Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers something for everyone at the park’s Visitor Center, including two trails that are ADA-approved. Both trails start at the center and are clearly marked.
The longer 0.7-mile trail leads north from the center to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park campground area, ending just west of campsite No. 71, where a drinking fountain is found. The trail is completely paved and offers ten interpretive signs with illustrations that have been set at an angle to make it convenient for people at different heights to read the information. Beneath the interpretive illustrations and descriptions on the panel are similar descriptions written in braille. Visitors are encouraged to use all their other senses to experience the desert surroundings, though care should be taken not to touch the cactus!
The campground trail also offers sitting areas near the interpretive signs where one can sit and contemplate the desert scenery. This all-accessible trail makes a good introductory trail for first-time visitors. There is a cautionary sign advising visitors to carry water, wear light clothing, a hat, and sunglasses, use sunscreen and chapstick, carry a map, and let someone know what trails you will be on, and when you intend to return or will be able to contact them. Call your contact upon your return to let them know that you have safely returned to avoid unnecessarily starting a search. Another recommendation is to carry a comb and tweezers to remove any spines that might attach to your clothing or skin if you brush against a cactus.
The interpretive signs describe common desert shrubs, reptiles, insects, and spiders, and large and small birds and mammals. One sign describes the many common cacti found in this region. Shrubs that surround the trail are typical of desert scrub and include creosote, burro bush, ocotillo, staghorn cholla, brittlebush, and indigo bush.
The shorter 0.25-mile trail begins in front of the Visitor Center entrance. This loop trail is on compact dirt and is wheelchair accessible. The trail offers a greater variety of desert plants, many of which were planted for the enjoyment and education of visitors. Many of the plants have signs indicating what they are called. One of the interpretive signs along this trail describes the life of the desert pupfish, which is able to withstand extreme temperatures. The pupfish pond is next to the tall native California fan palms. Another sign mentions common desert wildflowers while several signs describe how plants and animals adapt to desert conditions. Finally, there is a sign that explains the role of water, wind, and earthquakes in this desert. The loop joins a portion of the longer trail before it returns to the main path that leads to the entrance of the Visitor Center.
End the hike with a visit to the interior of the center, where there are more interpretive signs, films, and staff to answer questions.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 92 miles. Allow 2 hours driving time. From Ramona, drive east on SR-78 to Santa Ysabel. Turn north on SR-79 and drive to the junction with SR-2/San Felipe Road and turn southeast. At the junction with SR-22, turn east to Ranchita and follow SR-22 to the stop sign in Borrego Springs. Turn left/west on Palm Canyon Drive and follow the road to the Visitor Center parking area, where there are facilities.
Hiking length: 1.4 miles out and back for the Visitor Center campground trail; 0.25-mile loop for the Visitor Center trail; 1.65 miles for both.
Difficulty: The concrete-paved campground trail has an elevation gain/loss of 250 feet; the dirt Visitor Center loop trail has no change in elevation.