Entrance Sign to Anza Borrego Desert State Park California

Where Is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Located

Anza-Borrego Desert state park is located on 600,000 acres of the Colorado Desert in southern California. The park spans across the eastern portion of San Diego County as well as enveloping parts of both Imperial and Riverside counties. The Vallecito Mountains make up the park's southern border whereas the Santa Rosa Mountains span the northern border. You can arrive at the park in just a short two-hour drive northeast from San Diego or south from Palm Springs via SR-22.

How Big Is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The US State Park covers a sprawling 2,371 square kilometers or 600,000 acres of arid badlands and mountains. This encompasses approximately 500 miles of dirt roads, 110 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, and twelve wilderness areas. The park also sits within the Salton Sink; a geographic depression that lies 200 feet below sea level upon a tectonic plate boundary. The highest point at the park is atop the Santa Rosa Mountain Range 8,000 feet above sea level. A treacherous climb but worth the priceless views of the colorful desert landscape below.

Sun Setting on Cloudy Day in Anza Borrego Desert State Park California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Weather

Because the park is located within a desert the climate at the park can experience drastic swings in temperature on a daily basis. The average daily high October through May is in the low to mid 90’s, whereas the average low is around the mid 50’s (in degrees Fahrenheit). However, during the summer months, June through September, the average daily temperature exceeds 100 degrees and drops to the mid 70’s in the evening. The desert can be very unforgiving, however, and it is not uncommon for temperatures to swing from 120 degrees during the day and down below freezing at night. 

Due to the arid climate and elevation, less than 5 inches of precipitation is recorded on average throughout the year. The majority of this coming in the winter and early spring months, October through May. Furthermore, less than a tenth of an inch of precipitation is attributed to snowfall at the park. This makes the park one of the driest in the country! 

When Did Anza-Borrego Desert Become A State Park

The first California state park custodian was assigned to the Anza-Borrego desert in 1933, but at this time the park was separated in two. It wasn’t until 1957 that the Borrego state park and the Anza Desert state park were unified as one park; the Anza-Borrego Desert state park. The park was named after the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and “borrego” which is the Spanish word for the big-horned sheep that are native to the area. Then, in 1967, the Anza-Borrego Foundation and its educational arm, the Anza-Borrego Institute, were formed as non-profit caretakers of the park's historical and ecological treasures. The foundation manages the business and maintenance end of the operation, whereas the institute conducts in-depth educational courses and camps for thousands of visitors each year. The ultimate goal is to teach about and preserve the thousands of years of history as well as the diverse flora and fauna which inhabit the area.

View of Desert Blooms and Sun Setting in Anza Borrego Desert State Park California

Things To Do At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Depending on what your interests are, our National Park Visitors Guide outlines a wide variety of things to do at Anza-Borrego Desert state park. From hiking and biking to exploring remnants of the past, this park has something for everyone.

Trails - The park has over 110 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding through the many different terrains that the park encompasses. Most of the trails are “casual” trails and are neither maintained nor exactly the same throughout the year. The trails are recommended only to experienced hikers as much of the landscape is treacherous and the weather is known for its drastic swings.

Fossils - The park sits on top of one of the richest deposits of Pliocene and Pleistocene era fossils in the country. The area was not always a desert but once a tropical paradise. Fossilized plants, invertebrates, and a variety of bones, teeth, and shells can still be plentifully found from creatures inhabiting the landscape 60 million years after the last dinosaurs had walked the Earth. Fossils of terrestrial animals have also been discovered in the park. Bones of mammoths, saber-toothed cats, giant sloths, North American cheetahs, and even giant camels have been found in the park.

Native American History - Some of the first Native American civilizations in North America called the territory that is now the park home for thousands of years. The Coahuila, Cupeno, and Kumeyaay people left behind petroglyphs, stone tools, and pictogram rock art that is still visible today scattered amongst the desert landscape.

