Tag Archives: Anza Borrego Desert

Great Overland Stagecoach Route of 1849

Canon Sin Nombre
Sunset view of Canon Sin Nombre

San Diego County Road S-2

Great Overland Stagecoach Route of 1849Canon Sin Nombre
San Diego County Rd S2
San Diego County Highway S2

The awesome southern California desert, a stretch of road that traverses north-south direction on the west side Anza Borrego Desert; from Interstate 8 up to to Lake Henshaw @ San Felipe Road. Driving north you gain elevation from sandy badlands into the mountains, but trees are few and far off. Exit I-8 at 400′ elevation above sea level and gradually climb to 3000′ – over near Lake Henshaw & Palomar Mountain.

San Diego Road S-2 is about 50 miles long, through very scenic desert with interesting vegetation and paved the whole way. Perfect for RV travelers, as it has many camping options – from freebie, primitive camp spots to private campground resorts. Palm canyon hide-aways, secret shady spots, endless hiking canyons, and a campground with hot springs.

Carrizo Gorge TrestleS2 Road intersects California SR 78 at Scissors Crossing and continues north through the barren San Felipe Hills. The Southern California portion of the Pacific Crest Trail parallels the ridge line on the east side, with the town of Borrego Springs lying behind that ridge at 590′ elevation. The historic mountain town of Julian sits in the hills above Banner Grade (Hwy 78).

California Historical Landmarks, along S2

# 304 VALLECITO STAGE DEPOT
# 472 BOX CANYON (Anza Borrego Desert)
# 639 PALM SPRINGS (Anza Borrego Desert)
# 647 BUTTERFIELD OVERLAND MAIL ROUTE
# 793 SAN FELIPE VALLEY AND STAGE STATION

points of interest along this route:

California Interstate 8
Ocotillo, CA
Yuha Desert
Fossil Shell Canyon (BLM)
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Mortero Canyon
Dos Cabezas
Carrizo Gorge Wilderness
Carrizo Palms
Carrizo Gorge Railroad Trestle
Carrizo Badlands & Overlook
Canon Sin Nombre
Coyote Mountains Wilderness
THSDmapHollywood & Vine
Fish Creek Wash
Old Carrizo Stage Station
Sweeney Pass
Bow Willow Campground
Canebrake
Agua Caliente Hot Springs
Vallecito County Park
Oriflamme Canyon
Box Canyon Stagecoach Route
Blair Valley
Ghost Mountain
Vallecito Mountains
Pinyon Mountains
Earthquake Valley
Shelter Valley
Scissors Crossing (@ Hwy 78)
Volcan Mountains Wilderness Preserve
San Felipe Creek
PCT – Pacific Crest Trail

 


View Larger Map

Antique signs still on trail (2001)

Smile Cheps

Oriflamme Canyon Anza

Carrizo Gorge Goat Trestle

Carizzo Gorge

Carrizo Gorge Goat Trestle – via Mortero Wash. Near the south end of Anza Borrego State Park is the infamous ‘goat trestle’, one of the largest wooden rail road trestles in the US.

This hike can be reached by driving N on County Road S2 (from I-8) into Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Near park boundary keep your eyes peeled for Mortero Canyon Rd (signed) on the left side. This is a sandy dirt road, accessible by passenger car, that leads out to the train tracks & then past to the Mortero Big Boulder campsites. Park at rail road tracks near water tank & start hike from here.

NOTE: Do not be alarmed if you happen to see NUDE hikers coming from the opposite end of this railway, where a nudist resort is located along Interstate 8, called De Anza Springs.

hike bike primitive camp sites

Carrizo Gorge Trestle
Railroad Tunnels, near Anza Borrego Desert

rail road history

San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad ­ SD&A/SD&AE

Ground was broken on September 7, 1907 by San Diego’s Mayor, John Forward and the construction of the 140 mile route was completed on November 15, 1919. The first through train was the called the “Golden Spike Limited”, named after the $286 golden spike, which John D Speckels drove into the ground near tunnel #8.

  • The Goat Canyon Trestle was built in 1932 to re-route tracks due to a landslide.
  • Passenger Cars Ran until 1951.
  • The route through Carriso Gorge was closed temporarily by Tropical Storm Kathleen in September of 1976.
  • And was reopened 1981, and then closed again by recurring storms.
  • Kyle Railways ran freight cars until mid 1984.

The Carriso Gorge section has fallen into disrepair with two trestles being burned and the collapse of two tunnels as the result of fires. The trestles have been rebuilt and one of the tunnels has been repaired but as of 2002 this scenic section of track is used mostly by hikers and mountain bikers. The sounds of the trains exist only in our imagination.

