California

Desert Dwellers: A Guide to Anza-Borrego Desert Camping

by Carissa Stanz

anza borrego camping

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in the lower 48 states, and an official International Dark Sky Park.

Each spring, thousands upon thousands of visitors flock to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for the brilliant display of wildflowers in bloom — but that’s not all the park has to offer. Desert dwellers, wildlife watchers, stargazers, hikers, scramblers, campers, and more are drawn here for the astounding landscape.

Fascinating geology, miles of hiking trails, slot canyons, Peninsular bighorn sheep, refreshing palm oases, and endless photo ops are only a handful of reasons to visit Anza-Borrego.

Whether you’re here for the desert scenery, wildlife, stargazing, or all of the above, the best way to get the full experience at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is by camping. Fortunately, the park has you covered, offering ample camping opportunities between developed campgrounds, a handful of primitive sites, and endless boondocking.

So pitch your tent, park your rig, and get settled in. Here are the Anza-Borrego Desert camping spots that shouldn’t be missed.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground

borrego palm canyon
Scenic hiking in Borrego Palm Canyon near the campground.

Why you should camp here: A popular campground with scenic mountain views and easy access to one of Anza-Borrego’s most traveled trails.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: October — April
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, trailer, car camping
  • RV hookup: Yes

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is quite possibly the most popular campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. One glance at the view and it’s easy to see why.

“This campsite is very nice with new facilities. It’s close to trailheads and the mountains block a lot of SoCal’s light pollution for perfect night sky viewing,” said camper Staci J on Hipcamp.

Tall barren peaks parted by a plentiful canyon serve as the campground backdrop. Their jagged, rocky hillsides painted with muted reds and browns break pattern only for the occasional desert plants.

Located within walking distance from the visitor center, the Borrego Palm Campground features 120 campsites with a mix of tent, trailer, and RV spots. For those in need of full-hookups, you’ll find them on the loop “arranged in a parking lot fashion”.

As for the campsite, they come with a fire ring, picnic table, food locker, and a much appreciated shade ramada. Potable water and restrooms with flush toilets are available, while hot showers are token operated.

Reserve Now

Tamarisk Grove Campground

tamarisk grove campground
Photo: Maria Pfarr

Why you should camp here: A well-maintained campground with two nature trails and cabin rental options.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: October — April
  • Campsite types: Tents, RVs, trailers, car camping, cabins
  • RV hookups: No

Conveniently located at the crossroads of CA-78 and S3, Tamarisk Grove Campground is a straight shot right down the Banner grade.

While most tourists are flocking to town, this campground lets you have your peace and amenities only a few miles away. The grounds are very well manicured, while the tamarisk trees lining the perimeter provide much needed shade.

Take a stroll along the two nature trails or explore the Kumeyaay Village Site a couple miles away.

Much smaller than Palm Canyon Campground, Tamarisk Grove offers 27 sites, 11 of which are quaint cabins. The rest of the sites are available for tent camping, car camping, and RVs or trailers up to 21 feet.

If you do camp here, be prepared to cart in plenty of water to stay hydrated in the desert heat. This campground doesn’t offer potable water but does offer bottled drinking water for a fee. Flush toilets and coin operated showers are also available.

Reserve Now

Bow Willow Campground

bow willow
Photo: Anna Jinks

Why you should camp here: An excellent base camp for exploring the southern region of the park.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, RVs, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Bow Willow Campground is located at the southern tip of Anza-Borrego Desert. This spot serves as the perfect base camp to explore this section of the state park.

“The whole campground seems well maintained. . . and the whole place was remarkably quiet,” said camper Subaru Vagabond on Campedium.

Once the staging area where the Kumeyaay made the trek up to Mount Laguna, you can find remnants of morteros (mortars) along with signs of an old trail leading up to the mountain.

Bow Willow Campground offers 16 first come, first serve campsites that are best suited for tents and car camping. The campsites include a fire ring, picnic table, and shade awning. There are vault toilets here, but be sure to bring plenty of drinking water.

If you’re looking to escape the crowds but still desire a few amenities, Bow Willow Campground is a great spot to pitch a tent.

