5 Tips for Hiking Anza Borrego

Southern California’s Anza Borrego Desert takes up a 25 by 50-mile chunk of desert a couple hours east of San Diego. It’s California’s largest state park, covering more than 600,000 acres. Between the roads, washes and trails, visitors have endless opportunities to hike. Here are five tips to keep in mind when hiking Anza Borrego.

hiking Anza Borrego

A rare desert rainbow spotted while hiking Anza Borrego.

Leave your dog home

Okay, this one breaks my heart. I have the world’s cutest dog, but he’s not welcome in the state park. For good reason, I realize – dogs mess things up for local wildlife. Even the scent of a dog can disrupt patterns for native animals. Anyway, thorny cacti and rattlesnakes are more reasons to leave your four-footed best friend at home.

Beware the jumping cholla

Teddy bear cholla are cuddly-looking cactus with vicious souls. Expert naturalists will tell you that contrary to myth, chollas don’t really jump or shoot their spikes into passers-by. I disagree. As a wary hiker who’s always looking down for tripping hazards and snakes, I swear I did not walked into a cholla. Obviously, it jumped. Here’s a bonus tip. If your hiking companion gets cholla-ed, do not say, “You should be careful” while she has a cactus stuck in her leg. This will make her homicidal.

hiking Anza Borrego

Not cuddly! And definitely jumps!

Bring tweezers

Chollas aren’t the only cacti that might get into your skin, clothes or boots. Once in, you don’t really want to try to pull out those sharp little hooks with your bare hands. Tweezers are a big help.

Carry water while hiking Anza Borrego

Who wants to carry all that heavy water on a hike? When you’re setting out at the trailhead, it can seem like a bother. But a mile or two up, with that strong desert sun? So worth the effort. The light in Anza-Borrego can be crazy bright. In Portland, we’re always bitching about how we miss the sun. But drop us into the California desert and we squint like mole people. So bring lots of water when hiking Anza Borrego. And sunglasses. And sunscreen. And a hat.

hiking Anza Borrego

A palm oasis

Rent a Four-Wheel Drive

If you’re flying into San Diego or Palm Springs and renting a car, get a four wheel drive. We rented a Jeep on our last trip so that we could drive over dirt and rocks to get deep into the washes. A rugged car lets you see way more of the desert.

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