Goat Trestle Anza Borrego Desert

Other Facts: Derailed cars are from 1984 and were filled with bags of cement. Laborers were brought in to unload the cement but the cars were left. The Goat Canyon Trestle is 185″ tall and 600″ long. During its use it was the tallest wooden structure in daily use. This trestle was designated a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1986. Carrizo means “reed grass” in Spanish. Total cost of construction was $18 million.

In 1979 the SD & AE west of Plaster City was sold to the Metropolitan Transit Development Board for $18.1 million. SD&A was said to stand for “Slow, Dirty and Aggravating” because of the high temperatures, smoke and open windowed trains cars.

South end of Anza Borrego State Park
Dispersed camping
Dispersed camping (for free) in the Boulders

4×4 Off Roading

 

Off Roading Moab Utah

Originally uploaded by danamight

 

4×4 offroad

When people hear the phrase “off road” a hundred things can come to mind. Granola types envision rednecks, guns & beer cans tearing up the wilderness; while teen boys may like dirt bikes or motocross races; your co-worker digs the rock crawling rigs (on TV); your lesbian pals like to do desert & ghost town exploring in their Jeep & a million families like to camp out with RV & toys in tow. The quads, the sand rails, the rock crawling machines, the custom built buggies. Trophy trucks, rally racing Subies, 4WD camper vans, dirt bikes, the standard stock SUV, some w/ 4-wheel drive and who can forget the ever-freaking-popular jeaps. Sunday drivers sightseeing or hard core dare devil racers can be found in the realm of off-road: Off pavement.

They are ALL off roaders! And they are all unique, custom & no two created equal. There is certainty of it & the passionate fans will tell you. The off roading interest has gained popularity as more & more recreation vehicles become available to the main stream market. And TV shows promote these awesome rigs, the sport of dirt racing, rock crawling & the fantastic terrain. (And if you still watch television, that will soon change!)

Baby boomers seek retirement vacations: compact 4WD camper vans, or smaller RVs capable of trailering an off-road machine; Fathers look for ways to entertain family out of doors, or escape on solo trips (for sanity sake). The off-road sport and interest has literally exploded over the past 20 years w/ media, hobby, competitions & after market products – along with the rising gas & tire prices.

4x4 Ford Camper at a Big Bear Campout
4×4 Ford Camper at a Big Bear Campout

California dirt road heaven

Wheeling

California Back Roads
WHERE TO START?

Plan better trips, learn to really read a topographic map, depart for your trip over-prepared and find new, amazing destinations all over California. Use Total Escape often and get a bumper sticker for your rig!

Many folks drive dirt roads just to get to a trailhead and go hiking, mountain biking or rock climbing. Many backpackers trailheads are indeed located miles off pavement on forest dirt roads.

Some outdoor enthusiasts crave seclusion: peace and quite, away from city life, city folks, all noise… well away from the crowds. Preferring to camp outside of developed campgrounds, which means free camping (mostly on dirt roads). Campfire permits are always required. Many excellent, hidden camp sites can be found on rugged, unpaved back roads – some requiring 4 wheel drive, others not.

Gear Heads: those who value ‘vehicle time’ over ‘real nature’ will literally SIT inside their rigs (almost all day) – enjoying scenery from a safe distance. Picnic spot, viewpoint, yes, but rarely ever seeking out a hike, or a waterfall. Should a break-down occur, these dedicated guys will have their heads under the hoods or crawling underneath, for hours if needbe. Always be prepared with food in the cooler.

Tent Campers
And believe it or not, some off-roaders will not even tent camp! They do not sleep on the ground. They prefer a local lodge in the nearest small town or they could own a luxury RV (towing a trailer w/ the overbuilt Jeep). Talk about gas guzlers.

Now, where are those green buggies?

Forest Roads
Backcountry routes may be signed – high clearance needed, or not. Black diamond, double diamond trail. Yikes 4×4 required, what! Did we miss a sign or take a wrong turn?

SIGNS are not always reliable on the back roads.
Small Signs: get shot at, run over, blown over and washed away with erosion
… so best have a hard copy map (at all times).

California dirt road heaven

In Trinity, locals have been known to remove forest road signs to confuse tourists and prevent traffic in certain directions. I can’t imagine why. Cough, cough, Hyampom!

PVT – private property

This brings us to private ROADS & LAND. Just because a dirt road is located in a forest or rural region doesn’t mean it is open to the public. Generally private lands are well marked w/ ‘No Trespassing’ notices, some fenced and gated. In Baja and in ranching areas in general, public access may be allowed to pass through. Inquire at a local ranger stations for the area you wish to explore.

