Borrego Springs Vacation
Wow, what a fantastic place for a weekend getaway or a family vacation for anyone who loves nature and the outdoors. Borrego Springs offers lots of fun things to see and do and it’s just a outstanding place to hang out for awhile. On a recent two month trip from Dallas to California we stopped in Borrego Springs for three days and absolutely loved it and wished that we had scheduled more time in this funky little town in the middle of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. We stayed at an outstanding RV resort, played 54 holes of great golf, went on a fun and interesting off road adventure, enjoyed some live music and good food, hiked some outstanding trails, and took our Jeep off roading.
Borrego Springs is surrounded and protected by the amazing 600,000 acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – in fact, Borrego Springs holds the unique distinction of being the only California community completely surrounded by a State Park which happens to be the largest State Park in the United States. Borrego Springs is a very popular destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts and “Snow Birds” love it during the winter thanks to it’s mild winter temperatures which average 70 degrees during the day and mid forties at night.
The first documented record of a European visit to Borrego Springs was in 1772 when Lieutenant Pedro Fages came in search of deserters. The infamous Juan Bautista De Anza stayed in Borrego Springs when he was seeking an overland route from Sonora, Mexico to San Francisco, California where he located the sites for the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asis in 1776. It was another hundred years before cattlemen began homesteading the Borrego Valley around 1875. The first successful well was dug in 1926, which quickly led to irrigation farming in the valley. By then, the town included a post office, a small general store, and a gas station. Today, Borrego Springs is not a whole lot bigger.
The military presence of both the Army and Navy during World War II brought the first paved roads and electricity to Borrego Springs. After the war, developers subdivided the area attempting to create a resort community by capitalizing on the tourism generated by the State Park. Borrego Springs was a hideaway for the Hollywood Stars back in the 1950’s and the Hoberg Resort was one of their hangouts. Today Borrego Springs is home to around 2800 or so very friendly locals and the destination for 50,000 to 150,000 off-road visitors and campers from October to May.
Camping In Borrego Springs
During our research of where to park the RV for several days, when we read about The Springs at Borrego and noticed that they had a golf course, our decision was made. As much as we love State Parks, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to open the motorhome’s front door and walk to the pro shop for a round of golf. We arrived late one night and got the feeling that The Springs at Borrego was something special, but when we woke up the next morning and saw the palm trees swaying in the breeze, the lush green fairways, the well manicured and landscaped grounds, and the majestic snow capped mountains everywhere we looked, our jaws dropped. Wow – what a fantastic luxury RV park and the model of what all RV parks should aspire to be when they grow up!
I thought that I would never get my wife or my motorhome to leave – they both fell in love with this place, as did I, and we started talking about coming back next winter. This park has everything you could ask for: excellent service, stunning colorful landscaping, perfect campsites, an excellent 9 hole golf course, saltwater swimming pool, hot mineral baths, clubhouse, and lots more. Read our review of The Springs at Borrego to learn more about one of the best, if not the best RV parks we have ever visited in over 45 years of camping.
If you can’t stay at The Springs at Borrego, then within Anza Borrego Desert State Park there are 12 designated campsites that range from primitive tent sites with nothing but sand and cactus to a very nice campground at the base of the mountains with full hookups. This is one of the few California parks that allows open camping throughout its 600,000 acres and as you drive through the park you’ll see everything tents to luxury $400,000 motor homes to converted school buses randomly parked in what seems like the middle of nowhere!
Anza Borrego Desert State Park Hiking
One of the reasons to we came to Borrego Springs was to take advantage of all that Anza Borrego Desert State Park has to offer. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California Desert. The park is named for Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word borrego, or bighorn sheep. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti and sweeping vistas. Visitors may also have the chance to see roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes, mule deer and bighorn sheep as well as iguanas, chuckwallas, and the red diamond rattlesnake. The vistas of the mountains, the valleys, and the desert are spectacular.
