Route: Anza-Borrego Traverse (CA)

Submitted by Gabe Peterson on Fri, 11/20/2020 - 04:58pm
California, US
45.13 mi
Vertical Gain
4,995 ft

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California, including one-fifth of San Diego county.  It is desert terrain, including dramatic badlands, cool palm oases, twisting slot canyons, and cactus-studded slopes. This desert preserve pairs the name of famed Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, who crossed the desert in 1774, and the Spanish word for sheep (“borrego”), referring to the region’s native bighorn sheep.

The Anza-Borrego Traverse starts on the western edge of the park at the Sunrise Trailhead for the fabled Pacific Crest Trail. It starts running north on the PCT for approximately 3 miles before turning east to leave the PCT and drop down Oriflamme Canyon to the desert floor.  It links up with the S2 road around mile 10 on trails roughly parallel to the road until the turnoff around mile 16 to Pinyon Mountain Road, a jeep road. Note that all off-road vehicles must be street legal in the park, for those attempting this supported by a 4X4 vehicle.  Follow this through landmarks that include the Squeeze and Heart Attack Hill.  The Pinyon Drop-Off (one way east for vehicles) connects to Hapaha Road (another jeep road) around mile 23.  This then connects to Fish Creek Wash (yet another jeep road) for the remainder of the journey.  Finish is at Split Mountain at the eastern edge of the park, completing a 45-mile west to east traverse!

This route crosses the entire Park in the East-West direction on trails and dirt roads, without use of any paved roads.  The section near the S2 road will use the California Hiking and Riding Trail that roughly parallels the road, so no pavement other than crossing the road.

Further, the route highlights the diversity of Anza Borrego Park.  This starts at over 5000ft in the Cuyamaca area on the PCT before dropping down to the desert.  It has open desert, a climb over the Pinyon Mountains, and finishes in a series of canyons in Fish Creek Wash and Split Mountain near sea level.  The start at the Sunrise PCT trailhead is a popular spot for trail runners in the San Diego area.

An additional consideration for the Pinyon Mountain to Hapapha Flat Rd to Fish Creek Wash section is that this is a well established route for 4x4s, mountain bikers, and occasional hikers. It would be possible to do an open desert traverse off established routes but I think that would be pretty dangerous given the remoteness and lack of water.

GPS Track


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I and my friend Tim Cronk are planning to take a shot at this route this Saturday.  I became intrigued by the idea of an Anza-Borrego Traverse early this year and studied the park map to come up with this route, all off-road (except crossing the S2 road).  I can find no accounts of anyone attempting an Anza-Borrego Traverse on foot, so we may be the first.  We'll go self-supported, caching water at around the mile 16 point.  With natural sources of water doubtful, we'll have to carry enough water for the final 29 miles.

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Colton, Riley, and I are going to try the route self-supported this Saturday 2/24/2024.  Hope the recent rain has firmed up the sand a little bit!