Do Not Litter

Litter removal 101 should be the norm; Don’t Trash California! Teach your children well. Respect the land and always Tread Lightly! Find more about ECO – CAMPING

TreadLightly

Quatal Canyon Red Dirt Road

smoketreewashes

jeepinpanamint

Dumont Dunes OHV Desert Death Valley
Dumont Dunes OHV / Desert Death Valley Xmas Trip

Culp Valley

vegculpvalley

Anza Borrego Camping

Culp Valley Campground

Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Southern California, high desert; in between Temecula & Borrego Springs, CA

Culp Valley Primitive Camp Area, Anza Borrego

San Diego Deserts, San Ysidro Mountains
Montezuma Grade
Montezuma Highway, Hwy S-22

High desert elevations, large boulders, highway w/ primitive campground. No trees, but much vegetation; flat parking, large tent spots, picnic tables, vault toilet. High desert mountain pass, with boulders, canyons and many dirt roads to explore.

• Elevation: 3,350′
• Number of Sites: 10
• Vehicle Accessibility: all
• Campsites Reservation: No
• Camp Fee: No
• Length of Stay: 10 Days
• Season: October – May
• Trailheads: Grapevine Canyon, Pena Springs, Anza Borrego & PCT (Pacific Crest Trail)

culp valley

hike highcountry borrego

Culp Valley Trail, Grapevine Canyon, Montezuma Valley, Pena Springs, San Ysidro Mountains.

  • bouldering
  • camping
  • climbing
  • hiking
  • mountain biking
  • off-roading
  • picnic
  • stargazing
  • wildflowers
  • culptoilet

    2018 Wildfire Walk – Culp Valley
    https://www.parks.ca.gov/Events/Details/9825

    Summit Post for Culp Valley
    https://www.summitpost.org/culp-valley/931432

    culpvalleyOHV
    OHV trails SoCal Deserts

    Anza Borrego 4×4 Trails

    anzawashes

    Being the largest State Park inside California, Anza Borrego has certain advantages. Lots of land to explore, abundant dirt roads, free camping and a very diverse terrain. Located in SoCal, this desert has lots to offer the outdoor enthusiasts, all year round.

    Anza Borrego Desert

    with hundreds of miles of dirt roads to explore

    SUV / 2WD / AWD / 4WD / 4×4 / OHV

    The Anza Borrego desert, in east San Diego County, is quite large and very easily accessible from Southern California. The park spans mid-elevation, mountain foothills (3000′ elevation) down to dry lake beds near sea level. Large, vast and varied terrain – and full of vegetation in certain spots. Borrego Desert Wildflower blooms attract thousands of visitors between March-May each Spring.

    Borrego Valley

    Wildflower Camping

     

    While the majority of the dirt roads inside the ANZA DESERT are passable with a regular passenger car (on most days), some specific areas and routes are indeed considered “too hairy” and may require a 4 wheel drive. Rains change landscape fast in this region, so know before you go.

    FLASH FOOD WARNING: Wet weather (anywhere nearby) can make a mild, soft, sandy wash into a wild, flowing river. On occasion desert washes are ‘washed out’ during big rain, often becoming mini rivers that can swallow your vehicle; Road and weather conditions can change suddenly in the California deserts. Wind can also play a huge factor in a selecting a decent camp site. Know the weather report in advance and always be on the watch for big clouds on mountains to the west.

    Deep sand washes, steep sandy hillsides, boulder passes, rock yards to boulder hopping, soggy bottoms to straddling ruts, the deserts of SoCal are indeed fun and challenging. Enjoy your public lands responsibly and pick up some litter, stay on the trail and do not target shoot inside park boundaries.

    To find these off-roading areas: OHV routes, camp areas and gear heads galore. Or try avoid them. Keep reading.

    the well known spots

     OHV routes

    Anza Borrego Desert State Park itself is NOT AN OFF ROAD PARK. If you want the free-for-all, open, OFF-ROAD areas, with sand dunes and terrain to explore, then the list above should help. Some places can be secluded and private for camping, and only one Jeep may pass by (for the whole weekend).

    On the other end of the spectrum, most OHV camping areas are closer to paved routes and busy w/ motorized activity. On weekends, traffic, events and crowds are the norm.  ATV, dirt bikes, buggies, quads, jeeps, families, RVs. Often, a big noisy scene.

    Seeking to travel to distant places to avoid crowds? then this site can help point to the best destinations. Follow links, browse images, get a decent topo map – and discover private desert camping for free.

    Canyon Sin Nombre
    Bad land canyons, easy SUV exploring – off of San Diego Co Road S-2

    other awesome anza trails & canyons

    most w/ 2WD access; high clearance vehicle is preferred (and as usual, 4WD may be needed in storm conditions). Not all 4×4 routes will be signed. Signs get washed away in desert areas, so don’t count on them. Have a good hard-copy, topo map handy – just in case.

    culpvalleyOHV
    Out exploring the Culp Valley Area, one fine Sunday afternoon.

    Anza Borrego Desert Maps

    Tom Harrison Anza MAPSDBKCO Recreation Map

    The Tom Harrison Map of Anza Borrego Desert is actually called the San Diego Backcountry Recreation Map and is by far the best seller of the region.

    hike anza

    Wilderness Anza Borrego Map

    Wilderness Press makes an excellent topographic map for the Borrego Desert, with all the details on terrain and info for camping, hiking & off roading.

