Yesterday we took a roadtrip with our kids, Violet (7), Levi (3) and Cove (3) from San Diego to the Anza-Borrego Desert! I first heard about Anza-Borrego last spring, when everyone was going crazy for the wildflowers during the super bloom. This is California's largest state park, located about 80 miles North East of San Diego. Although they are most known for it's spring wildflowers, we discovered much more to see there (like slot canyons, palm oasis', animal art sculptures, sand dunes and abandoned cities) to have us looking forward to coming back in any season. Here's my guide to a fun and FREE (That's right, we didn't spend a single penny except for the gas $$) day trip in the Anza-Borrego Desert with kids!
When to visit:
We visited in late March during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Some trails were temporarily closed but for the most part, most remained open to the pubilc. Temperatures were in the mid 60's but don't let the hot desert sun fool you, It was WINDY! We kept our sweatshirts on for most of the day, even during our hikes. Although March & April are also the best time to visit for the super blooms, we actually skipped the flowers this trip but plan to go back another day for those! You can check the flower forecast here.
Our first stop as we descended down Palm Canyon mountain into Borrego Springs was the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor Center. We didn't do a ton of homework before so here we stocked up on maps and info. The park rangers were super helpful in guiding us to the most kid friendly areas.
Metal Animal Art Structures:
Our first adventure was the Galleta Meadow Statues. These are massive, permanent art installations by Ricardo Breceda scattered throughout the desert. There are thirty larger-than-life sculptures including prehistoric animals and fantastical creatures. There's a 350 foot long serpent, dinosaurs, elephants, unicorns, camels and so many more! Many of the statues are right off the road, so you'll spot some as your driving by.
The Serpent and camels are located off of Borrego Springs Road on both hand sides of the road. The serpent will be at the end of the road close to the intersection of Borrego Springs and San Ysidro Dr.
You can find the Unicorns and Elephants off Palm Canyon Drive on the left hand side on your drive to The Slot hiking trail.
The Slot Hiking trail:
After seeing the sculptures, we took a 15 minute drive east to the slot hiking trail. Although Borrego Springs has multiple trails, this one is a MUST see. It's rated as easy and our two 3 year olds handled it like champs and squeezing through the narrow gaps was particularly easy for them, haha. We had so many "OOO & AHH" moments, it was incredible. It's a short trail and it's not that busy. This trail also provides a lot of shade which makes for a great mid day hike.
The Slot is located about 15 miles outside of Borrego Springs and you can actually find it in apple maps when entering The Slot. (Don't worry when it says it'll be an hour drive, that is including the hike time and walking distance as well). Take Palm Canyon Drive to the 78. Turn left on the 78 and about a mile down on the left hand side, you will see a dirt road. (Keep an eye out because it's easy to miss!) Drive 1.8 miles down the dirt road until you reach the parking lot. Funny story: Although this trail is one of the few that does not require 4WD, since it had rained quite a bit throughout March, there were signs at the entrance to the dirt road stating there was soft sand and 4WD was required. Thankfully, a sweet older couple let us ride in the back of their truck for the almost 2 mile drive up to the entrance of the trail. Once we got up there, we saw much smaller cars than mine (I have a KIA Sorrento) and that we could've made it. Unfortunately, we weren't so lucky after our hike and we ended up walking the 1.8 miles back down the dirt road while carrying the twins. Talk about a workout!
Other kid friendly hikes in Anza-Borrego:
-Borrego Palm Canyon
This one was on our list but unfortunately was closed because of COVID-19. This trail is up a canyon to a palm oasis where you can even see bighorn sheep. This is a 2.9 mile loop and considered a moderate trail. Located right across from the Palm Canyon RV campground.
One mile round trip trail 30 miles from Borrego Springs with rounded sandstone formations and caves to explore.
This trail is longer and probably best for older kids as it is a 4.9 miles round trip. This hike leads you to two waterfalls and a natural palm oasis. Located right next to the visitor center in Borrego Springs.
Another Palm Oasis in the dry desert. With over 100 palms in the short 2 mile round trip hike, its worth the trip even if it's located on the far southern part of the park. We stopped for a quick photo shoot at the end of the hike!
Ocotillo Wells San Dunes:
This area is just 20 minutes east of Borrego Springs. We drove by on the way to The Salton Sea and were mesmerized by the hills of sand. They have quite a few places where you can rent dune buggy's to take out. This is the best way to take in the amazing geology, volcanic land forms and fossils (as this was once underwater!). We're adding this to our bucket list for next time.
Just a 50 minute drive north east of Borrego Springs is a the Salton Sea. We put in 'Salton Sea Beach' into Maps and discovered an old, semi-creepy abandoned city. Andddd that was about it! The actual sea is smelly and full of dead fish but it was definitely an interesting site to check out and take some fun pics for the gram.
Other Instagram worthy spots for photos:
L i t e r a l l y everywhere! The vast desert scenery with the mountains in the background you can find from all ways. We stopped along a quiet road to snap some quick shots!
& that's a wrap! We were back to San Diego by 8pm. We are already looking forward to our next trip out here. Next time, we'll add the super bloom and Palm Springs to our list!