Pacific Crest Trail: Best Weekend – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Traverse the dry, but surprisingly life-filled, San Felipe Hills on this 18.9-mile trip in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

California’s largest state park is hot, almost shadeless, and waterless for the entire leg of the PCT that traverses the San Felipe Hills. But if you can handle the difficulties–an enormous load of water–the desert will reward your pack-mule toughness. The open terrain offers constantly changing views of the myriad ridges and gullies defining these hills. Beyond the sprawling, 600,000-acre park, you’ll see San Ysidro Mountain across the Montezuma Valley, and the higher, tantalizingly green Volcan Mountains. Look for elusive bighorn sheep, and be ready to encounter barrel cactus, agave, cholla, sparse scrub oak, juniper, dense chaparral, and “forests” of ocotillo shrubs, which grow in single stalks 10 to 15 feet tall and bloom in spring with flaming-red flowers. At elevations from 2,200 to 4,400 feet, this hike is best done from fall through early spring. Start the hot ascent of Grapevine Mountain at dawn. Wildflowers bloom from January through March.


Trail Facts

  • Distance: 30.4



Location: 33.097900390625, -116.47193145752

CA 78; to begin, head N into San Felipe Foothills


Location: 33.0982666015625, -116.472297668457

Undrinkable water in San Felipe Creek. Unfortunate because the upcoming section is high and dry.


Location: 33.1407661437988, -116.507766723633

First gate


Location: 33.1480827331543, -116.517799377441

Second gate


Location: 33.1667671203613, -116.543502807617

Third gate and the “third gate” water cache


Location: 33.1759490966797, -116.551666259766

Fourth gate


Location: 33.2153511047363, -116.588119506836

Barrel Springs: large trough with good water and nicely shaded camping


Location: 33.2159652709961, -116.588165283203

Barrel Springs


Location: 33.2168922424316, -116.587921142578

End @ Montezuma Valley Road S22, 4.5 miles W of Ranchita.

Shady overpass

Location: 33.0978050231934, -116.470756530762

Great shade under an overpass. ©Jack Haskel

Desert scene

Location: 33.1523361206055, -116.52507019043

©Jack Haskel

Ridgline and Mountains

Location: 33.1545715332031, -116.529312133789

©Jack Haskel

Sky Art

Location: 33.1568069458008, -116.531997680664

Interweaving cirrus bands form intricate patterns. ©Jack Haskel