    MORE AREA MAPS

    The infamous west coast backpacking route, the Pacific Crest Hiking Trail runs above the desert (a few thousand feet), on the ridges of Mount Laguna.

    Cleveland National Forest borders the west side of Anza Borrego Desert, on the rugged steep slopes of the big mountains (7000′ elev). More Maps links are provided:

    Diablo Drop
    The Diablo Drop

    Muck to Stagecoach
    Wetlands in the desert? Not that rare, water does flow downhill. Some established well-traveled roads may have added gravel to the soggy marsh areas, but many water crossings are bare, and vulnerable to erosion. Try to avoid driving in and around water. DRIVE SLOW through water where route crossing is obvious. Wildlife need these water sources to survive, so don’t muck it up.

    Palm canyons and large boulders are numerous in this desert, water sources scarce. Camping near palms can be limited to walking distance. Several palm oasis camps along San Diego County Road S-2, some RV accessible. Even the county-run Hot Springs Park has some palms. Of course, Palm Canyon is the State Park Campground. Visitors Center headquarters in downtown Borrego Springs has the most popular hikes, hotels, restaurants, with abundant campground camping. Very walk-able town. Super hot during summer, triple digits!

    back roads: weekends

    Weekends are always busier than week days, in general, all over Cali. Keep that in mind when seeking seclusion. Camping in Anza Borrego desert is always best at least 2 miles off the pavement, well away from the traffic on the highway and for those masses seeking the easy camping.

    Campfires require a metal bucket in Anza!
    Campfires always require a metal bucket in Anza!

    camping back roads

    OPEN-CAMPING: camping outside of developed campgrounds, also referred to as ‘primitive camping’ is quite common in Anza Borrego desert. Many Borrego Camping Areas are accessible with regular cars, close to main roads and usually have no bath rooms, or facilities. The further you drive from the pavement, the more likely you are to encounter obstacles like boulders, deep ruts, soft sand and uneven terrain.

    Campgrounds Find Campgrounds & freebie spots in Borrego, CA

     

    A top the Slot

    nearby towns:

    other off-road areas in the vicinity

    wilderness areas in the vicinity

    • Anza Borrego Desert State Wilderness
    • Jacumba Mountains Wilderness

    Mecca Box Canyon


    BLM Sand Dunes

    dumontdunes

    Sand dunes are popular spots for tourists, travelers, RVers and off-roaders. Death Valley National Park has many large areas for dunes, Mojave National Preserve has the Kelso Dunes.

    Fortunately, those places do not allow driving on the dunes, which is exactly what the off-road boys want to do. Sand flying, motors screaming, music blasting, bon fires blazing and no silence found until the wee hours of early morning.

    Autumn, Winter & Spring are the busy months for ‘froaders in the deserts, since summer temps can soar into triple digits heat daily.

    Camping out near “the dunes” is usually a big, freaking, free-for-all, outdoors with the latest in motorized toys. Recreation Vehicles encircling bonfires (camp formation for a large group), toy box haulers, trailers, families, and maybe a massive BBQ setup.

    OHV (off highway vehicle)
    Vehicular Recreation Area

    California BLM Desert Sand Dunes

    luxurycamper

    Below is a list of California Sand Dunes overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

    Arroyo Salado / Ocotillo Wells
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    Located 10 mi. west of Highway 86 on Highway 78. Rolling hills and sand washes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 4,800 acres. Adjacent to Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreation Area. Near Split Mountain, Anza Borrego Desert

    Dumont Dunes Mojave
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    Located 30 mi. north of Baker on Hwy 127, off Dumont Dunes Rd. Steep and tall sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” of 8,150 acres. South of Death Valley National Park.

    Dumont Saabaru AWD
    Dumont w/ the Saabaru AWD

    Glamis / Gecko Road
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    Holiday weekends = NUTS!! Approximately 22,000 acres. Located 25 mi. east of Brawley on HIGHWAY 78. Sand Dunes. Designated “Open Area” Danger: Adjacent to military bombing range.  Contact the El Centro BLM

    Imperial Sand Dunes / Buttercup Valley
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    Approximately 11,000 acres. Located 10 mi. southeast of Niland on the Niland Glamis Rd. Sand Dunes are designated “Open Area”. Watch for closed area boundary at south end of area. CA Highway 78 near Brawley.  Contact the El Centro BLM

    Mojave El Mirage / Shadow Mountains
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    Located 10 mi. west of Adelanto on Crippen/El Mirage Road. Dry lake Bed. Heavy use area. many non-motorized and motorized recreation – including aircrafts. Area consists of 24,000 acres.

