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


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:


View Larger Map

 

Chumash Wilderness

Chumash Wilderness
Los Padres National Forest

38,150 acres
Mount Pinos – 8831′ elevation
Cerro Noroeste – 8286′ elevation
Los Padres National Forest

Terrain consists of high mountain peaks, badlands of Quatal Canyon Wash & Lockwood Valley; Steep slopes of forests, rock outcroppings, sparse forest areas, on border of Kern County & Ventura County. This area is sacred to the native California Chumash tribe.

Quatal Canyon Rd #9N09

DSCN0042Mount Pinos, Mount Abel, Cerro Noroeste, Westside Park, Hudson Ranch Road, Mil Potrero Highway, Lockwood Valley Road, East Dry Canyon, Apache Canyon, Cuyama River

campgrounds nearby –

The Peak to Peak Hike is a 7 mile, high elevation, ridge line day hike that traversed 2 of the tallest peaks in Kern County – Mt Pinos (elevation 8831′) and Mt Abel (8286′). Day hikes, equestrian trails, backpacking, mountain biking areas nearby. Steep, granite, chaparral, lightly forested w/ ponderosa and Jeffrey pines. From this ridge trail you have a 360 degree view over the entire region. The cabin community of Pine Mountain Club is to the north side (and IF the skies are really clear, you can see the Sierra Nevada mountain range too); Lockwood Valley & Ozena Valley are located to the south; Cuyama Valley to the west and the Tejon Pass w/ Frazier Park to the east.

Off road use 4×4, dirt bikes, ATVs, and quads are common in Quatal Canyon, Apache Canyon, East Dry Canyon leading up to the wilderness edge. Rangers will ticket if they find you on the Chumash side of Quatal wash. The secluded yet inviting, wide, white sandy washes are just too tempting for some bad boys.

Chumash trailheads are located

  • about a mile before Camp-O-Alto Campground (Mount Abel)
  • along lower end of Quatal Canyon Wash (OHV areas parallel)

nearby towns –

 

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View Chumash Wilderness Area in a larger map

9N09 – Los Padres NF

Quatal Canyon

Quattale

Quatal Cyn: Forest Road #9N09 – Los Padres National Forest

Toad Spring Campground is located at high elevations (5700′) of Quatal Canyon, on a dirt road, half mile off the pavement of Cerro Noroeste Rd. The Chumash Wilderness, the Cuyama River Valley, Apache Saddle, Mount Abel plus the Bittercreek National Wildlife Refuge all surround this region. Los Padres National Forest meets the vineyards, orchards & farmlands, near Ventucopa. This is the badlands – 18 mile scenic dirt road, well signed at Hwy 33 & mostly graded. Quatal Cyn connects Ojai’s Highway 33 to the pinyon pine forest above near Pine Mountain Club (@ nearly a straight line?) Motorcycle dirt bikes & off-roaders dig this place. Street bikes will prefer paved Cerro Noroeste which runs the rim above to the north.

This major dirt road is not gated at either end, but winter sometimes closes the route due to snow depth. It never stays closed very long, as some beefy 4×4 will break thru the snow berm soon enough. Top elevation @ Cerro Noreste is approximately 5500′.

Quatal Canyon (possible Chumash word for Snake) is a giant high desert wash, ripping down from Cerro Noroeste (aka Mt Abel). Serious erosion w/ San Andreas fault lines – make it a very interesting canyon to explore on foot, horseback, motorbike, or mountain bike. The lupine & wildflowers here are incredible in late Spring in this red dirt canyon. Both nearby mountain peaks of Mount Abel & Mount Pinos are the tallest in Kern County.

This rugged primitive canyon gets torn up during a good storm in late summer or a big winter storm. Red dirt gets very slippery – especially on the edges of a cliff. Boulders in the road, flash floods – or no road, river of mud! 2WD passenger cars can take this route in dry months, but high clearance is usually preferred. 4×4 is needed during heavy rain or snow – which could be half the year (Nov-April). Flash flooding is possible all over Los Padres NF, so know the weather forecast in advance.

Seen small RVs, trucks pulling trailers & even a U-haul moving truck down this way. MapQuest always amazes me where they route you. This is a graded dirt road, some of the time. MapQuest should post a ‘see Total Escape for this route’. Come on folks, if you’re traveling cross-country, while moving your residence, buy a real map to explore the National Forests of California. You may end up sleeping way out here – broken down in the moving van, in the boonies & no cell coverage, cuz you had a one page, wrinkled map in faded ink, wet & smeared. And MapQuest told you it was paved. It’s not paved 90% of the way.

Primitive camping is also allowed in the canyon wash or on the side routes, in certain seasons. Use an existing camp site when possible. Clean out the rock fire ring of litter & bottles, pull back all dry brush at camps & leave these places better than you found ’em. There are hundreds of dispersed campsites out here. The open wash is especially nice on a full moon hike, just bring friends – cuz it is considered “big cat country”. Camp fire restrictions are in tight control on this SoCal region. You will need a camp fire permit, a big shovel & lotsa water. Check with the Los Padres rangers to make sure. Recently Zaca Fire (2007) & the month long Day Fire (2006) both came very close to this precious sanctuary.

The high desert terrain is pinyon forest, with yucca & manzanita. The eroded cliffs of red rock, white & orange hues, glow best during the clearest sunsets. You will almost think your in Utah, until you get up on a ridge & see the smog in the Central Valley of California.

Mahu Tasen, a Native American camp and sweat lodge, has ceremonial grounds in a canyon off of Quatal. There is also a large rock quarry mining operation, as well as numerous wineries and ranches along this route. Several private residences too.

Ballinger Canyon OHV Park is close by, 5 miles N on Hwy 33

Carrizo Plain National Monument is also pretty close, N off Hwy 166

towns nearby –

PINE MOUNTAIN CA

MARICOPA CA

VENTUCOPA CA

helpful maps of the region –

Quatal Chumash Lands