San Diego County is one of the best regions in the United State for off-roading, featuring abundant off-road trails ranging from mellow dirt roads to hard-core rock crawling trails.
In this guide, we’ve curated a running list of San Diego off-road trails that will suit drivers of varying skill levels. Whether you are looking for a hardcore Jeep trail or a chill dirt road for daily-driver SUV, we’ve got you covered.
To make it easier to navigate, we’ve grouped the off-road trails into different destinations. For instance, all of the trails in Anza-Borrego will be listed together. We’ll provide an indication of difficulty for each trail, but please know that this isn’t an official grading system at all. We recommend exploring these trails with someone whose done them before and has experience off-roading.
If you are just getting started, or looking for people to go wheelin’ with, San Diego has several off-roading clubs that are great places to meet other off-roading and overlanding enthusiast. Also, we recommend getting appropriate training in off-road safety, driving and recovery. The clubs can be a great resource for getting this training.
Lastly, before we jump into the list, please know that it is a work in progress. There are MANY trails in San Diego. While we hope to get to them all eventually, it’s gonna take a while!
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located on the eastern side of San Diego County, is the crown jewel in San Diego’s off-road offerings. The 915-square mile park can be explored via 500 miles of dirt roads and technical four-wheel-drive routes.
Fonts Point Trail
Fonts Point Trail brings you to just below Fonts Point (GPS: 33.257846, -116.233367), an outlook that offers sweeping views of the Borrego Badlands, the Vallecito Mountains, and Borrego Valley. The trail starts from S22, where it crosses a wash about 12 miles east of down Borrego Springs, just after the 29-mile marker. Follow the wash 4 miles to where the road ends at a turn around (GPS: 33.257881, -116.2334150). Walk about 5 minutes up the hills near the parking area to Fonts Point.
It’s possible to make this drive in a 2-wheel-drive car, but check with the rangers at the visitor’s center about road conditions, as wind and rain could make it a harrowing journey. Four-wheel-drives should have no problems. It’s also a nice mountain bike ride, if it’s not too sand blown. Map trailhead location
Exploring Blair Valley and Little Blair Valley
The dirt roads of Blair Valley, where the primitive campground mentioned earlier is located, are fun to explore by car. There are actually two valleys here, Blair Valley and Little Blair Valley, with roads bisecting both. You can get into the area by exiting the S2 on either Blair Valley Road (GPS: 33.045904, -116.413310) or Little Blair Valley Road (GPS: 33.037342, -116.410510).
These quiet, undeveloped valleys, situated at an elevation of about 2,500 feet, offer interesting hiking and are great places to camp. It’s also a terrific place to try your hand at overlanding, as the roads aren’t so rugged that you need a hard-core off-road vehicle. If you decide to stretch your legs, one spur of the road takes you to the trailhead for a 1.8-mile out-and-back trail. The trail ends near rocks where ancient Kumeyaay Indians drew pictographs thousands of years ago. Little Blair Valley and Blair Valley roads form a loop, so you can enter on one and exit the area on the other if you don’t feel like backtracking.
For more information on camping and hiking in the area, visit our Blair Valley guide.
Exploring Coyote Canyon and Collins Valley
The Coyote Canyon area, which includes the popular Collins Valley makes up about a large portion of the park. The canyon, which can be accessed from Borrego Springs or Anza (from the northwest) runs for about 35 miles, offering numerous adventures for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and off-road enthusiasts. Access to the deeper parts of the canyon requires hiking, biking, or bringing a high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicle. For more information check out our guide to Coyote Canyon.
Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area
Difficulty: Easy – Difficult
If you are looking for a more aggressive off-road adventure, Ocotillo Wells SRVA might be what you’re looking for. This portion of Anza-Borrego offers 85,000 acres of desert that is open for off-highway exploration and exploration. This area is popular among motorcycling and ATV enthusiasts.
Guided Offroad Tours of Anza Borrego
California Overland is an offroad/overlanding outfitter based in Borrego Springs that offers a variety of single and multiday excursions. They typically bring a telescope and astronomer on the overnight trips, so you can wrap in stargazing as well. Tours can be booked through their website at CaliforniaOverland.com or by calling 760-767-1232.
Corral Canyon Off-Highway Vehicle Area
Located in Cleveland National Forest, in the mountains east of San Diego along near the Mexican border, Corral Canyon OHV area offers over 50 miles of off-road trails. Some trails are only wide enough for motorcycles and small ATVs, while a number can be navigated by SUVs and trucks.