    Olancha Dunes OHV
    Highway US 395 @ jct 190
    Thousands of acres w/ open camping, located 5 miles from Hwy 395. In between Eastern Sierra range, Olancha & Death Valley National Park. Contact the Ridgecrest BLM

    Plaster City / Yuha Basin
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    South side of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. 15 mi. west of El Centro. Located on county Highway S-80. Consists of 41,000 acres of rolling hills and desert flats. Military bombing range north of area is closed to entry.   Contact the El Centro BLM

    Sand Up Close and Personal
    Superstition Mountain
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    Located 15 mi. NW of El Centro via Highway S-8, Huff, and Wheeler Roads. Varied terrain consisting of 13,000 acres; dry lakes, badlands, rocky mountains, and sand dunes. Military bombing range north and south of area is closed to entry.   Contact the El Centro BLM

    Rasor OHV Recreation Area
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    Located 45 mi. northwest of Barstow, CA on Rasor Road. Sand washes and dunes, mesquite thickets. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 22,500 acres. Contact the Barstow BLM

    Rice Valley Dunes
    Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
    Located 5 mi. south of Rice Valley off of Highway 62. Access is Santa Fe Road. Sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 3,770 acres. Area of little use. Danger: Contaminated with unexploded ordinance.

    Road to Kelso Dunes
    Road to Kelso Dunes

    BLM open camping hiking camping RVs 4WD

    see also California Coastal Dunes at Oceano: Pismo Dunes


    Camping for Thanksgiving

    Turkey Casserole
    Turkey Leftovers?

    California Camping on Thanksgiving

    If you’ve had it with the traditions, the big meal prep, or just sick of the family. Maybe you are a solo traveler, or a new transplant to California and need to explore more. Take a holiday away – for once this time.

    Camping for turkey day? What a concept.

    VWBus Death Valley
    California is the perfect place for camping, all year long!

    Stick to the lower elevations, look for canyons, and seek seclusion


    California mountains often have snow during November. Avoid camping in snow @ 4000-5000′ elevation and above; Freezing temps above 3000-4000′ elevation.

    Deserts, coastal regions and foothills are top choices for late Autumn car camping. Always check the weather ahead of departure, and have a plan B as an alternative. NorCal will be much wetter than the rest of the state.

    MEALS: Prepare dinner meals ahead of trip departure. Bake turkey days before your trip and create meals based around that. Make mash potatoes at home and don’t forget to bring the butter. Pack pre-baked turkey for sandwiches, plus other quick snacks & meals for on-the-go travel.

    seafood
    Non Traditional: Seafood Feast

    Desert Camping is premium at this time of year. Luckily the eastern half of Southern Cal is desert. The lower the elevation, the better the temps will be overnight. Be prepared for wind when the ‘storm fronts’ approach, the winds do get a cranking! Dirt roads can become flowing washes during a good rainstorm, so know the weather forecast.

    Coastal campgrounds may need advanced reservations. Be prepared for wet weather, especially up north. The redwoods groves are gorgeous anytime of year.

    Gold County Reservoirs are prime areas for relaxing in nature, while everyone else is out shopping. Oak hills, rivers and canyons. RV campers love these large lakes; boating, fishing, mountain biking trails, kayak rentals, hiking near historic Gold Rush towns.

    River Canyons of California are always beautiful destinations in the autumn months. Many campgrounds can be found at lower elevation, river access areas. California’s abundant Hot Springs are also top picks for holiday weekends.

    Joshua Tree Campout

    Joshua Tree National Park may be busy during this weekend. Instead try nearby Mecca: Box Canyon and Mecca Hills Wilderness, BLM desert lands near Interstate 10.

    Anza Borrego Desert State Park is always a nice, easy and relatively close get-away for any holiday. Open camping on the backroads (for free) makes it one of the most attractive camping options in all of SoCal. Many dirt roads are accessible for passenger cars, if extreme caution is used. Don’t plan on driving more than a few miles on dirt.

    Masses of off roaders love to camp out, especially on Thanksgiving weekend. Wheel all day, eat, drink, bon fires every night and rumor has it ‘they roast their big bird outdoors – deep in a dirt pit’. Really? El Centro, Glamis, Imperial Dunes, Ocotillo Wells, Truckhaven Hills, Johnson Valley. All popular off roading areas in Southern California, so consider yourself warned.

    Imperial Dunes

    Mojave Desert, near US Hwy 395
    Jawbone Canyon expect to see RVs, toy-boxes and families outside enjoying the weekend. OHV style. Often the group tries to create a round corral with their huge convoy of vehicles, to keep thru traffic to a minimum around “their camp”. Just stay well away from those gear-heads. In general, it is a very busy area around Mojave up to Hwy 178 during the holidays. Try high desert Horse Canyon instead.

    Tent Camping

    ghost towns
    meteor showers
    hot springs

    Death Valley National Park is one of the best destinations for Thanksgiving, cuz Panamint Springs serves their free turkey dinner.

