Anza Borrego Desert State Park, just two hours east of San Diego and southeast of great Los Angeles, promises many avenues for adventure. The first challenge is finding accurate and complete information on Anza Borrego camping, which can be difficult to track down. This guide to the various developed campgrounds, primitive campsites and dispersed camping opportunities should help jumpstart your plans to visit the park.
This Anza Borrego camping guide aguments our Ultimate Guide to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, a more general guide to Anza Borrego adventure, by offering more detailed information on camping in the park.
5) Arroyo Salado Primitive Campground
6) Blair Valley Primitive Campground
7) Culp Valley Primitive Campground
8) Fish Creek Primitive Campground
9) Mountain Palm Springs Primitive Campground
10) Sheep Canyon Primitive Campground
11) Yaqui Pass Primitive Campground
12) Yaqui Wash Primitive Campground
Overview of Anza Borrego Camping
There are basically two ways to camp in Anza Borrego: 1) in established campgrounds, which come with varying degress of amenities and cost, or 2) in dispersed camping areas, where you can set up camp where you'd like, in accordance with a few important rules and exceptions set by the state park system.
The first category, the established Anza Borrego campgrounds, range from a collection of ultra-basic primitive sites with a shared vault toilet and little else to highly developed campgrounds with showers, flush toilets, RV hookups and even cabins for rent. In this guide, we will mostly focus on the park service campgrounds, but there are also some privately owned RV campgrounds in the area, which will be listed below.
The second category, disperse camping where no formal campground is established, can be either car camping near one of park's many dirt roads or getting away from roads to camp further into the desert wilderness. Some areas of the park are closed (whether permenantly, temporarily or seasonaly) to disperse camping to conserve or restore the fragile desert ecosystem.
Established Anza Borrego Camgrounds
California State Parks manages a dozen established campgrounds in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. These include eight primitive campgrounds, which offer few amenities, are free and first-come, first-served, and four developed campgrounds that offer more amenities. Three of these, Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, Tamarisk Grove Campground and Vern Whitaker Horse Camp can be reserved online at ReserveCalifornia.com or by phone at 760-767-5311. The park service charges day use fees for all of the developed campgrounds: Borrego Palm Canyon, Tamarisk Grove, Bow Willow, and Horse Camp campgrounds.
Developed Anza Borrego Campgrounds
Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is located just west of the town of Borrego Springs (GPS: 33.268713, -116.406073) and offers expansive views of the desert and easy access to Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, Panoramic Overlook Trail and the state park visitor's center. This is the closest campground to a town, offering the added bonus of access to Borrego Spring's restaurants and stores.
From October 1 – April 30, the campground takes reservations, which can be made online at ReserveCalifornia.com. It is divided into three sections. Two of the sections offer tent and RV camping, with no hookups. The third section offers full hookups and requires that an RV be present before campers can pitch additional tents. The campground offers potable water, toilets, coin operated showers, picnic tables and fire pits, among other amenities. The trailhead for the popular Borrego Palm Canyon Trail is located on the north end of the campground. A day use fee is required to park and hike the trail.
As you head into Anza Borrego from the mountain town of Julian on Route 78, Tamarisk Grove Campground is the first developed camping area you'll encounter (GPS: 33.138502, -116.375072). Located at the split of the 78 (which heads east towards the town of Ocotillo Wells) and S3 (which winds northeast towards Borrego Springs), the campground, comprising 27 campsites, is well situated for exploring the more southern portions of the park. Notably, Tamarisk Grove offers 11 rustic cabins for rent, as well as tent and RV camping. Camping is available from October 1 to May 20, and reservations are accepted October 1 - April 30.
Tamarisk Grove Campground amenities include coin operated showers, non-potable water (don't drink it), flush toilets and each site has a picnic table with a shade ramada. You can buy water and other limited supplies at a small store and visitor center run by the campground hosts. The trailheads for Yaqui Well Trail and Cactus Loop Trail, two quick hikes, are just across Highway S3 to the north of the campground. The trailhead for Kenyon Overlook Trail, a longer loop trail, is two miles northeast on Yaqui Pass Road (GPS: 33.148143, -116.348653).
Vern Whitaker Horse Camp, located about 4 miles north of Borrego Springs, is a great home base for exploring the northern parts of Anza Borrego on horseback (GPS: 33.348720, -116.399432). Reserved for equestrians, this campground offers 12 developed campsites for RVs or tents and offers around 40 horse corrals. The campground is open all year round, but peak season is during the cool(er) months, October to April.
The campground is situated in a secluded desert valley at the intersection of over 30 miles of equestrian trails: Horse Camp Trail, Desert Trail and Ocotillo Flats Trail. Amenities include potable water, restrooms and coin-operated showers. The campground can accomodate trailers up to 35-feet in length.
