Skip Navigation

Get Your Desert On at Anza-Borrego!

Photo: Robb Hannawacker (Flickr)

Mid- to late spring’s a perfect time to go commune with blooming cacti and shrubs in San Diego’s sort-of-backyard desert wonderland, Anza-Borrego!

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s the biggest in California (and one of the largest in the Lower 48), a spectacular tract of Colorado Desert lowlands and rugged encircling ranges. There’s precious and biologically diverse wilderness here within shouting distance of Southern California’s big cities. It’s only about two hours from San Diego and the Sofia Hotel, and definitely worth a trip.

The Show’s Not Over

The famous spring bloom in Anza-Borrego often kicks into gear by mid-February or so; the timing and duration of a given year’s peak wildflower display has a lot to do with rainfall (or lack thereof). Although much of the lower-elevation blooms have petered out, you can track down beautiful flowering forbs higher up, and meanwhile cacti, ocotillo, agave, and other shrubs are putting on their own show in many park habitats. Culp Valley’s a good place to explore this time of year for blooms, while hiking the Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail—as the name suggests, a fantastic one for wide-open vistas—may also yield up-close views of flowering agaves.

(Check out this page, maintained by the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, for updates on Anza-Borrego blooms. California State Parks also maintains a Wildflower Hotline at 760-767-4684.)

Fan Palms to Bighorns

Anza-Borrego’s charms, though, extend well beyond flashy petals improbably coloring arid basins and foothills. Regardless of the blooming schedule, the plantlife here amazes. Oases of California fan palms line several of the park’s gulches, including Borrego Palm Canyon within easy reach of the visitor center. Strolling amid these noble, murmuring giants, their canopies undergirded by heavy manes of dead fronds, ranks among the peak experiences Southern California’s wildlands have to offer.

And then there’s the tough, long-lived, April-blooming palo verde tree of upland slopes; the aptly named smoketree of the desert washes; and the wild-armed ocotillo, which looks like a cactus but technically isn’t, and which greens dramatically fast on the heels of rain.

Anza-Borrego’s wildlife is just as thrilling—large and small. The park was partly established to protect one of the Golden State’s rarest varieties of “charismatic megafauna,” the peninsular bighorn sheep. This handsome curl-horned beast even gives its name to the place: Borrego is Spanish for “sheep.” It’s not easy spotting these elusive and endangered ungulates, but a glimpse is unforgettable.

Whether you’re eager to enjoy the second half of the vernal wildflower show, or simply looking to get in some hiking in the desert wilderness before summer heat ramps up, combine a trek to Anza-Borrego with your springtime stay at the Sofia Hotel!