    Did someone say FREE?

    Leon at Mahogany

    California 4×4 Roads

    Panamint Creeks

    West Coast 4×4 club holds annual trail runs in Panamint Valley.

    California 4×4 – here is search term popularized by the SUV & the anxious city driver who wants to hit some dirt. Gone are the days when peeling out in the back of the Ikea parking lot adventure. You seek real trails & cool spots & Total Escape is here to deliver.

    Take your muddy or dusty vehicle to work on Monday (unwashed), just to prove you did something adventurous this past weekend! Once they see the photos, the co-workers will be envious… cuz they watched TV (and wasted 17 hours).

    BTW, TV = nothingness

    This entire web site was started around California back roads & self guided tours. You finally found us! Gotta get the 4wheel drive SUV into action (at least once per year – so the differential oil wont get like glue) & this web site can help you find the secrets spots of California.

    Xterra Ken in Baja 2005
    Anza Borrego Desert & Los Padres National Forest has the most 4×4 trails in all the SoCal region. Big Bear forest has some, but the crowds are thick on any given weekend. Angeles has Azusa & Lyttle Creek; Idywild has a few virtually unknown spots. Mojave desert & the Eastern Sierra have plenty to see, volcanoes, ghost towns, old mines, petroglyphs, all reachable with stock SUV. Inyo high country has some incredible sights, but only accessible half the year. You will need 4 wheel drive part time or full time on these trails listed below. AWD doesn’t count! Clearance and 4 wheel traction are key for control w/ rock crawling and deep sand.

    Searching for the extreme, rock crawling, hard core 4×4 stuff, go to the off-road races — or take your time & plan your adventure well. Chances are you’ll need a small team of people to explore these black diamond routes, a good forest map, plus very capable 4 wheelin’ rigs.

    red mountain

    Red Mountain 4×4 Trail near Shaver Lake

    Find California 4wheel drive roads below. Some of these routes will require a four wheel low range, with a transfer case. Do not attempt these with a new AWD SUV. Expect body damage on any 4WD trail.

    Anza Borrego Desert –

    Gold Country & Sierra Nevada 4×4 trails –

    Death Valley 4×4 Camps –

    Inyo NF 4×4 trails –

    Los Padres NF 4×4 trails –

    San Berdu NF 4×4 trails –

    • John Bull Trail, near Big Bear Lake CA
    • Deep Creek Trail, near Skyforest Lake Arrowhead CA
    • Gold Mountain Trail, near Big Bear Lake CA
    • Pipes Canyon, near Big Bear Lake CA

    San Diego 4×4 Trails –

    • Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, Lake Henshaw
    • Valley of the Moon, Jacumba CA

    baja roads 4x4

    Now, not every road is gonna need 4×4 all the time. Most of the dirt back roads can easily be passable in a 2WD in dry months, but forget that in winter or any good rain storm. Total Escape has compiled a huge list of Southern California Back Roads, for your viewing pleasure.

    California off road maps –

    Baker Creek
    Baker Creek, Inyo NF

    Mason Valley Truck Trail

    jeepinoriflamme

    Mason Valley – Oriflamme Canyon

    Mason Valley Truck Trail refers to a network of dirt roads on the west side of San Diego County Road S2, on the steep mountain slopes overlooking the desert badlands of Anza Borrego State Park. These primitive back roads lead up to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on the edge of Laguna Recreation Area.

    Oriflamme Canyon, Chariot Canyon & Rodriguez Trail are all in the area. Chaparral mountain trails lead off in many directions with dead end canyons and side routes. This high desert region consists of private property, ranches with gates, various trails and desert dirt roads – between 2400′ and 4000′ elevation.

    A good portion of the lands on the west side of paved S2 are not inside the State Park boundary, but Oriflamme is the exception. The Anza Borrego Desert State Park borders includes this particular back road canyon, almost up to the Cleveland National Forest. Awesome locals little secret!

    Laguna Recreation Area

    • Oriflamme Mountain @ 4611′ elevation
    • Chariot Mountain @ 4644′ elevation

    San Diego Backcountry MapThe main access to Mason Valley Truck Trail is located near the bottom of Box Canyon (on Co. Rd. S2). The sign at the turn off reads Oriflamme Canyon. The first sandy mile or so gets kinda confusing, as the ranch road, dirt trails and natural desert wash merge with the seasons and rains. You might encounter locked gates if you take the wrong turn. In the wash look for signage for Oriflamme.

    Approximately 2 miles from S2 the dirt road splits. To the left is Mason Valley Truck Trail, which continues up  Oriflamme Canyon and into wooded Chariot Canyon, eventually connecting with Hwy 78 (at Banner Grade). And the other choice on the right is a rugged 4×4 route called Rodriguez Truck Trail which is 7 miles long and meets back up with the main Oriflamme road about a mile from the highway. These back roads encircle the biggest peak around called Chariot Mountain.

