Anza Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in the contiguous United States, encompassing around 1,000 square miles in Southern California. In fact, every other state park in California put together could fit into the boundaries of Anza Borrego. It was established in 1933, and is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Most of the park is desert, although there is a wide variety of micro-climates, and several peaks over 5,000 feet in elevation. Approximately two-thirds of the park is designated wilderness. Natural water sources are seasonal, and only very rarely available. Visitors should bring in plenty of water, and the ideal time to visit the park is from late fall to early spring, as temperatures here can soar well into the 100s. Famous for its annual wildflower bloom and protected bighorn sheep, the park is home to a huge variety of flora and fauna, and additionally has more than 10,000 documented archaeological sites.
I visited for several days during the beginning of the bloom season in early March of 2017, completing the 5 Hikes for 50 Years challenge, and van-camping. One morning, I was able to identify a dozen different species of flowers, all within a 100-yard radius of my campsite in a wash near the Arroyo Salado Campground. I went for a return visit to the higher elevations in September 2017, which remained cool and pleasant while the valley floors were still cooking.
Admission to the park is free, although there is a day use fee to park at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground area. The park has both traditional campgrounds (with varying fees) and primitive campgrounds (fee at Sheep Canyon only). However, dispersed car camping is allowed at no cost as long as you park no more than one vehicle length from the road, and tent camping is allowed virtually anywhere. This park is a wonderland for the curious adventurer, and exploration off the beaten track is entirely possible.
Check in at the Visitor Center, as this is the only way the park is able to track visitation numbers, which is directly related to funds allocation for state parks. You can pick up free maps, trail guides, and a wildflower brochure while you’re there.
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