our guide to anza-borrego desert state park
This post is way overdue, eeeek! We spent Christmas of 2020 with our close friends Jimmy and Melany at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and LOVED IT. We also had both of our dogs, so it was truly a furry family fun time (hehe) that was away from all the crowds. We literally the only people camping within a few miles radius and had our own spot nicely tucked away near Font's Point.
It's a perfect, spontaneous weekend trip you can take since the drive is about 2.5-3 hours from the LA/OC area. If you're craving something where you can take in some crazy desert landscapes, explore slot canyons and disperse camp, you'll love it here. If you're interested in exploring Anza-Borrego, use our itinerary below! Winter and early Spring are great months to visit deserts since the weather is cooler and more tolerable. Keep reading for our top things to do.
CAMPING AT ANZA-BORREGO
Unlike many spots in CA (especially right now) you can camp here without planning ahead like crazy since Anza-Borrego offers FREE dispersed camping! Yup, no reservations or fees ya'll. You just have to make sure your car isn't parked more than one car length off the road and that you're at least 100 yards away from any water source. The park is crazy huge, so finding a spot is NOT a problem. If you're not sure what dispersed camping is, it means there is no actual campground, amenities, or bathrooms. It's just you and some good 'ol dirt. PLEASE, please remember to pack out what you bring in and stick to the Leave No Trace principles. It's important to keep places like this CLEAN and remove your own trash.
WHAT TO DO
Galleta Meadow Statues
These are a huge draw to travelers and a really fun way to spend your time in Anza Borrego! Galleta Meadows is an area of 30 metal sculptures and statues that make up a permanent art installation created by artist Ricardo Breceda. Think a giant scorpion, a huge serpent, dinosaurs, elephants, a jeep and so much more.
It actually took up a bunch of our time exploring and finding all of the sculptures, which was so fun since it felt like a scavenger hunt. As you can see, we took a TON of photos. Our favorites were the huge dinos that were actually a trek to get to. I highly suggest 4WD (we have an FJ Cruiser) to get to these guys.
There are a couple of sandstone slot canyons in the park, but the one we stopped by was at the South Fork Palm Wash (another well-known one is called "The Slot"). We parked at the base of a canyon and kept exploring and walking deeper in. It was super fun and such a cool experience. Their pale color and crazy curves reminded me of Dr. Suess!
Calcite Mine One of my favorite places we explored! About two miles from the road, you can find an old calcite mine that was used for the excavation of calcite by the military in the 1940s. You can hike in or drive in most of the way to the trail if you have 4WD (like us) to the base of the mine. From there, you can hike up to the top of the mine for a crazy view of the entire area and badlands or explore some of the old trenches and find pieces of calcite lying around. We found A TON and had a lot of fun searching the area for them.
The coolest lookout point EVER. You'll need 4WD to get out there (some have made it with 2WD, but on the day we went out, you definitely needed high clearance at the least) since you'll drive about 4 miles through sandy road. Once you get there, you'll be able to walk out to the lookout point for an insane view of the badlands. Highly recommend going at sunset!
Did you know that Anza-Borrego is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park? That means the stargazing here is insane! While we had a little bit of rain and clouds, the second night it cleared up enough for us to see some crazy stars and even snap clear photos with our iPhones. You'll want to pack some gear to sit out by the fire or lay down and just look up at the sky.
That's all, folks! This was a short but sweet trip and this itinerary should keep you busy for about 1-2 days depending on how fast you like to explore. If there's anything we missed that's worth checking out at Anza-Borrego, let us know in the comments below!