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.

Anza Borrego Flora

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.

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

Culp Valley Area

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 Hot Springs Park has some palms. Of course, Palm Canyon, the State Park Campground &  Visitors Center in Borrego Springs has the regions most popular hikes.

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

Mecca Box Canyon

Mojave Road Map

Mojave Road Trail

The Mojave Road

Mojave Desert Back Roads

The historic Mojave Road spans the high desert region of east California – crossing the Colorado River westward to roughly Los Angeles. Now a network of dirt and paved routes follow the original overland trade route. Click the plaque photo below to read more.

The Mojave Road

The rugged, dirt road cuts right through the middle of the Mojave National Preserve. Mid Hills, Kelso Depot, Cima.

mojave topo maps

Joshua Trees, mountains, boulders, sand dunes, railroad history. The high desert is abundant with wildlife, plant life, lava tubes, caverns, camping, and dirt roads. Plus wild windy weather.

Mojave Loop

MOJAVE PARK
Located on the way to Vegas, NV – or the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Mojave NP is in the triangle space in between Interstate 15 and Interstate 40, on the eastern side of southern California. Freeway close, free camping in the Mojave does indeed exist, if you know where to look.

Mojave Map by Trails Illustrated NatGeo 

NatGeo Map Mojave California

National Geographic acquired Trails Illustrated Maps more than a dozen years ago. Ever since these plastic topo maps have gone 2 sided, full-color w/ more details featured than ever before. Updated regularly. Waterproof plastic, perfect for outdoor desert travels.

Mitchell Cavern, called Providence Mountains SRA, has camping, but it is situated up on an exposed bluff overlooking the freeway. Location gets windy as hell. Better campground is at Hole in the Wall, or even better, Mid Hills Camp.

Mojave Peaks

Primitive, free camping can be found off of Kelbaker Road, but be warned: dirt roads can get deeply rutted and impassible during extreme wet weather. 4WD may be required sometimes.

  • CAMPGROUND CAMPING
  • FREE CAMPING
  • GROUP CAMPING
  • HIKING TRAILS
  • HISTORIC MONUMENTS
  • HORSE CAMPING
  • HORSEBACK TRAILS
  • JOSHUA TREES
  • LAVA TUBES
  • MINING HISTORY
  • MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAILS
  • OFF ROAD CAMPING
  • RAILROAD HISTORY
  • RANCHES
  • RV CAMPING
  • SAND DUNES
  • VOLCANIC TERRAIN

Mojave Desert Map by Tom Harrison

Mojave Road Map

One of the first readily available topographic style maps of the Mojave desert. Waterproof plastic, Tom Harrison brand maps are perfect for any type of backcountry travel, on foot, on horse, or off-road.

Campsites

AAA & NPS: one-page freebie; excellent overview map created by the Automobile Association of Southern California w/ the National Park Service. Handed out at Visitors Center and ranger stations (1990s)

BLM Maps of Mojave: OHV (off highway vehicle) maps can be found at the local Bureau of Land Management ranger stations:

Benchmark California Atlas

California Atlas

Best map for statewide coverage!

This premium full state atlas has the whole, massive Mojave desert covered, which extends north into Death Valley National Park and south to Joshua Tree National Park.

Mojave Desert Books


Silver Lake California

Silver Lakes @ Bucks

Numerous Silver Lakes, Creeks and other “silver” terrain can be found inside California.
After the Gold Rush of 1849 in the western Sierra, Silver was discovered in Nevada shortly after (east of Sierra Nevada mountains). This page is an overview on all places with SILVER in the name, or places that have had a history of silver mining. California Counties are listed in parenthesis. Links below will lead to more detailed pages or campground reservations.

Silver Lake @ Lassen

(Lassen Co)

silver kayaker

Silver Lake @ Bucks

(Plumas Co)

silver88

Silver Lake @ Carson

(Alpine Co)

Silver Fork of the American River. Silver Fork Road connects US Highway 50 & Carson Pass Hwy 88. Silver Fork Campground & China Flat Campground (NFS) are both located on this remote, backcountry route, about 8 miles from US Hwy 50 campground

golden glow june

Silver Lake @ June

(Mono Co)

California Lakes named Silver

Bodie SHP (State Park)
(Mono Co)
8375′ elev. US Hwy 395 near Bridgeport, CA. Infamous, high desert ghost town, now a California Historic State Park. Large mining camp w/ well-preserved, wooden, old town structures. Dirt road access. No developed campground @ Bodie, so try nearby Green Creek Road instead.

Cerro Gordo
(Inyo Co)
8500′ elev. Inyo mountains, West of Death Valley, east of US Hwy 395 @ Junction 136. Old mining camp rich in silver history. Someone might even live up there. Extreme remote location in rugged, high desert mountains. 4×4 is always required!