    Mountain bikers, hikers, horses and vehicles all use these routes, so be prepared to see others out exploring and please, always yield to equestrian traffic.

    Mason Valley Truck Trail Anza Views

    Several open, free camp spots lower in the canyon w/ large cottonwood trees. More hidden camps to be found higher up the mountain. A decent topo map, a campfire permit and a metal fire bucket is highly advised.

    PCT: Pacific Crest Trail traverses the ridge line near 4000-6000′ and the desert valley below is nearing 2000′ elevation. The ambitious plan for the California Riding and Hiking Trail is still under construction and routed nearby as well.

    Butterfield RV Ranch and the historic adobe Vallecito Stage Stop, are the closest thing to civilization you will find around these parts Don’t count on gasoline or cell phone coverage anywhere near here.

    NEARBY TOWNS:Anza Borrego Desert Map

    Desert / Mountains
    SOCAL MAPS:


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    Vallecito – Anza Borrego

    Vallecito Park, San Diego Desert

    Anza Borrego Desert

    Great Overland Stagecoach Route of 1849

    East San Diego County Road S2 winds thru the lower passes & washes of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. On the edge of the State Park boundary Vallecito is a small campground & park, but it was a stage coach route in the 1800’s.

    California Historic Marker #304

    VallecitoVALLECITO STAGE STOP – A 1934 reconstruction of Vallecito Stage Station (originally built in 1852) on the eastern slopes of the mountains in the high desert. A super important stop on the first official transcontinental route, serving ‘The Jackass Mail‘, the Butterfield Overland Stage Line, and the southern emigrant caravans.

    backpacking, birdwatching, camping, cycling, hiking, mountain biking, off roading, stargazing, wildflowers

    Vallecito Campground
    elev. 1555′
    camp sites: 44
    overnight fee
    first come, first serve
    reservations accepted
    Campfire pits, picnic tables, bathrooms, & historic buildings; 22 sites are tents only. RV 40′ limit; Additional 8 equestrian campsites w/ corrals. No RV hookups, no dump station. No piped water. No gasoline, no store, no amenities. No firewood, no collecting of firewood. No shade trees, just tall desert brush. Arrive adequately prepared for real desert roughin it.

    Vallecito Stage Station County Park
    760-765-1188
    37349 Great Southern Overland Stage Route
    County Road S2 @ mile marker 34.7
    About 3.5 mi NW of Agua Caliente Hot Springs

    Closed during the hottest months of summer. Open seasonally: Labor Day weekend through the fall, winter and spring, up until the last week in May. 

    see also – Oriflamme Canyon / Mason Valley Truck Trail

    muck to stagecoachA neighboring and more rural stage coach stop is further down a long wash, to the south east. Getting there usually requires 4×4, since you must ford a muddy desert wash w/ creek & deep holes. There are no signs out in this sandy desert wash, so you best have a good map and a compass. The Old Carrizo Stage Station site is accessible by 4 different dirt roads (desert washes) off the paved highway. None of these are well signed at the highway: Vallecito Creek, Willow Creek near Mountain Palm Springs, Carrizo Creek near Bow Willow, and Canyon sin Nombre.

    Agua Caliente, Bow Willow Campground, Canebrake, Sweeney Pass,  the badlands overlook, mud caves and slot canyons are all located south of Vallecito. California SR 78 and Blair Valley are north of Vallecito.

    Vallecito Creek

    San Diego Desert MapVallecito is located at the apex of the gap in the Carrizo Badlands created by Carrizo Creek and its wash in its lower reach, to which Vallecito Creek is a tributary. Once a seasonal village of the native Kumeyaay people, on a trail across the desert from the Colorado River, this oasis, became a crucial stopping place for Spanish and then Mexican travelers to recover from the desert crossing between Sonora and New Mexico to California. The non native settlement of the site began in 1850, as a camp with a one room sod warehouse as the U.S. Army Depot Vallecito for the supply of Fort Yuma. It was later increased in size and became a store, a stage station, and a ranch house. read more on wiki

    dark skies anza

    Another Vallecito, California?
    Yep! Small community of about 400 folks in the Sierra foothills. Gold Country region, up off the Historic 49 and it used to be called Murphy’s Old Diggings.

    Old Kane Spring Road

    Kane Spring California

    Quartz Wash Anza

    Old Kane Spring Road parallels California SR Highway 78 a few miles from Ocotillo Wells, in east Anza Borrego Desert. A graded dirt road that can often gets sandy and you might need to keep you speed up certain soft spots. A few dead end canyons lead southward; hidden camp sites can be found out this way if you have the time to look. Harper Canyon, perhaps. See below for more on camp sites.