Located in the quite, southernmost portion of Anza Borrego, Bow Willow Campground offers no frills camping at the foot of low hills with a sweeping view of the open desert. The campground offers 16 first-come, first-served campsites. Amenities include potable water, picnic tables, fire rings, shade ramadas and vault toilets. Of the "developed" campground in Anza Borrego, it is the most rustic.
The campground is located on the site of an ancient seasonal Kumeyaay Indian village, at the mouth of a wide wash. A number of trails intersect here. These include the trail the Kumeyaay used to take to get to the Laguna Mountains, and trails to Rockhouse Canyon, Mountain Palms Springs Campground and Torote Bowl. This is a good campground for getting away from the more heavily trafficked northern portions, while still having some basic infrastructure.
Primitive Anza Borrego Campgrounds
Anza Borrego's primitive campgrounds are designated first-come, first-served camping areas that offer few if any amenities. Camping is free. In some cases, distinct sites are demarcated by stones and fire rings, while other campgrounds allow you to camp whereever you'd like to pitch a tent or park your RV. Fires are prohibited outside of official fire rings, to avoid scarring the slow-to-heal desert soil. Bringing a fire pit with you is another good option.
Arryo Salado Primitive Campground is conveniently located (GPS: 33.283053, -116.152286) just off Borrego Salton Seaway (Highway S-22), near the entrance to the Calcite Mine Trail and Truck Haven Trail (which can be accessed with a 4-wheel-drive from the dirt road that runs through the campground). Ocotillo Wells Off Highway Vehicle Area, a popular offroading destination, is a few miles east of the campground.
Amenities are limited to a couple of vault toilets, and there are no formal campsites or fire rings, so you'll need to bring a fire pit if you want a campfire. This is a great place to camp if you don't have a reservation at one of the developed campgrounds, but like the idea of having a toilet available.
Blair Valley Primitive Campground is a great base for exploring Blair Valley and Little Blair Valley, two quiet, undeveloped valleys nestled in the mountainous western portion of Anza Borrego south of Borrego Springs. The campground is situated at an elevation of about 2,500 feet (GPS: 33.033037, -116.399311), off Highway S-2, down Little Blair Valley Road (take the southernmost of the roads two entrances entrances from S-2).
The campground offers dispersed camping and a single vaulted toilet. Further south and east on the road, is the trailhead for for a 1.8 mile out-and-back trail that ends near rocks where ancient Kumeyaay Indians drew pictographs thousands of years ago.
Culp Valley Primitive Campground (GPS: 33.221990, -116.457339) sits at the highest elevation of any of Anza Borrego's campgrounds, located at 3,500 feet in the San Ysidro Mountains west of Borrego Springs off Montezuma Valley Road (Highway S-22). This is a popular campground, as it is the first campground Anza Borrego visitors reach as they head to the desert from San Diego via Julian. The location offers dispersed camping and vaulted toilets.
Just across S-22 from the campground is a popular climbing area called Windy Boulders for the regular winds that blow through Culp Valley. Culp Valley Trail, an easy half-mile hike that begins at the campground brings you to an overlook of Borrego Valley. This can be combined with other trails in the area to form a loop that brings you to Culp Valley Overlook and Peña Springs.
Fish Creek Primitive Campground is located in the eastern portion of Anza Borrego Desert State Park, south of Ocotillo Wells (GPS: 33.023780, -116.110039). It's a great based from which to explore nearby Split Mountain Gorge, the Anza Borrego Wind Caves and the Fish Creek-Vallecito Badlands. The campground offers vault toilets, fire rings and six loosely defined campsites. You can also camp outside of the defined sites, but you'll need your own fire pit if you want a campfire.
To get there, get off Route 78 in Ocotillo Wells onto Split Mountain Road and travel about 8 miles south to where the road splits off on the right to Fish Creek Wash. Fish Creek Campground is on the left after 1.4 miles. The campground sits on a rise above Fish Creek Wash near the entrance of Split Mountain Gorge.
Mountain Palm Springs Primitive Campground is located at the foot of the Tierra Blanca Mountains in the southern portion of Anza Borrego, about a mile north on the S2 from the turn off for Bow Willow Campground (GPS: 32.862777, -116.215086). The Mountain Palm Springs Trail, which starts at the campground, offers a 2.5 mile loop that brings you to several nearby desert palm groves, each offering an oasis for hikers. You can also hike to Bow Willow Campground from here, or follow trails that go further into the mountains.
The campground offers vault toilets and dispursed camping, but no fire rings, so you'll need to bring a fire pit if you want a fire. Pay particular attention to avoid the many Cholla Cactus that grow in abundance around the campground, especially if you have dogs or kids with you. The thorns are brutal.