On our third day in the Borrego Springs, California area, we did this classic hike in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Read on for details of our Palm Canyon hike.
It was already around noon when we decided to knock out the Borrego Palm Canyon hike.
Borrego Palm Canyon contains the third largest palm oasis in California according to the Anza-Borrego website. The main state park campground is at the base of the canyon, and the hike is probably the most popular in the park. In fact, several descriptions of the hike start out "Often crowded ....". That's not exactly a draw for us.
But we've heard good things about the hike, and we knew we would do it one day while we are here.
There is no state park entrance fee to visit most of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. However, there is an $8 day use fee to drive in and park at the Palm Canyon Trailhead.
So, we decided to park at the visitors center ....
and walk the path to the campground and trailhead adding 1.2 miles roundtrip to the three-mile hike, but saving us a whole eight bucks. And get this, ... Linda was the first to mention this plan. I was thinking it, but she offered it up.
Okay, so we threw our trash in the dumpster in the visitors center parking lot, filled up the water bladders in our backpacks, took one last restroom break, and headed out on the paved Campground Trail.
It's a great little accessible path through the desert with informational plaques about the plants and animals of the area and nice mountain views.
Once we reached the campground, we discovered that it was another half mile to the primitive campsites where the trailhead is located. Now our three-mile hike has turned into a 5.2-mile hike. Apparently, if you come hiking anywhere with me, count on walking an extra mile or so.
At least the extra "hiking" (more like an easy walk) was all flat. We eventually arrived at the Palm Canyon trailhead.
That was the beginning of the "main" trail. There is also an "alternate" trail.
The two trails come together about a mile in and then it's another half-mile to the palm oasis. The main trail is also an interpretive trail with a brochure corresponding to fifteen numbered signposts, so we picked up a brochure and started up the main trail.
We read the warning sign about mountain lions and rattlesnakes, ....
and proceeded on up the rocky trail, stopping and reading about each point of interest.
We also stopped quite often to scan the rocks for bighorn sheep. Apparently, Palm Canyon is the most likely place to see them although they blend in so well, they can be very difficult to spot. We didn't see any today.
This rock, and others around it, had "morteros" where Indians ground grains.
We saw more people along this hike than the others we had taken the past couple of days, but it certainly wasn't crowded. Everyone was pretty well spread out.
Now, I will say that I'd recommend sturdy shoes with ankle support on this hike, but if you are one of the many flip-flop hikers we run into, we certainly don't want to cramp your style.
The trail is very rocky, and if you are scanning the mountains for sheep as you walk, there is a very good likelihood of stubbed toes, twisted ankles, and bruised shins. Not to mention all the prickly plants you could walk into like cholla, beavertail, and prickly pear cactus, or ocotillo, catclaw acacia, and mesquite.
Continuing the uphill climb, the canyon was beautiful.
I only wish it would've remained illuminated by the sun longer. It was probably a combination of our late start and the low winter angle of old sol, but about a mile in and a half mile from the oasis, the canyon was completely shaded and it got a bit chilly.
The oasis first came into view at that point, and that's also where the trail crosses the mountain stream for the first time, and where the alternate trail comes in. It's difficult to see the palms in the center of the photo below, but this is the perspective from that point.
From there, the trail followed the stream as we climbed some steps put in by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Looking down canyon where the stream flowed through a section of boulders.
Crossing the stream again, we passed by a small waterfall and eventually arrived at the main grove of native California Fan Palms.
Having visited other palm groves in the desert the last month or so, the palms themselves were somewhat anticlimactic, but the hike itself is wonderful.
We had lunch beside the stream below the palms, but we didn't hang around long. Being wet with sweat, we were getting cold with the wind blowing and no sunshine hitting us. So, we headed back down not long after we arrived.
We took the well-marked alternate trail to the right at the intersection. Now, you would think that the trail would be all downhill going back, but the alternate trail actually climbs up on a ridge providing wonderful views of the valley and distant mountains.
I guess what I'm tryin' to say is ... if the first two miles to that point took it out of you and you are done with climbing, you may want to skip the alternate trail and return on the main trail. But if you're still good, the alternate trail is definitely worth the effort.
The various colors of the rocks in the boulder fields were amazing. And the mountains that were still bathed in sunshine weren't too shabby either.
The Palm Canyon hike is a great hike, and we'd recommend doing both the main and alternate trails (in either order). I'm thinking it might be better in March when the sun is a little higher and flowers are in bloom, but it's worthwhile any time.
We walked the mile back across the campground and desert to our Jeep and headed home. Another fine day here in Borrego Springs.
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