Camping in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Dates Camped: April 10-12, 2009 and April 22-24, 2011
Check current conditions: Park Staff (760) 767-5311.
Reservations: Call (800) 444-7275 or reserve online
  • Campground: Borrego Palm Canyon
  • Sites: 120
  • Summer Rates: $25/night (tent)
  • Non-Peak Rates: $20/night (tent)
  • Restrooms: Flush
  • Showers: Coin-Operated
  • Open: Year-round
  • Parking: 1 vehicle included
  • Locality: Anza Borrego Desert SP
  • Nearest City: Borrego Springs, CA
  • Kid-Friendly: Yes
  • Dog-Friendly Camping: Yes
  • Dog-Friendly Hiking: No

Our first Spring together, we decided to take our first camping trip together out to Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  It was Easter Weekend, and we wanted to try to catch the annual wildflower show for which the park is so well known.  Colleen had been to Anza Borrego as a kid, but I’d never been, and was looking forward to seeing California’s largest State Park, before the summer hit and the desert park became unbearably hot.

Though my house is in North Orange County, my office is in Murrieta, so on that Friday Colleen drove out to her parent’s place in Canyon Lake, and we met there to leave for Anza Borrego.  From Southwest Riverside County, it made the most sense to head out the 79 South, through Temecula and on to San Diego County.  Just south of Warner Springs (41 miles from the 15 Fwy) is County Road S2/San Felipe Rd.  Here you should see a sign for Anza Borrego State Park, but even if you don’t, you should turn left.  About 5 miles from there, you’ll hit a fork in the road, where you will want to stay left on Montezuma Valley Rd.  After about 15 miles, you’ll come to the very obvious traffic circle where the road intersects with Palm Canyon Road.  Head west on Palm Canyon Rd, and you’ll eventually run into the guard shack/ranger booth at the entrance to the park, and they’ll guide you from there.

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Interpretive sign on the side of the road down to Anza Borrego State Park
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Looking down into the park from Montezuma Valley Road

The weather had said that it was possible that it would rain on us that Friday night, and it was drizzling off and on in Riverside County as we hit the road.  As we hit Montezuma Valley Road, we came out ahead of the storm front.  Seeing the chance that I might beat the storm to Anza Borrego, I floored it, hoping to be able to at least get the tent set up before it started pouring on us, figuring I could work out the rest later.  As a result, we didn’t stop to admire some of the great views coming down out of the mountains into the desert like either of us would have liked to.

When we hit the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground (Space #89 FTW!), the wind was blowing pretty hard, but it was still dry.  I pulled the tarp and tent bag out of the truck and frantically started putting the tent together just as it was getting dark and just before the deluge that was sure to come.  As I got my four bedroom cond0 tent up, I realized that the wind was likely to blow the entire tent out of the ground if I wasn’t careful, so I quickly looked around the campsite and found some decent 10-20 pound rocks which I placed on the six corner tent stakes, in an effort to keep my camp from blowing away.

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Pulling up to our campsite at last light. Every site had one of these shelters over a picnic table
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Looking back towards the truck from our tent site, showing the grill and shelter
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Condo tent is up! Notice the rocks on every corner...

And then, just as I got everything put together and was trying to figure out how the hell I was going to cook dinner in the wind and the incoming rain, it stopped!  And within moments of it getting dark, the clouds started to clear and we suddenly had a beautiful, relaxing, starlit night before us.  We’d planned a simple (in our book) first night’s dinner of jerked chicken (which I’d started marinating the night before), grilled pineapple, and black beans, which we cooked right on the campfire in the can.  We sat by the fire afterwards sipping adult beverages, looking at the stars and the moon, the sounds of nature, and, of course, enjoying the campground’s wi-fi connection on Colleen’s Blackberery Bold.

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1st night easy dinner on the grill!
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One of my favorite pictures of us. Relaxing by the fire, watching the night sky

After a good night’s sleep only interrupted occasionally by howling coyotes.  The next morning we got our first real look at the campsite and campground.  Each site had a wooden shelter with a picnic table underneath, a fire ring, and a metal grill.  The campground itself had a very new looking, relatively clean bathrooms with flush toilets and hot showers.  We noticed that quite a few of the neighboring campsites had tarps hung up on the west side of their wooden shelters, which told us that some folks were more prepared for the wind than we were!

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Sunrise, looking west from the campsite. That brick structure is the bathroom and showers building

After a hearty camp breakfast, we headed over to the nearby nature center to see what kind of maps, wildflower and trail information they had before making our final hiking decisions.  The center was very nice, with displays on the anthropological, geological, and natural history of the area, complete with exhibits on the animals that live in the park, and a sizable gift shop.  We picked up some maps and a free park newsletter and then took the very short nature trail loop outside that had a nice selection of plants and flowers found in the area with labels to identify them.

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The park's nature center, set low into the ground for energy efficiency and to blend with the terrain. Or something like that...

We then went back past our campsite on the way to the Palm Canyon Trailhead, which is immediately adjacent to the furthest west loop of the campground.  This is undoubtedly the most popular hike in the park, making the campground location very convenient.

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Some of the rock formations on Palm Canyon Trail, not far from the campsite
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First view of the Palm Canyon Oasis off to the left, just 1.5 miles from the trailhead right outside of the camp.

We returned to our campsite in the late afternoon, just as the wind was beginning to pick up again.  By the time we’d taken showers (not bad for a campground) and gotten changed, it was really starting to blow.  In fact, I was forced to retreat inside my (fortunately sizable) tent to do the food preparation for that night’s dinner.  But again, seemingly miraculously, just as the sun set, the wind stopped and it was safe to emerge from our tent and relax outside again.  We had a great meal of ribeye steaks, campfire potatoes, and campfire vegetables, while once again enjoying the perfect spring temperatures and starry nights of the desert.

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Avoiding the wind by prepping dinner in my spacious condo tent
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Sun is setting, wind is blowing.
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Beautiful ribeye steak, with campfire potatoes and veggies

On this particular night, the winds did return while we slept, and buffeted our tent pretty good.  We were very glad that our tent was sturdy and that we had anchored the stakes with the rocks, but it was still a bit loud and blustery at times during the night.

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Packing up camp to go home

At some point, the winds subsided again, and by morning we had another beautiful day to greet.  While my lovely wife made another hearty hiker’s breakfast, I took down the tent and picked up the camp.  We drove off to a couple shorter hikes on the way out of the park, enjoying the “morteros” hike, the Yaqui Wells nature hike, and the petroglyphs trail (write-up coming soon), which ends with a great view off a canyon onto the valley floor below.

We came back along Hwy 78, passing through the charming town of Julian for dinner on the way back home, very pleased with our campground, our hikes, and with Anza Borrego Desert State park!

NOTE:  On our most recent visit to the Campground, on Easter weekend 2011, the wind blew way harder and way longer than it did in 2009, breaking one of my tent poles and ripping the fabric of the tent with its force.  While it stopped blowing about 10pm the first night, on the second night it blew up to 50mph all night long, making a night enjoying the stars by the fire pretty much impossible.  So check the weather forecast (it did call for heavy winds), and be prepared with a plan b (or a low profile tent) if it blows hard again.

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