Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a California State Park located about two hours northeast of San Diego and it carries the title of being the largest state park in the continental U.S.A. with an area of just under 600,000 acres. This desert park is comprised of rugged badlands, palm oases and slot canyons galore. We didn’t originally plan on stopping at this park but we had a few days to spare before we visited some family in the Oceanside and Temecula areas.

We went straight to the visitors center when we arrived at Anza-Borrego however, it turned out there was a scheduled power outage throughout the entire town of Borrego Springs. Luckily, the park had a very useful 30+ page magazine on hand with maps and information about the park so it was easy to navigate and find hikes and points of interest.

The Slot Trail

The Slot narrow walls

The Slot canyon trail is a one and a half mile loop that explores one of the many siltstone narrow canyons at Anza-Borrego. This hike started off pretty steep as the trail lowers you into the canyon. Pretty soon after, we were maneuvering and squeezing through the narrow canyon walls. Some areas were so narrow you had to step onto the walls to get through to the other side. At the lowest point in the trail, the canyon walls widen and appear to be about 40 feet tall. The walls provided much needed shade from the desert sun above us. A nice couple on the trail suggested we turn around at the halfway point as the remainder of the trail is uneventful and it would be better to go back the way we came. So that’s what we did! We were able to revisit and squeeze past the slots a second time.

Siltstone walls of The Slot trail

Hellhole Canyon

Hellhole Canyon is a six mile trail, out and back and was my favorite of our two hikes at this park. The first two miles of the trail were flat, exposed, and well, pretty dang hot. We saw quite a bit of wildlife including Black-tailed Jackrabbits, Desert Cottontails, and Antelope Squirrels.

Desert cottontail rabbit (Maybe)

We also came across various desert vegetation such as Ocotillo, Cholla Cactus, Creosote Bush and, believe it or not palm trees! On mile three, the trail began transforming from arid desert to a palm oasis featuring California palm trees and massive rock boulders that we had to scramble up.

California palm trees

There was mention of a waterfall at the halfway point of the trail but we assumed it would be dry and non-existent since there wasn’t any snow on any mountains nearby. Much to our surprise we started to hear trickling water and came across a small stream of water along the trail so we continued to follow the stream, climb up rocks and finally found Maidenhair Falls! I was beyond excited to see this waterfall flowing. Alan couldn’t stop laughing at how amused I was. We also kept hearing one or two frogs croaking as we sat in the cool palm shade and enjoyed some snacks. This part of the hike was a great escape from the desert we had been hiking in.

A handsome husband snackin’ at Maidenhair Falls

Free Camping/Parking

We were stoked to see that Anza-Borrego offered so many free primitive campsite options and outlined them in the park magazine. Most of the primitive campsites also had restrooms so that’s always a plus for us. On the first night of our stay, we parked at Yaqui Well. We ended up being the only people parked here for the night so it was nice, quiet and we were able to see why Anza-Borrego is classified as an international dark sky. It was a little cloudy that night but we still saw lots of stars and planets. The only semi-downside was that there was little to no cell service here but we don’t mind that too much.

Yaqui Well free primitive campsite

Arroyo Salado was the better spot which we stayed during our second night at Anza-Borrego. This area was a bit more populated and surrounded by badlands. We missed the sunset but were able to catch the sunrise over the badlands the next morning.

Sunrise at Arroyo Salado primitive campsite

Takeaways

We only planned two nights and three days at Anza-Borrego so there was still so much left to explore by the end of our visit. A lot of the hiking trails in this park are only accessible via dirt roads so we would definitely come back to this park with a 4 wheel drive with high clearance and about a week to see the rest of the park.

We also came to this park at the right time of the year (early February), I can’t imagine visiting Anza-Borrego in the summer.

Want More?

For more photos from our visit to Anza-Borrego, click here!