Southern California is a special place where you have the mountains, beautiful beaches, and scenic deserts all about a two-hour drive from each other. If you’re looking for a mix of adventure, stunning stargazing, and laidback vibes, the California desert is not to be missed.
The deserts of Southern California are incredibly unique, offer beautiful landscapes, and so much more. Here are eight things to do in the Southern California desert, between Anza Borrego and Joshua Tree National Park, this spring!
1. Explore Anza Borrego State Park
Anza Borrego State Park is an underrated gem. The landscape is incredible, you have everything from badlands to a palm oasis, slot canyons and more. Anza Borrego is incredibly unique and offers a variety of activities that just about anyone can enjoy, from hiking to stargazing to scenic drives!
Be sure to visit the visitor's center at the start of your trip to get information on hikes and the current road conditions. Some of the roads to trailheads and viewpoints may not be accessible for two-wheel drive vehicles, so it’s important to know where you can and can’t go.
2. See the Borrego Springs Sculptures
One of the coolest things to see at Anza Borrego is the Sky Art Sculptures in Borrego Springs. The sculptures are the creation of artist Ricardo Breceda. There are about 130 of these metal sculptures spread out throughout the Galleta Meadows Estate. They vary in size and are a popular roadside attraction.
3. Take the Scenic “Triangle Tour”
The Triangle Tour is a scenic drive around Anza Borrego State Park. This is a perfect activity to do during the middle of the day when it’s hot. Enjoy the views while staying cool in your vehicle, and pull over when you want to take a closer look or snap some photos.
4. Hike to a Palm Tree Oasis and through a Slot Canyon
If you’re keen to go hiking at Anza Borrego, start your hikes in the early morning or in the late afternoon when it’s cooler. The Borrego Palm Canyon Trail is quite popular and features a palm tree oasis. You may also see some wildlife and interesting rocks along the trail. Look out for ancient grinding slicks or metates. These are bowl-like holes that were carved into large rocks and used to ground seeds.
Another hiking trail to check out is the Slot. The hike is only about two miles, out and back. There are a few different slot canyons to check out in Anza Borrego State Park, so if you enjoy hiking trough slot canyons, definitely check out the other trails, too.
5. See Some Desert Wildflowers
Towards the end of winter and into early spring you can start to spot wildflowers in the desert. Of course, this is only possible if there was a sufficient amount of rain during the winter season. In previous years there have been incredible super blooms throughout the desert, specifically in Anza Borrego and Joshua Tree.
6. Check Out Unique Rock Formations
Joshua Tree National Park isn’t just known for their namesake Joshua Trees. There are also tons of cool rocks. In fact, the park is popular for rock climbing and bouldering. For those of us who want to admire them from a distance, check out formations like Skull Rock, Arch Rock, and Headstone Rock at Ryan Ranch.
7. Stroll the Cholla Cactus Garden
The Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the most picturesque places in Joshua Tree National Park. This is a perfect spot to photograph at sunrise or sunset because the golden sunlight gives a beautiful glow on the cactus needles. However, it’s a great place to visit during the day, too, and it’s just a short loop trail.
8. Take in the Sunset at Keys View
For the best sunset view head to Keys View! Here you’ll be at a 5,000-foot elevation and on a clear day you’ll have a view of Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and even the San Andreas fault line!
Tips for Visiting the Desert during the Spring Season
Be cautious of the weather.
The deserts in Southern California are known for their weather extremes. Once the sun is shining it starts to heat up and from noon until around 3pm is when you might want to avoid hiking. And when nightfall comes is when things will cool down quickly. Although it may be hot during the day the nights do get cold, so always remember to bring layers.
Download offline maps.
Be prepared for zero cell service when you’re in the desert. While you might not have a hard time when visiting desert cities, the more remote areas of the desert are where you’re likely not going to have any service. An app like Maps.me will allow you to route yourself within the area without any service. And if you use Google Maps you can download the area you’re visiting ahead of time.
Bring plenty of drinking water.
The desert is a hot, dry place so be prepared with enough water. Even if you don’t consume a gallon of water each day you’re going to want to have at least a gallon per person, per day. Always take more water than what you think you may consume during a hike. If you’re halfway through your water supply during a hike then it’s time to turn around.
Visiting the Southern California deserts is a fun trip. The elements of the desert aren’t always easy, but with some preparation it's such a delightful experience! Sleeping, eating, and traveling was such a breeze. Special thanks to Cabana for making the trip so comfortable.