Indianhead, a 3990-foot promontory crowning the north wall of Borrego Palm Canyon, juts dramatically from the desert floor near Borrego Springs and the Anza-Borrego visitor center. There are several climbing routes to Indianhead's summit but probably only one route accessible to mere hikers with a good sense of balance and a fair share of endurance. This no-nonsense hike -- seven miles out and back for the round trip, perhaps seven hours' worth of walking, and involving an elevation gain and loss of more than 3000 feet -- starts with the easy and popular Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail but becomes progressively tougher the higher you go. You'll need drinking water and sturdy hiking boots. Allowing for the early sunset this time of year (4:40 p.m.), an early-morning start is absolutely mandatory if you hope to reach the summit and return the same day.
Park in the hiker's day-use parking lot at the west end of Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, and head up the canyon bottom via the well-traveled nature trail. At 1.5 miles, where a mini-forest of native California fan palms thrives, the nature trail ends at a fenced enclosure overlooking the palms and a seasonal stream. Go beyond this, and cross over to the south side of the canyon stream, where you can pick up a fair trail through open terrain dotted with granitic boulders and prickly forms of vegetation. Scattered palms are seen again as the canyon narrows and after you round a sharp bend (1.8 miles). Perhaps you'll notice a change in the bedrock -- from light-colored igneous to orange-tinted metamorphic.
You reach the turnoff point for Indianhead at 2.5 miles into the hike (1800 feet elevation), where a tributary canyon joins in from the north. Climb northeast straight up the ridge just east of this tributary. Scrambling begins in earnest now, on the barest semblance of a path or on no path at all. After about 0.7 mile, you reach a 3220-foot saddle northwest of Indianhead. From there make your way southeast around huge boulders and over slab rock to reach the highest point on Indianhead's flattish summit.
The entire sweep of the San Ysidro mountain range, with peaks exceeding 6000 feet, lies southwest and west. In the north, beyond lesser ranges, the often-snow-capped San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County float like a mirage. To get a superb view of Borrego Palm Canyon, scramble about 0.1 mile south of Indianhead's high point and work your way out to a jagged outcrop. There you sit, legs dangling, looking almost straight down on the palms lining the bottom of the canyon