This article was produced in partnership with Visit California.
Winter is the most ideal time to visit the California desert – the days are mild, the nights clear and crisp, and the crowds are minimal. Our favorite desert area to head to is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, home to spectacular hiking and wildlife, and neighboring the quaint town of Borrego Springs.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting this Southern California oasis in the winter.
What To Do
“Adventure within reach” is the name of the game when it comes to Anza-Borrego – there’s plenty of hiking and sightseeing without having to go too far. While it hasn’t snowed on the desert floor of Anza-Borrego in about 20 years, the surrounding mountains become capped in snow every winter. The contrast of the pristine white in the hills and desert hues on the valley floor is a sight worth seeing.
If you’re into checking out the local flora and fauna, or you’re on the hunt for a breathtaking view, hiking is going to be your best option. The Palm Canyon hike is right at the entrance of the park, and is a mellow 2.9-mile loop that takes you up into Palm Canyon, with a waterfall reward at the end. If you’re looking for a longer hike, head out to Font’s Point. It’s a 7.9-mile hike that leads up to one of the best views you can get in the valley.
If you’re in more of a cruising mood, drive around Galleta Meadows, home to Borrego Springs’ collection of unique and larger-than-life sculptures.
Anza-Borrego is also an International Dark Sky Park, so get ready for some amazing stargazing. Whether you’re camping or staying at one of the local hotels, after the sun goes down, the stars make their appearance. Keep the kids up late, make yourself a nightcap, and check out what the skies have to offer.
Where To Stay
Depending on what your interests are, there are a couple options when it comes to lodging in Borrego Springs. The cheapest, and arguably most fun, is camping. There are plenty of campsites dotted around the state park – just make sure to book them in advance. One of our favorite campsites is the Bow Willow Campground, one of the southernmost campsites in the park with 16 sites available, first come first served.
Anza-Borrego also permits open camping throughout the park. All primitive and backcountry camping is free, but be aware that spots can fill up fast. Here’s more information on primitive camping in case you need a refresher.
If you don’t feel like roughing it, check out one of the multiple motels and hotels in the area, like the Borrego Valley Inn, the Stanlunds Inn and Suites, or for a little luxury, book yourself a room at La Casa del Zorro.
Where To Eat
If you’re camping, stock up on food before you get to the desert – there isn’t a full grocery store out in Borrego Springs, just a few smaller markets. If you’ve got any dietary restrictions or just find comfort in bringing your favorite foods, this is a must.
If you’re staying in town, stop by Carmelita’s Mexican Grill and Cantina, a family-owned hidden hideaway, or Kesling’s Kitchen, a newly-opened restaurant serving dishes based around an authentic Mugliani woodfire oven.
After dinner, if you’re traveling without the kids and want to stay out a little longer, head over to Carlee’s for a late-night drink.
How To Get There
You’ll need a car to get to Borrego Springs and the Anza-Borrego park. The largest nearby airport is San Diego International Airport. From there, there are two main routes to get to the park: Route 1 takes the I-8 E, to the CA-79 N and then over to the CA-78 E, and Route 2 follows the CA-78 E all the way out, both ways take about two hours. If you’re coming from the Los Angeles area, the journey will take about 4 hours heading south on the I-15 and CA-79.
See More from the ASN Guide to California’s Off-the-Beaten-Path Winter Adventures