    San Diego Desert Map

    Anza Borrego Desert State Park Map

    San Diego Backcountry Map

    Spring Wildflowers can be quite spectacular out along this desert trail. Towering red-tipped ocotillo in some canyons serve as great backdrops to a perfect picnic lunch.

    Ocotillo California

    The Kane dirt route peels off the highway about a mile east of an area known as The Narrows. Marked on the highway as a small hiking trail, the highway curves at a narrow section of the canyon, as San Felipe Creek wash carves its way through the harsh landscape.

    primitive campThe best primitive camping in this area is actually west of The Narrows. You might need a high clearance vehicle to reach some spots and a good map with the creek/wash names. Make sure to look for these – Free Camping

    • Nolina Wash
    • Pinyon Wash
    • Quartz Vein Wash

    pinyonoco vcampoutpinyonwsh

    On the opposite the highway is Ocotillo Wells SVRA, where off road enthusiasts can get their kicks. Wind caves can be found in Butte Canyon, where the 4×4 trails abound. Kane Springs intersects Split Mountain Road. The Elephant Trees, Split Mountain and more wind caves are south of the railroad tracks.

    Anza Borrego Desert Map


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    Agua Caliente Hot Springs

    Agua Caliente Springs

    Agua Caliente County Park
    Agua Caliente Anza Borrego Desert
    Agua Caliente Hot Springs

    East San Diego County
    N of Ocotillo, CA

    Anza Borrego Desert MapAgua Caliente Hot Springs County Park is a remote 910-acre San Diego County Park next to the Anza Borrego Desert. A developed hot springs, picnic area & a large campground. This desert destination is perfect for California winter recreation, offering a small air strip for small plane pilots.

    Located North of Interstate 8 on San Diego Road S-2 on the south end of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Local mountain’s seismic forces created the fault that runs beneath this region & forces water up to tRV campground Anzahe desert surface. A decent water supply also supports plant life & wildlife.

    For minimal crowds AVOID THIS PLACE on holiday weekends or peak winter months. Spring & Autumn are excellent times to visit here, but watch the weather forecast for any heat waves. Who wants to soak when it’s 100 degrees outside?

    2 natural hot mineral pools:

    • large outdoor pool is kept at natural 96 degrees
    • glass walled indoor pool is heated & has bubbling jets
    • spring-fed, warm showers are available
    • hiking trails, horseshoe & shuffleboard

    Indoor Pool

    Agua Caliente Campground

    140 campsites – tent sites & RV hookups w/ dump station. Shady trees only at some camp sites. Indoor pool, outdoor pools, maybe a hike-in primitive tub too. Individual campsites may be reserved up to 12 weeks in advance 858-565-3600

  • Anza Borrego Desert Map
  • San Diego Backcountry Map

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    Anza Borrego Hot Springs
    Several nice camp spots line this canyon on the north side.

    Split Mountain Anza Borrego

    Anza Borrego Desert State Park

    Fish Creek Campground

    E of Borrego Springs CA.

    Well off Highway 78, past the busy OHV area, quads at Ocotillo Wells, past all the rural homes & the redneck bar, past the Elephant Trees hike – where the road goes from pavement to graded dirt to a wild desert wash, in a few short miles. If you don’t know where you are, then you’re almost there.

    This is a large wild desert wash with huge unstable walls, several areas for wind caves and a few historic markers. Lots of 4×4 trails beyonf Split Mountain, to the south. No real water in sight, except maybe the puddle you are standing in as it starts to poor. The soft sand can give way to a few heavy rain drops. May not be a great area to be during a serious storm or flash flood possibility, unless you want to get buried alive. Check the weather forecast in advance.

    A ratty, small developed campground of Fish Creek is on the left side, upon the ledge. Fish Creek Campground is picnic tables & a pit toilet – at most. Ya may as well camp out in the open, off road, like the pioneers did. You can do that out here in Anza Borrego. (Just keep it clean & carry a metal fire container.)

    split mountain

    Split Mountain, Anza Borrego Desert State Park

    This portion of the “mountain” is less than a mile from Fish Creek Campground. Fossils can be found in these walls. Shade is good in summer months, when day temps reach 100+. The rest of the year is ideal weather. This mountain split from water, erosion, mega force. High walls, wind caves, desert washes, great primitive camping & 4×4 routes.

    This desert scenic drive will require you to get that SUV dusty. 4 wheel drive not required. No RVs past the campground. All low lying passenger cars are warned, there are uneven areas, soft sand & boulders.

    Duh, do not attempt this one when desert flash floods are possible.

    ANZA BORREGO STATE PARK

    ANZA BORREGO MAP

    SAN DIEGO BACKCOUNTRY MAP

    nearby towns –

  • BORREGO SPRINGS CA
  • OCOTILLO WELLS CA
  • SALTON SEA CA

    splitmountain

    Great desert back road exploring out here. A zillions washes & canyons.