaders were enjoying the cool Coyote Creek.

The second crossing at Coyote Creek will vary in depth, depending on the time of year you visit. From wheel hub to mid-door height, be ready to have your vehicle in deep water if you plan to cross. 

The rocky climb to the summit of Collins Valley that starts at mile 5.5 will require four-wheel drive and careful maneuvering to avoid rock damage. Up on the rocky hillsides is where the big horn sheep roam. 

Fish Creek Wash/Sandstone Canyon
If you only do one trail in Anza-Borrego, this is the one. Fish Creek Wash is an easy drive through a gravely wash that carves through the Vallesito Mountains and Fish Creek Mountains. The drive offers an amazing geologic experience with massive rock formations and sheering 200-foot walls.

Fish Creek is near Ocotillo Wells SVRA on HWY 78, southeast of Borrego Springs. Take Split Mountain Rd. and drive for 8 miles at Fish Creek Wash, veer right into the wash.

The gravely Fish Creek Wash winds southwest to Split Mountain. On the right side, look for pressure bent rocks that have formed an anticline. 

Sandstone Canyon can be driven into, but does get tighter the further you go in. We reached a point where there had been a recent rock fall, and our tracks ended. Afoot we went further into the slot canyon to explore what was on the other side of the rockslide. It seems like someone had actually made it over this massive obstacle, but not without body damage.

Above you will notice a wave of rocks that forms an anticline in Fish Creek Mountains. About five million years ago an earthquake shook loose 300,000,000 cubic yards of rock from the face of Fish Creek Mountain. Lobes of rocky debris flowed and buckled sand layers of the ancient sea floor that once existed here. The sand layers turned into the anticline we have today (Source: Dr. Abbot, Southern California Geological Society).

The feeling of having 200-foot stonewalls on each side with the cool wind pushing throw them felt like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. The experience is surreal, energizing and inspiring all at once.

Chasing Jeep into Sandstone Canyon at Anza-Borrego State Park.

We have only touched the tip of the many trails that await you in Anza-Borrego State Park. We’ll be back with part two of our Anza-Borrego off-road adventures story, which will highlight the southern section of the park.

John climbs over some massive rocks in Sandstone Canyon, beautiful hoodoos tower in the background.Now that we got you pumped about Anza-Borrego, I must let you know that there is a downside; only street legal vehicles can be driven within the park boundary. On a good note, Ocotillo Wells SVRA is next door and you can enjoy over 85,000 acres in your OHV. So you could visit both places to run your OHV and 4x4.

Read more about Ocotillo Wells SVRA in this exclusive article:

Off-Road Travel: Ocotillo Wells SVRA

We highly recommend the following guidebooks for planning and referencing trails and important landmarks in Anza-Borrego:

• The Anza-Borrego Desert Region, by Lowell & Diana Lindsay

• Guide to Southern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails, by Charles A Wells

• California Desert Byways, by Tony Huegel

Anza-Borrego State Park

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