Camping - Although there are a few sites to park an RV, the park is mostly known for its primitive style campsites. Often situated in semi-secluded areas of the park, the primitive campsites don’t offer any modern amenities in an attempt to allow guests to fully immerse themselves in their outdoor experience without the distractions of modern life.

Wildlife - The desert is one of California’s richest ecosystems. It boasts the highest concentration of snakes and reptile species in the state as well as a notable desert wildflower bloom every spring that attracts hundreds of visitors to witness the spectacle. The park is also home to the endangered desert big horned sheep. The sheep avoid human contact, so it is a rare treat to catch a glimpse of these elusive beasts.

Educational Events -As previously mentioned, the Anza-Borrego institute offers educational classes and camps for people of all ages. Currently these classes are on hold due to COVID-19.

Metal Serpent Sculpture in Desert Anza Borrego Desert State Park California

Things To Bring To Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Due to the harsh environment and the wild nature of the park, there are quite a few things that are recommended by the park to ensure that you bring with you to the park.

Experience - Experience is highly recommended when staying at the park for more than just a day trip. Knowledge of survival techniques, wilderness hiking, first-aid, and desert camping practices are all pre-requisites for an extended stay in the park.

Water - because of the scorching daytime temperatures and dry heat, List of Parks highly recommends bringing double the amount of water that you would normally allot yourself. It is recommended by park officials that you do not concern yourself with saving water for your trip home as water is easily obtained outside of the park. It is a best practice to end your hike or your stay when you have depleted half of your water supply.

Appropriate Vehicle - This means that your vehicle is “desert ready” with four-wheel drive and equipped to handle the demands of the extreme terrain and climate.

Clothing - Make sure that you bring appropriate clothing with built in UV protection for the hot desert days and are prepared with winter type clothing for the cold desert nights.

Boots - The terrain at the park is extreme, the paths and trails are un-kept, and there are many varieties of dangerous snakes and insects inhabiting the park. It is imperative that you have a strong, sure-footed hiking boot to ensure the safety of every step.

A Plan - When camping at the park it is important to have a plan for everything that could happen during your stay. It is also recommended by park officials to let a friend or family member know the dates of your stay, when you plan to return and a description of your car and license plate number.

Sunrise View of Desert Flowers Anza Borrego Desert State Park California

Where To Stay At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

There are many different lodging options depending on what you would like your experience to be like when visiting the park. If you are merely planning a day trip, the lodging options in Palm Springs and San Diego are numerous and accommodating for any style of lodging desired. From either of those cities it is only a few hours’ drive to the park both ways. However, if you are intending to stay at the park for an extended period of time there are a few limited options. First, it is worth mentioning that a reservation must be made six months in advance to reserve a campsite within the park. There is also only one location inside the park where visitors are able to reserve an RV campsite and vehicle parking is also very limited. The majority of the campsites in the park are of a primitive style. This means that there are no modern amenities such as electricity or running water. Bathrooms use a chemical decomposition system instead of flowing water and the only item supplied by the park at the campsites is a fire pit. All fires must be contained within a pit to prevent forest fires. Ashes from fires must also be taken with you when you leave to further reduce the chances of wildfires within the park. 

Food Nearby Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Much like with the lodging opportunities near the park, there are countless dining options in the neighboring cities of San Diego and Palm Springs. However, if you are planning on staying within the park itself, you must bring all of your own food. As with your water supply, it is recommended by park officials that you bring double the amount of food that you think you might need in the instance that your stay is unintentionally prolonged. 

View of Sky With Milky Way Galaxy Stars in Anza Borrego Desert State Park California

Airports Near Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The closest major airports to Anza-Borrego Desert state park are two hours away at the San Diego and Palm Springs airports, respectively. There are also two smaller county owned airports nearest to the park. Those airports are Borrego Valley Airport in Borrego Springs and Ocotillo Airport in San Diego County. Both of these airports are adjoining Anza-Borrego Desert state park.

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