So our first stop after a good breakfast was the Anza Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center to collect some first hand information on the sights to see, trails to hike, and where to off road. Turns out that the Visitor Center is a wealth of information and staffed by very knowledgeable and helpful park rangers. We spent at least two hours (and could have been here even longer) in the Visitor Center enjoying the displays, learning about the State Park, and listening to informative Ranger talks and slide shows about the trails, wildlife and facts about the desert. We also enjoyed their Desert Garden and short interpretive trail – the desert was alive with an amazing variety of different vibrant colors. At the Visitor Center you can also sign up for naturalist talks, guided nature walks and hikes, campfire programs, and more.
After all of that we were raring to go hike some trails and it must have taken an hour to get recommendations and decide on which of the hundreds of trails to choose from – the trails range from easy walks to strenuous hiking plus there are trails for biking, back-packing, climbing, horseback riding, or off-roading (4W-Drive). There is even a Sky Trail if you’re a pilot! You can choose from easy self guided trails to strenuous rock hopping trails up ridges and peaks with stunning vistas to hikes through narrow slots with sheer walls. Check out this link to Anza Borrego Trails and Maps to give you a sense of the wide variety of options. We had to narrow it down to three that we would enjoy over the next three days:
Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail – a beautiful self-guided trail up a gently climbing hill that follows a flowing stream to a grove of huge stately palm trees tucked away in a V shaped gorge – very impressive
Calcite Mine Trail – leads to an area where thousands of years of cutting and polishing by water and wind erosion have produced some chaotic rock formations and slot like ravines
The Slot – a fantastic hike through a twisting and turning deep narrow canyon with sheer walls and unbelievable rock formations
The fauna is amazing and the desert is alive with vibrant colors, all shapes and forms of cactus, strange and unusual rock formations, and stunning vistas. You could spend months here and not come close to exploring the diversity of this magnificent desert park. We wished we had planned to spend more time here – oh well, that creates a good excuse to head back there. Check out this map of Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
Off Road Adventures
If you have a street legal four wheel drive or a dirt bike, Anza Borrego Desert is an off roader’s paradise. There are over 500 of miles of off-road trails, open to highway-legal vehicles along established primitive roads, ranging from easy sandy wide trails which are great for stock four wheel drives to some harrowing rock jumpers suitable for very experienced off roaders to narrow slots likely to scrape the paint on both sides. Check out this site for some of the options.
Our Jeep was very anxious to get off road and quite frequently I felt it tugging me off the paved highway toward a dirt trail and I know that every five minutes I heard it saying “can we get off road now?” After a couple days, it finally got it’s wish and as soon as the front tires touched some sand I could just feel the grin on his grill widen, the tires puff out with pride and a feeling of “look out here we come,” and when I shifted into four wheel drive the transmission belted out “let’s do it” and almost did a wheelie!
You could just feel that our little townie Jeep from Dallas was in heaven as it proudly rode up and down some steep bumpy hills between some narrow tall cliffs eager to scratch it’s paint, drive over prickly cactus without an “ouch,” bounced over a few boulders, and spun a small donut in a sandy wash – it was reluctant to return to the hard pavement. We were pleased it finally got it’s wish and felt guilty when we started heading back to the pavement. The trail we took was fun, scenic, scary, and thrilling, and without incident – didn’t get stuck, no new dings or dents, and the passenger only yelled once or maybe twice.
Adjoining Anza Borrego State Park is Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area with more than 80,000 acres of magnificent desert that is open for off-highway exploration and recreation. Here you can ride motorcycles, ATVs, dunebuggys, or stockers and a couple places rent some off road vehicles if you don’t have one.
If you’re looking for an off road adventure, then sign up for a tour with California Overland Tours. They offer a wide variety of unique off road desert excursions of varying intensity and duration to some of the most interesting and scenic portions of the Park – all of which are focused on fun, education, and rugged experiences. Click here to read about one of the highlights of our trip, an off road tour with California Overland Tours.
Borrego Springs Golf
In addition to hiking and off roading and enjoying the scenery, one of the reasons we stopped in Borrego Springs is because we had heard it was home to a some good golf courses. Our expectations weren’t that high and what we read about the local courses sounded like marketing hype.