Agua Caliente Campground

agua caliente campground
Photo: Marco Ricci

Why you should camp here: A desert haven with three naturally fed mineral pools and a plethora of comfortable amenities.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, RVs, trailers, cabins, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes

Agua Caliente Campground is part of a county park located in the southern region of Anza-Borrego. Visitors are drawn to this campground for mainly for one reason: the hot springs.

While you’re lucky just to get potable water around these parts, Agua Caliente is bursting to the brim with amenities. The site features three geothermal pools, two of which are located outside and one inside with the addition of jacuzzi jets.

Besides the relaxing hot springs, campers here will have access to restrooms, showers, a clubhouse, shuffleboard, picnic area, and a few trails.

For those traveling with an RV, Agua Caliente offers full hookups and partial hookups along with a dump station. There are even camping cabins for those who prefer a temperature controlled environment.

Reserve Now

Blair Valley Campground

blair valley anza borrego
Photo: Martin You

Why you should camp here: A primitive campground with a plethora of sites featuring a picturesque backdrop for sunrises and sunsets.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, RVs, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

“Lots of nooks and crannies,” said camper Cheryl on Campendium. “If you want to see the southern area of the park or you’re passing through, Blair Valley is worth the stay.”

For a peaceful stay with nothing but miles of desert around, set up camp at the Blair Valley Campground. This vast area offers ample camping at the reasonable price of absolutely free.

Situated at 2,500 feet, Blair Valley Campground is the ideal desert getaway. Find a spot to pitch a tent among this vast undeveloped campground and get settled in.

When you’re ready to explore, grab your camera and trek out to the pictographs. Blair Valley also has three other established hiking trails to choose from.

While you won’t find the plushest of amenities here, Blair Valley Campground does have vault toilets available.

Culp Valley Primitive Campground

culp valley
Hiking in the hills above Culp Valley.

Why you should camp here: An ideal spot for stargazing and sweeping desert views.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, RVs, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

For unobstructed views of the starry night sky, set up camp at the Culp Valley Campground. At 3,350 feet in the northern end, Culp Valley is the highest campground in Anza-Borrego and one of the best places for stargazing.

Along with stargazing, Culp Valley offers campers sweeping desert vistas, hiking trails, and rock scrambling.

Since this is a primitive campground, amenities are scarce. There are vault toilets and some spots with fire rings. However, this area can be pretty windy, especially when the Santa Ana winds come howling through.

Arrive early to get a prime campsite, and remember to bring plenty of drinking water.

Fish Creek Campground

Photo: Chad McDonald

Why you should camp here: A small primitive campground surrounded by interesting geology.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, RVs, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Fish Creek Campground offers a mere six campsites, making it the smallest primitive campground in Anza-Borrego Desert. This is also the lowest campground with an elevation of 280 feet.

Campers staying here should be content with minimal amenities since a fire ring and vault toilet are the only two offered.

Situated a few miles from Ocotillo Wells, Fish Creek Campground is surrounded by dry desert with fascinating geology. The erosion, fossils, and rock formations that fill the area are evidence of Anza-Borrego Desert’s rich history.

Look around and you’ll notice that with dry desert also comes little vegetation, so don’t expect shade.

Also, don’t expect water. Water is scarce here, though seasonal flooding does occur. We recommend checking the weather forecast before planning your stay.

Yaqui Well Campground

yaqui wells
Photo: Krystal Yabor

Why you should camp here: A free campground amidst intriguing desert flora that’s not far from town, but far enough to leave behind the crowds.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Yaqui Well Campground is a stone’s throw from Tamarisk Campground. And like Tamarisk, Yaqui Well is rather peaceful considering its proximity to the main road.

“Good for tent or truck camper, but not suitable for RV’s,” said camper Tine on Campedium.

Surrounded by a vast landscape filled with cholla, ocotillo, and tons of desert dwelling plants, Yaqui Well Campground is a nice place to explore the local flora as well as the Yaqui Well Trail.

While RVs are allowed here, the sandy road doesn’t present the most ideal conditions so it may be best to leave this spot to the tent and car campers.

With only a vault toilet and place to set up camp, Yaqui Well is best suited for the campers who want closer proximity to town minus all the crowds and the price that goes along with it.

