Camping Review: Anza Borrego

I had heard about Anza Borrego before. The old German VP had told me about this magical desert. The childhood buddy who lives in Encinitas mentioned going out there a few times. I didn’t really know what to expect from this place, other than it’s a desert. The drive out from San Diego was a complete surprise. I’d been out as far as Escondido and it is a dry, sterile suburb. I thought that would continue basically until the suburb stopped and the desert began. 

The drive was magical. Fog settled on the range around Cleveland National Forest and all around the dramatic landscape kept changing. Piney mountain range to rocky grassland to sand strewn lake. When we did finally turn off for Anza Borrego it was getting near sunset and we crept through a narrow valley to emerge into a much larger valley and full on desert.

Anza Borrego is one of the few places in California that you can camp for free — legally. We had read some stuff online about Yaqui Pass and a large parking area/campground at the top. It is true, there is a large parking area at the top of the pass. We drove up and checked it out before coming back down the hill to Yaqui Wells. It was dark when we pulled in and the signs for loose sand had us worried, but we kept driving and found a spot well off the main road. 

The first thing we noticed was the bathroom. This was completely unexpected for a free place to sleep. We had been banking on using the paid campground right across the street for bathrooms, but instead we had our own practically private bathroom, one of the cleanest camp bathrooms we’d ever seen.

The second thing we noticed was the silence. Except for a few passing cars on the highway we felt completely alone. Later we realized that we both had the same thought at near the same time: “this is why we’re doing this”.

One thing to note about the park is that dog access is very limited. They’re fine on all roadways and camping spots, but we were told not to take Roscoe on any of the trails. We opted to head to the park headquarters in the morning to take him on one of the few trails he is allowed on. While the flower garden near the headquarters is beautiful, the “hike” he was allowed on was paved, flat, and short.

We both definitely want to go back to Anza Borrego and stay much longer. The free and very nice camping options are a huge bonus. The hiking in the area that we read about was exciting. There are big horn sheep in the park. And according to some things we read, there is climbing all over. We didn’t have the time or the access with a dog to explore the climbing options.

Some details to look into — both Yaqui Wells and Yaqui Pass campground locations are well documented on numerous sites. Just search those names with Anza Borrego and you’ll get plenty of information on how to get there. They are both very close to Tamarisk Grove Campground. There are other free camp sites around the area. Yaqui Pass campground did not appear to have a bathroom and nowhere (not even the pay campground) has water, so bring plenty. If you do have a dog, make sure to stay somewhere secure at night. Roscoe (and us) got a visit from a pack of coyotes who apparently wanted to let Roscoe know this was their turf or ask him to join their gang. 

This was the first night on our official trip staying in BLM land. The first week we had booked campsites all along the coast to ease into living in a van. This was both of our favorite spot to camp so far, which includes pretty expensive and hard to reserve beach side campgrounds. To know that such a place exists in California has given both of us pretty high hopes for BLM/boondocking for the rest of our trip.

Juliana Linder2 Comments