Silver City Sequoia
(Tulare Co)
6935′ elev. cabin resort on Mineral King Road, in the South Sequoia National Park

Silver Creek Campground NFS campground
(Alpine Co)
Developed Campground south of Markleeville, Highway 4, Ebbett’s Pass, Central Sierra Nevada

Silver Creek Campground campground
(Placer Co)
Camp right on the Truckee River, and on busy Hwy 89. in between Truckee & Lake Tahoe, California

Silver Valley Campground & Silver Tip Campground (Alpine Co) are both located near Lake Alpine on Highway 4 Ebbetts Pass, Central Sierra

jacksonmdwsign

Silvertip is also a Group Camp at Jackson Meadow Reservoir (Sierra Co) off Hwy 89, North of Truckee, CA. Silvertip Group Campground, as with all group camping facilities, is by reservation only.

Silver Lake @ LA
(Los Angeles Co) a tree-lined neighborhood in Los Angeles, near Griffith Park.

Silver Lake
(San Bernardino Co)
Silver Dry Lake, a dry lakebed in the Mojave desert, near the Hollow Hills Wilderness, north of Baker, CA off I-15

Silver Lakes
(San Bernardino Co)
2430′ elev. a desert community southwest of Barstow, near Helendale, CA. Located on the Mojave River (which flows underground) in between Historic Route 66 & US Hwy 395. Attraction nearby – Exotic World, the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

 

silverstrand

Silver Strand State Beach State Park

(San Diego Co)
A sliver of sand makes up this narrow beach, barrier island for San Diego Bay. RV Camping, best in SD. South San Diego, Coronado Island campground

silverwood

Silverwood Lake SRA State Park

(San Bernardino Co)
State Recreation Area @ Cajon Pass I-15
in the San Berdu National Forest

 

lacontedivide

High Sierra, California

hike-in only

backpacking

Silver Pass Lake
Silver Divide & Silver Pass
(Fresno Co)
11,000′ elev

Located in between two 12,000′ peaks
near PCT – Pacific Crest Trail
John Muir Wilderness

backpacking

Silver Lake
(Tulare Co)
11,000′ elev

via Mineral King trailheads
Golden Trout Wilderness
South of Sequoia NP
Southern Sierra Nevada

Another Hike

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

Horse Canyon

Horse Canyon Mojave

Horse Canyon California

Southern Sierra / Mojave Road SC 65

Mojave Desert meets the Sierra Nevada Mountains
North Highway 14

North of Mojave, CA
North of Red Rock State Park
North of Jawbone Canyon

South of south of US Hwy 395, south of jct Hwy 178

backroads BLM camping desert roads hiking PCT mountain bike jeep roads primitive camp

elevation: 3000′-7000′

Horse Canyon is a dirt road up a high desert canyon, with joshua trees and wash outs. 7000′ elevation pinyon pine ridges above w/ PCT.

Most would say the see a whole-lotta-nothingness out here in these deserts…. when they zoom by at 70 mph on the blacktop highway.

at Total Escape, we beg to differ.

Solo Driver SUV

Intersection on Hwy 14 @ SC 65, dirt route will travel west into the mountains. Initial desert road follows Little Dixie Wash, but veers north up to Horse Canyon and the higher forested ridges.

Horse Cyn is a scenic, desert, dirt road that becomes a rugged 4×4 trail the higher it climbs in the canyon. The route traverses a ridge line and dead ends at the old cabin; No through route, no loop. The PCT continues on to the Walker Pass @ the 178.

The lower Horse Canyon is area quite accessible by standard truck or SUV. High clearance is recommended out on these kinda roads. Vegetation is quite sparse at first, but improves with the miles traveled. Wildflowers can be awesome, usually April-June. Picnic spots everywhere; primitive camping sites can be found out here, off the main dirt road. Please reuse existing camp sites when possible.

wheelin pals

Passenger cars may attempt this, but should watch for unexpected deep dips and rocks, washed out in the road. (No tow service in the middle of nowhere). Road conditions do change with the seasons out in the boonies. Cell phone reception could be spotty back in the deepest of canyons.

PCT
PCT trail access: Pacific Crest Trail follows this ridge road for miles. They call this range the SCODIE Mountains; Old cabin at the end of the road.

cabin mcivers

Sage Canyon and Cow Heaven Canyon are both to the north, along with Freeman Canyon (CA SR 178). Bird Spring and Dove Spring Canyons are both to the south, along with the most popular regions of Red Rock State Park and the Jawbone OHV area.

nearby towns:

INYOKERN, CA
LAKE ISABELLA, CA
MOJAVE, CA
RANDSBURG, CA
RIDGECREST, CA

joshuacanyons