Who would think that in the middle of the desert (with temperatures over 100 – Borrego Springs is often listed as the hottest place in the U.S. on certain summer days – and average yearly rainfall of 6.8 inches) you would find lush green fairways, sparkling ponds with water features, swaying palm trees, colorful landscaping, and near perfect putting surfaces?
Wow, were we wrong! Borrego Springs is home to three excellent golf courses – the nine hole course at The Springs of Borrego RV Park, Borrego Springs Resort with 27 holes, and the fantastic Tom Fazio designed Montesoro Golf Course. What makes golf fun in Borrego Springs is that each of the courses has its own unique personality and characteristics. For example:
- The Springs at Borrego Golf Course is a very fun track with scenic views of the mountains, stately palm trees swaying in the breeze, as close to perfect conditions as you could get (lush thick fairways with very few divots and well manicured grounds), excellent greens, and some fun holes – to learn more, check out our review of The Springs at Borrego Golf Course
- Rams Hill Golf Course – from our perspective it’s hard to beat a Tom Fazio design and this has to be one of his best, it’s very challenging but fair with some unique and interesting holes, lots of Kodak moments, good conditions, and it will require your “A” game to score well – read our review of Rams Hill Golf Course
- Borrego Springs Resort has used to have three very distinct nines but they are now closed. The nines range from tee lined fairways to an open desert links style course, from easy to somewhat demanding, and from let-er-rip to holes that require precision accuracy – read our review of Borrego Springs Resort’s Palms Course, Desert Willow Course, and Mesquite Course
In addition to the above courses, there are three other courses in Borrego Springs: Roadrunner Golf Course which is an 18 hole par 3 track; Club Circle Golf Course, a nine hole par 3 with magnificent views; and de Anza Country Club which is a small, 275 member private golf course.
The Town of Borrego Springs
Borrego Springs is a small quaint town with around 2500 friendly residents, two small shopping malls, a handful of good restaurants, camping and RV parks, a variety of accommodations, and some unique shops and art galleries. There are no stop lights in Borrego Springs and night time lighting is kept to a minimum to protect the extraordinary magnificence of the starlit sky. A slow pace is encouraged when you visit Borrego Springs and many describe Borrego Springs as a Palm Springs of 50 years ago. Visit the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce for more information on events, things to do, shopping, dining, events, arts, and more.
It only takes about five minutes to explore most of Borrego Springs and for it’s size has a number of interesting restaurants. We tried: Krazy Coyote Bar & Grill which serves a good lunch, Kendall’s is another good lunch spot, and we enjoyed a good dinner at Carlee’s Place. Carlee’s Place is the only place we found to hang out at night and they had some interesting karaoke on one night (a mix of some bad and some very good singers) and a fantastic band on another night.
Returning from one of our hikes, we spotted some strange creatures in the middle of the desert and set back off the main road. Turns out that the visionary town benefactor, Dennis Avery, added to several parcels of his private land dozens of sculptures that were painstakingly crafted of metal by sculptor Ricardo Breceda. Ricardo welded scrap reinforcement bars, wire, and metal together and then adds life-like texture by pounding the materials with hammers.
Spread over a 10 mile stretch, there are camels, sloths, llamas, wild horses, sabre tooth cats, mammoths, giant birds, wild pigs, sheep, raptors, tortoises – all of which look very much as at home as when they roamed this valley millions of years ago. In addition, he has created a jeep and several humans (noted explorer Juan Bautista de Anza for example) who trekked through this desert. The sculptures are amazing and some are over 12 feet long and 20 feet tall. Check out this video on the art sculptures at Borrego Springs.
Some of the other things to see and do in Borrego Springs include: tennis, horseback riding, bird watching, and cycling, plus special events, live plays, and more.
Bottom line – if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, then you should go out of your way to plan a vacation or weekend getaway to Borrego Springs. We can’t wait to get back!
A couple of the top pictures are thanks to Wild Nature Images – check out thier beautiuful portfolio of Anza Borrego Desert State Park!