Borrego Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Borrego Palm Canyon (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

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Borrego Palm Canyon (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

  • Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near Borrego Springs. From Highway 79, head east on San Felipe Road (County Road S2).  The junction is 4.3 miles north of Highway 76 and 3.6 miles south of Warner Springs. Take S-2 for 4.7 miles and turn left onto Montezuma Valley Road. Follow it 17.4 miles to Palm Canyon Drive in Borrego Springs. Turn left, go 0.2 mile and turn right to enter the park. Follow this road for one mile to the entrance booth. After paying the $10/vehicle day use fee and picking up a brochure that describes the signposts along the trail, follow the road to the day parking area at the western end of the campground.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good for the first half mile, none in the canyon itself
  • Water: Fountain at trail head
  • Restrooms: At trail head
  • Camping: Borrego Palm Canyon Campground
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 8

Easily Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s most popular day hike, this short trip has something for everyone: panoramic desert views, towering mountains and up-close looks at a variety of cacti and geology. That’s before you even reach the destination: an oasis of wild palms thriving in this cool, moist corner of the desert. With a little luck, sharp-eyed hikers may catch a glimpse of a big-horn sheep (Borrego means “sheep” in Spanish.)

From the information board, follow the trail as it heads northwest into the canyon. The scenery is dominated by the distinctive, intimidating arrow-shaped Indian Head to the north. On the ground, vegetation includes cholla cacti, mesquite, cat’s claw and as you get farther up the canyon, desert willows. The walls of the canyon start pinching in and at about one mile, you get your first glimpse of the palm grove. The trail crosses the wash and merges with an alternate trail coming up from the parking lot (an option for the return).

You continue north toward the palms, negotiating a pair of stone staircases before dropping back to the canyon floor (1.2 miles.) Head up the stream, occasionally climbing over rocks, before reaching the end of the trail (1.4 miles), a small clearing beneath the palms. You may hear cries of hawks overhead as well as frogs and crickets.

After enjoying the serene spot, retrace your steps down canyon. For variety, consider taking the slightly longer alternate trail, which climbs the west wall of the canyon, providing a different perspective on the desert to the south. In addition to adding some elevation gain to the route, it receives less foot traffic than the main trail. After meandering above the canyon, the trail drops off the ridge and joins a sandy wash leading back to the parking lot.

Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see full sized versions)

Indian Head Mountain, Anza-Borrego Desert
Indian Head above Borrego Palm Canyon
Borrego Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Cholla cactus in Borrego Palm Canyon
Borrego Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Geology on the east wall of the canyon
Borrego Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Stone steps deep in the canyon
Borrego Palm Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Palm grove in Borrego Palm Canyon
Cacti in Borrego Palm Canyon, San Diego County, CA
Ocotillo cacti on the return trail
Borrego Palm Canyon, San Diego County, CA
View down the canyon from the return trail
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Returning to the campground











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.

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