We were spending time in the San Diego area prior to running the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego half marathon and had a free day to do some hiking. After doing some searching online we found that a must-do hike in the area is the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We left our campsite at Carlsbad State Beach early and made the two hour drive to the park. The park website listed the visitor center hours so we expected it to be open so our plan was to go to the visitor center, get a map and suggestions on what other things there are to see there then head out on our hike. When we arrived there was a notice that the visitor center was closed on weekdays for the summer. Luckily we had brought some information with us so we headed over to the park campground where the trail head was. We placed our $5 day use fee in the designated envelope at the campground kiosk and placed the tear-off tag on our dashboard. We drove through the campground to the day use parking lot. We still had not seen a single person in the park. It was a hot day and we thought that maybe people were staying away because of the heat. Still, we thought it was unusual to not see anybody camping at all. We got to the parking lot and were relieved to see a couple of other cars there, as well as a park ranger. She was ticketing cars that did not have the paid tag displayed and made certain we knew it was going to be a hot day and to take plenty of water. We grabbed our packs and water and headed out towards the trail.
A quick stop to the bathroom ended up being a stop at a stone building without a roof, with two bathroom stalls without doors, hadn't seen one quite like this before so had to take a picture. The trail head was well marked and close to the women's restrooms. There were pamphlets there for the self-guided tour on the Borrego Palm Canyon trail so we took one. Initially the trail was flat with packed dirt and some loose rocks. It was easy to follow the trail out at first then as it became more difficult to follow there were rock cairns to lead the way. The marked numbers that matched up with the pamphlet we picked up at the trail head also reassured us that we were going the right way. We made our way on the exposed trail in the surrounding desert, making sure to hydrate along the way. The pamphlet taught us about the history of the area, about the flora and fauna of the area as well. It even mentioned Peninsular Bighorn Sheep which made us excited and hopeful that we would see some. On our way along the canyon towards the palm oasis we heard something and when we looked it was there-a bighorn sheep! It was walking in the middle of the canyon, going across the dry creek crossing that we had passed several minutes earlier. We always enjoy seeing wildlife on our hikes and with the exception of our trip to Yellowstone National Park, this was the only other time we have seen bighorn sheep. Once it was out of sight we marched on towards the palm trees.
The trail became even rockier and a bit more uneven before it turned a corner and led us to water. On the other side of the water was the palm tree oasis. It was a refreshing sight in the desert. The air was cooler here too so we took a few minutes to cool down. We decided not to continue on to the oasis as we could not tell what the ground or trail conditions were from that point. Besides, the view from this side of the water was beautiful already. We snapped pictures then turned around and headed back on the trail. On our way back we kept hoping that we would see the sheep again but knew that we probably wouldn't. Imagine our excitement when we did see it again. There it was-right in the middle of the canyon again but this time standing on a big rock. We got as close to it as the trail allowed and took more pictures. It didn't seem to be bothered by us at all so we took our time before making our way back to the car. On our way up the trail we came across two groups of hikers and with the heat we thought we wouldn't see any on our way back but we actually saw several people heading out on the trail. The temperature was well in the high 90's when we finished our hike and we were glad we had started out in the morning. This hike was three miles round trip with about 600 feet of elevation gain. Driving out of the campground we still didn't see any people camping but realized that it's probably too hot in the summer for people to camp there in the desert. It was a nice hike and definitely a place to go if you are in the area, although it may be better to hike in the park during a cooler time of the year. The park itself is quite large, it is actually the largest state park in California. So there are lots of other trails to hike if you have more than one day in the area, just be sure to bring plenty of water!
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Website