The trails here range from relatively easy to extreme off-road challenges. See our complete guide to Corral Canyon OHV for more details on the area and trails.
Palomar Mountain Off-Road Trails
Palomar Mountain is located about 30 miles inland from Oceanside, California, about an hour and a half drive northeast of San Diego or two and a half hours southeast of Los Angeles. The area comprises Palomar Mountain State Park, managed by California State Parks, as well portions of Cleveland National Forest, managed by the United States Forest Service. There are several relatively easy truck trails in the area that are fun for exploring the wilderness. There are several options for camping on Palomar Mountain. Beware in winter of getting stuck in snowstorms.
Nate Harrison Grade Trail
Nate Harrison Grade Trail is a gravel and dirt truck trail in San Diego County that winds from Pauma Valley to the top of Palomar Mountain. The steep 9.5-mile road, which offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape, is popular among off-roading and overlanding enthusiasts, mountain bikers, and hikers (to a lesser extent).
The road ascends 4,600 feet over 9.5 miles at an average grade of 8 percent, with some sections much steeper than that. See our full guide to Nate Harrison Grade Trail for more details.
Palomar Divide Truck Trail
Palomar Divide Truck Trail is a truck trail that traverses the northeastern margin of Palomar Mountain. The route combines Palomar Divide Truck Trail and High Point Truck Trail but is generally referred to as the former.
This is one of the easier routes on our list but offers stellar views and a beautiful natural environment to explore. You will still want a capable SUV or, even better, a high clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The elevation here gets as high as around 5000 feet, and the ecosystem is much more alpine in feel than other parts of Southern California, including tall forests of pine and cedar.
The road can be accessed from a number of points. One popular entry point is the intersection of High Point Truck Trail and Highway 79, near Rancho California RV Resort (GPS: 33.440413, -116.857018). From there, High Point Truck Trail will bring you up to near the top of Palomar Mountain where it will merge with Palomar Mountain Truck Trail (the intersection is located at 33.362666, -116.826517).
From there you can head right, to explore the lovely Doane Valley and other areas at the top of Palomar Mountain, or head left and Palomar Mountain Truck trail will eventually bring you back to 79.
Pamo Valley Off-Road Trails
Pamo Valley, just north of the town of Ramona, in east county San Diego, offers three off-road trails that are typically easy but can get a bit more challenging when they are muddy. These include Orosco Ridge Truck Trail, Black Mountain Truck Trail, Santa Ysabel Truck Trail, and Lusardi Truck Trail.
Black Mountain Truck Trail
Black Mountain Truck Trail is an easy to moderate off-road trail near Ramona, California, that brings you from Pamo Valley to striking views at the peak of Black Mountain, in Cleveland National Forest. For more information, check out our guide to Black Mountain Truck Trail.
Valley of the Moon Off-Road Trails
Located in the Jacumba Mountains east of downtown San Diego, Valley of the Moon is popular among off-roading enthusiasts and rock climbers. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and part of the area, the Jacumba Wilderness, is protected as wilderness areas (so no vehicles allowed).
The entrance road to the area climbs steeply from a staging area just off I-8. It’s semi-paved but has quite a few potholes and some rocky areas that at a minimum are best traversed in a vehicle with a bit of clearance, such as a Subaru or other SUV.
Past the top of this entrance road, about 1.4 miles in, you’ll want a high-clearance four-wheel drive, such as a Jeep, Toyota 4-Runner, or pickup truck to continue.
Elliot Mine Trail
Elliot Mine (GPS: 32.623187, -116.080622) is located on the top of Tehe’ Peak and is a popular destination for people exploring the area by foot or 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The summit of Tehe’ offers a terrific 360-degrees vies of the Valley of the Moon and into Mexico.
Elliot Mine is deep into the Valley of the Moon area, though still just outside of the Jacumba Wilderness area. It’s about a 3-mile drive or hike from the trailhead just off 1-8. The trail up the hill (Trailhead GPS: 32.624096, -116.081107) from the valley to the mine is a narrow, rough, and precipitous off-road trail for capable 4-wheel drive vehicles only.
Halfway up the hill to the mine, where the trail bends sharply to the right, there is room to turn around or to park and walk the rest of the trail to the top of the mountain. It’s possible to drive all the way to the top, but we’d recommend scouting the trail first to make sure you’re up for it.