Borrego Palm Canyon is located outside Borrego Springs in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Within the canyon you will find the third-largest palm oasis in California. It's a beautiful oasis, tucked away in a rocky gorge. The Palm Canyon Nature Trail visits the first palm grove and a waterfall. From here adventurous hikers can explore farther up-canyon. If you are patient, lucky, and look carefully, you might spot bighorn sheep, which frequently visit the canyon. This trail is the most popular one in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, for several good reasons. The trail is easily reached from the Visitor Center, and the trailhead is in a campground. It passes through many diverse environments, offering a sampler of much of the flora of the area. The trail ends at a shady palm grove, with year-round water and a small waterfall.
The hike from the campground to the oasis is about 3 miles round-trip with 600 feet of elevation gain. Although short, be aware that hiking in the desert normally is cross-country or on less maintained trails and therefore your pace might be considerably slower than outside desert regions.
From Palm Springs
Take Highway 111 South to Highway 86 South past the Salton City area to Country Road S22. Take S22 West (Borrego Salton Seaway) for 28 miles to Borrego Springs.
Take Highway 86 to Highway 78 West. Proceed on Highway 78 through Ocotillo Wells to San Diego County Road S3 (Borrego Springs Road). Continue on S3 all the way into Borrego Springs.
From San Diego
Take Interstate 8 East to Highway 67 North. Proceed on Highway 67 North through Ramona (Highway 67 becomes Highway 78 East). Take Highway 78 East to Highway 79 North at Santa Ysabel. Take Highway 79 North to San Diego County Road S2 (San Felipe Road). Proceed on County Road S2 to San Diego County Road S22 (Montezuma Valley Road). Take S22 through Ranchita to Palm Canyon Drive and Borrego Springs.
From Interstate 15 take Highway 79 East through Warner Springs. Take San Diego County Road S2 to S22 (Montezuma Valley Road). Take S22 through Ranchita to Palm Canyon Drive and Borrego Springs.
The trail begins at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, located one mile north of park headquarters outside Borrego Springs. Trailhead parking is available at the west end of the campground near the campfire circle. There is an entrance fee for day-use. You can avoid the fee by parking at the Visitor Center and hiking about one mile to the campground.
The hike starts at the pupfish pond. From here you walk in westerly direction up the dry, broad alluvial fan of Borrego Palm Canyon past many desert plants, including some impressive, sometimes grotesque looking ocotillos. After rainfall, leaves of the ocotillo plant will burst out within 24 hours, are full grown in only five days and may remain for weeks or even months. The bright crimson flowers appear especially after rainfall in spring, summer, and occasionally fall. Ocotillos are no cacti and belong to their own family, Fouquieriaceae (Ocotillo). For the first half mile you walk up the broad alluvial fan towards the mouth of Borrego Palm Canyon. There are essentially two routes you can take. The main trail, which most people take, follows more or less the little stream mostly on the right (when hiking into the canyon) of the stream-bed.
The trail sometimes is hard to find as a result of a devastating flash flood that raged down the canyon in 2004. On September 10, 2004, a wall of water at least 20 feet high sloshed through the narrower parts of the canyon. This was the result of an isolated, intense summer-afternoon thunderstorm that dumped buckets of rain over a relatively small area of the San Ysidro Mountains, northwest of Borrego Springs. In Borrego Palm Canyon, the rushing water uprooted hundreds of native California fan palm trees, floating them out past the mouth of the canyon toward Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. A mudflow hit the campground itself, causing considerable damage that has since been largely repaired. Dubbed a "hundred-year flash flood" by some, the event was indeed a rare occurrence for that particular location in the Anza-Borrego Desert - but not at all unusual for the geographical region as a whole. This event obliterated portions of the trail. Over the following years a new trail has been established or stomped by the countless visitors but signs of that flood remain vividly. Besides the main trail you can also take an alternate trail that contours on the other side of the stream at a higher elevation into the canyon. Taking the main trail into the canyon and the alternate trail on the return makes a nice loop with different, more expanded views. After leaving the broad alluvial fan behind and passing a cliff on the north side the canyon narrows and the sheer rock walls of the canyon soon enclose you as the trail continues along the healthy, but seasonal stream. Views at Indianhead Peak towering above the north canyon wall dominate now. The trail is faint in places but simply follow the streambed more or less directly upstream.
Borrego Palm Canyon
After about one mile you cross the stream on a log and proceed shortly on the south side up the canyon. At that point the alternate trail meets the main trail. Shortly after that spot, you will reach large boulders partially blocking the stream creating a small pool with a beautiful waterfall. You scramble on the trail above the boulders and soon cross the stream back to the north side. The palm oasis is now visible a little ways up the canyon. The trail now is fairly narrow and you have to step or scramble over many rocks and duck beneath denser vegetation. After about 1.5 miles you reach the palm oasis. You have to find a way to get from the trail on the north side across the stream. A few minutes later you welcome the shade of the palm trees. The oasis is very popular and you likely have to share your solitude with others. Enjoy and relax, wander around the oasis for a while, and return the way you came. The trail officially ends at the palm oasis but for the more adventurous and experienced the canyon can be explored for several more miles; upstream it divides and the north branch extends right outside the park, into the adjacent Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. The terrain is more difficult higher up the drainage, very rugged with numerous minor obstacles formed by boulders and dense patches of undergrowth.
Below is a short selection of identified wildflowers that can be seen in the canyon.
Carry plenty of water and sun protection as it can and will get hot very early in the season. Sturdy hiking boots are also highly recommended. I usually wear long hiking pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect me from various needles and bugs.