Mountain Palm Springs (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

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Carrizo Valley, Mountain Palm Springs, San Diego County, CA
View from the ridge between the Southwest and Surprise Groves
Southwet Palm Grove, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Southwest Palm Grove

Mountain Palm Springs (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on County Road S2. From Highway 78, head southeast on S2 for 30.2 miles. At mile marker 47.1, shortly past Indian Gorge, look for an unsigned dirt road on the right. Follow it 0.7 miles to the Mountain Palm Springs Campground and park in the day use area at the western end of the campground. From I-8 in Ocotillo, take exit 89 for Imperial Highway (S2). Head northwest on S2 for 17.2 miles. Turn left onto the unsigned dirt road (if you reach Indian Gorge you’ve come too far). Follow it to the day use area at the west end of the campground.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Sweeney Pass”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
  • Rating: 7
Mountain Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
0:00 – Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full-sized versions)

This loop tours the four major palm groves in the Mountain Palm Springs area of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. In addition to the oases, highlights on this trip include expansive desert views and interesting geology, including a narrow cave. The route is largely unsigned and can be a little ambiguous, but it receives enough visitation that there will usually be footprints to follow. It’s also the type of place that can be fun to explore without having a specific agenda in mind.

Pygmy Palms, Mountain Palm Springs, San Diego County, CA
0:10 – Pygmy palm grove (times are approximate)

Begin by the trail marker, heading west into a wash toward three tall palms. Shortly beyond these three you come to the first group, the Pygmy Palms. The trail then climbs out of the wash to an ocotillo-dotted ridge, bending southwest and meeting a junction (0.5 miles.) One trail continues south toward Bow Willow Campground, but your route will take you west (right) toward the Southwest Palms, visible in the distance. Follow a ridge 0.2 miles. Here, you can take a side-trip to a cave a few dozen yards south of the palms.

Cave, Mountain Palm Springs, San Diego County, CA
0:20 – Cave south of Southwest Grove

A vague trail climbs through the palm grove. Just as it enters a narrow canyon, look for another unsigned trail, making a hard right and beginning to climb up a ridge, passing an elephant tree. For the next half mile or so, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the Carrizo Valley and the canyons in which you were just walking, including the Pygmy Grove. The trail is fairly easy to follow as it generally clings to the higher reaches of the ridge.

Southwest Grove, Mountain Palm Springs, CA
0:25 – “Trail” leading north from the Southwest Grove

The trail then reaches Surprise Canyon – perhaps named because of its sudden appearance to hikers following the ridge. For a moment it looks as if there’s no sane way down into the canyon, but the trail bends to gently descend the ridge toward the Surprise Grove. Turn left and follow the wash through tangles of mesquite and fallen palm fronds about half a mile to Palm Bowl Grove, the final and largest grove of the trip. Here you can relax for a few minutes, enjoying the solitude before retracing your steps. Continue past the Surprise Grove and follow the wash back toward the parking area.

Surprise Palms, Mountain Palm Springs, CA
0:45 – Surprise Palms

Text and photography copyright 2016 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Palm Bowl Grove, Mountain Palm Springs, CA
0:55 – Palm Bowl Grove

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