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Anza-Borrego Desert Wildflowers Hikes

Miles of brilliant colors stretching across the desert

Few experiences are more memorable than hiking along the miles of brilliant and color wildflowers stretching across vast Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

By: Scott Turner, Co-author of the 5th Edition of Afoot and Afield in San Diego County

The 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is justly famous for a number of noteworthy natural features including palm oases, vast open spaces, the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, and its soaring desert vistas. Above all else, the park's notoriety stems from its spectacular spring wildflower displays. During peak bloom in wet years, few sites are more memorable than miles of brilliant colors stretching across vast, sandy flats and extending onto rocky, varnished hillsides.

Desert flower displays are often a matter of timing, and generous rainfall amounts. Rainfall in Southern California is highly variable, and the desert is no exception. Much of Anza-Borrego receives paltry rainfall sums between 4-8" annually. When California experiences a wet year, much of the desert receives more than that, which causes the normally dormant seeds of hundreds of different flower species to germinate and bloom spectacularly. During these rare times, hundreds of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the park to witness this inspiring sight.

4 Recommended Wildflower Hikes

1. Borrego Palm Canyon

A magnificent fan palm oasis, bighorn sheep sightings, and impressive floral displays during peak season.

2. Hellhole Canyon

This gorgeous, palm-bedecked canyon with a seasonal waterfall belies its foreboding name with lush gardens of ephemeral wildflowers.

3. Cactus Loop

Cacti usually produce the most spectacular of all wildflowers. Look, but don't touch!

4. Calcite Mine

This normally barren trip to an old crystal mine comes alive every spring. Adventurous hikers will not want to miss the chance to poke around in the adjacent slot canyons.

Anza-Borrego Desert Wildflower Hike Tips

  1. Expect wildflowers during March and April. The peak, which is often short-lived, can fall at any point between these two months. Isolated blooms sometimes occur during late summer and early fall due to heavy monsoonal downpours, but the scorching temperatures during this time make wildflower viewing uncomfortable.
  2. Call ahead and find out the latest conditions. The Anza-Borrego Visitor Center is located within prime wildflower habitat at the base of the San Ysidro Mountains close to popular Borrego Palm Canyon. Also check out the nearby State Park store run by the Anza-Borrego Foundation. Both locales can provide information on the best places to view wildflowers.
  3. Be prepared to walk. The best way to see flowers is to get up close and personal - although, perhaps not too personal when it comes to cactus blooms!
  4. Get there early Beat the crowds by getting up early. This could mean a very early wake up call, since much of Anza-Borrego is two hours from San Diego.
  5. Be prepared for warm temperatures. Temps in the desert can swing between the low 70's and upper 90's during spring. Bring lots of water, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes, and hike during early morning or late afternoon hours. 

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