Mountain Palm Springs Campground

mountain palm spring
Photo: Robb Hannawacker

Why you should stay here: A short trek away from a refreshing palm grove.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, RVs, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Your desert oasis is only a short trek away when you stay at the Mountain Palm Springs Campground.

Located in the southern end of Anza-Borrego, Mountain Palm Springs Campground is a free primitive campground with only a handful of sites and a vault toilet. You can park a smaller RV here, but this campground is best suited for tent and car campers.

There are several hiking trails nearby for those looking to explore on foot, the most popular of which leads you out to an isolated palm grove.

Bring your camera and some water, and be on the lookout for cholla. These fuzzy looking cactus can cause some serious pain if you don’t keep your eye on the trail.

If Mountain Palm Springs Campground is full, head to nearby Bow Willow Campground for more campsites.

Arroyo Salado Campground

arroyo salado
Photo: Maria Pfarr

Why you should camp here: Stargazing and off-roading with easy highway access.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, RVs, trailers, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Arroyo Salado is a popular primitive campground nestled in the hills bordering the northeast end of the park. This year-round campground offers only a handful of sites with access to a vault toilet.

Although sites may be limited, they’re not necessarily the best-marked — making camping seem virtually unlimited here. Choose a spot that’s already been established and be sure not to pitch a tent on vegetation.

Speaking of which, ocotillo and creosote are a couple desert plants you’ll find in the area. Should you be visiting during the spring, the landscape will be bursting with a colorful array of wildflowers.

As for all you stargazers, the only light pollution noticeable here will be coming from the Salton Sea area. However, the hills do well in blocking out the glare.

Sheep Canyon Campground

sheep canyon campground

Why you should camp here: A remote primitive spot for the adventurous camper.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: October — May
  • Campsite types: Tent, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

“The road out there wasn’t as bad as I’d heard. You’ll definitely need a 4×4, but even a low Subaru made it,” said camper Alex Standke on Google Reviews.

Nestled at the base of it’s namesake canyon is Sheep Canyon Campground. For anyone looking to explore the rugged canyon or the northern region of Anza-Borrego Desert, this is the spot.

Getting here, however, can be tricky. Sheep Canyon Campground is remote and has a challenging road that’s best left to those who have a four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance.

Should you fall into this category, you’ll be able to enjoy some of Sheep Canyon’s amenities which include a shade ramada, picnic table, and vault toilet all for a minimal fee.

Dispersed Camping

anza borrego dispersed camping
Photo: Chad McDonald

Looking to ditch those noisy camp neighbors? Then find solitude busting a camp roadside.

Anza-Borrego State Park has 500 miles worth of dirt road and unlimited dispersed camping, so go ahead and take your pick. The options here are endless, with a few being Clark Dry Lake, Dry Rockhouse, and Coyote Canyon.

The beauty of choosing dispersed camping over developed or primitive campgrounds means you can find your own peaceful campsite away from all the hoards of campers. And, it’s free!

There are just a few rules you need to keep in mind when dispersed camping in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park:

  • Camp at least 100 feet from water sources
  • All vehicles must by highway legal
  • Park vehicles no more than one vehicle length off the road
  • Don’t camp on vegetation
  • Ground fires are prohibited
  • Dogs must be on a leash no more than 6 feet long
  • Pack it in, and pack it out (including human waste!)

Also, many of the dirt some roads require four-wheel drive so be sure to check your route before getting stuck in a less than ideal situation.

For any additional rules and regulations, check with the park’s office.

Know Before You Go

Before you head out on your adventurous desert camping trip, there are a few things we should point out about camping in Anza-Borrego Desert. The main point being to bring plenty of water!

Many of the campgrounds don’t offer drinking water and temperatures here can soar, especially during the summer.

For this reason, the best time to visit the park is from fall to spring. If you are here during spring, you’ll be here at the peak of wildflower season so expect a crowd.

Lastly, everything in the park is protected so please camp responsibly.

We’ve Got the Guides

For more camping and hiking recommendations, check out the 10 Best Hikes in Mammoth Lakes, CA, 5 Fantastic Free Camping Spots Near Moab, and the Best Camping Near Salt Lake City.

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