Borrego Springs – Ultimate Boondocking

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Dry camping outside of Borrego Springs

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In February of 2007 my Airstream was pointed to Anza Borrego State Park, in Borrego Springs California.  A few online friends invited me to visit the park and have a “mini” Airstream rally.  With nothing but time on my hands I figured, “Why not give the place a visit?”  And 8 years later I still enjoy visiting the Borrego Springs area.

What’s so interesting about the area?  We’ll talk about that in this article.  And we’ll talk about why so many RV’ers head to the area every year.

Selfie near Borrego Springs
A self portrait with the 40D before phone selfies were all the rage.

My own journey

In early 2005 I became extremely ill.  The entire year seemed dedicated to trying to figure out what was wrong with me.  Immunologists, Hematologists, Cardiac Specialists, Infectious Disease Specialists, and more.  Nothing seemed to be working, and the medical community was puzzled by me.  It all started with a root canal in January of 05′, and at times life felt very unlivable.

Borrego Dust Storm
Borrego Dust Storm

Early 2006 I found a good medical facility that really tried to work with me, instead of treating me like a McDonalds customer.  You’ve got 30 seconds, then you hear, “Next Please.”  A Gastro Intestinal specialist was found, and some odd diagnosis were made.  The symptoms were there, but the real cause of my issues wasn’t discovered until 2010.

Prior to receiving my mis-diagnosis, I was notified by my spouse that she was seeking a divorce.  Apparently a year of me being extremely ill, extra jumpy, and very sad had done its worst to our marriage.  Two days after that notification is when I was told about Eosinophillic disorders, and that I had one.  All scary, all difficult to digest.

With all of these life changes I made a very odd decision.  We’d purchased an Airstream in 2004.  And given everything that was happening to me, I decided to hit the road with the Airstream and seek out places with low allergens to see if I would feel better.  The Airstream was hooked up, and I began a journey west May of 2006.  Broken heart, broken body, why not see the nation?

Almost a year later….

Desert Palms
Desert Palms

After traveling the U.S. for nearly a year I received the invite from a few Airstreamers who had followed my journey on my original blog.  Come to Anza Borrego and enjoy the company of a few other Airstream owners.  Given the fact that over the course of the past year I found few places where I felt really good physically I figured why not.  It’s a place I hadn’t been yet, and trying can’t hurt.

Making my way to Borrego Springs, CA, I found myself driving through a desolate desert area.  Close to Joshua Tree and the Salton Sea, the area was devoid of major plant life, and I felt like I was in a barren desert (because I was).  I was arriving early, ahead of my friends, and I made the decision to boondock outside of town for a few days.  Boondocking in the Borrego area is commonplace during the winter, and a large population of RV’ers spend their winter there.

Pulling into my dry camping site (just pick a point in the desert and park), a few things happened.  I found myself in a truly quiet place, surrounded by what many would call desolation.  A wide open desert, dust blowing often through my site, and plenty of alone time.  And in a lonely spot away from any other people something happened.  I found myself feeling better about the past two years.  And I found myself feeling better physically.

Sometimes a whole lot of nothing can be just what the doctor ordered.

Anza Borrego State Park
Anza Borrego State Park

Welcome to Borrego Springs

Since my first visit to Borrego, I’ve returned often.  For me it was the beginning of a healing process that would still take a few years, but it was the starting point without a doubt.  For others visiting the area, it’s a destination spot for over wintering.  Why would a lonely place in the middle of the Southern California desert be a destination?  For many reasons, and we’ll talk about all of them.

Water from the spring in Palm Canyon
Water from the spring in Palm Canyon

Boondocking around Borrego

If you’re coming from the North on Route 86, you’ll turn onto S22 to reach Borrego Springs.  Watch yourself as you leave the divided highway and make your way through a small cluster of homes.  The road “rolls” like you wouldn’t believe, and the dips in the road are something amazing!  Keep the speed at 20 or 25, or you’ll have things flying all over your RV.  As you leave the “Salton City” area you’ll find yourself on a two lane road heading into some pretty amazing badlands.  This is where the boondocking begins!

Off to your left you’ll notice BLM signs and pull offs.  If you’re heading in on a weekend, you will not miss the sea of RV’s with off road vehicles parked all over the place.  This is the beginning of the badlands, and the beginning of many boondocking opportunities.

Arroyo Salado Camping Area – Off Roaders Paradise

The first marked boondocking area as you make your way along the Borrego Salton Seaway will be the Arroyo Salado Camping area.  It’s well marked off to your left, and it’s at the base of the Borrego Badlands.  The area is popular for off road vehicles.  You’ll see 4 wheelers, dirt bikes, insanely decked out Jeeps, and an assortment of RV’s from small trailers to million dollar Prevosts.  The area has it all, and it also has one other thing…..plenty of dust.

On the weekends this OHRV area is loaded with off roaders.  They come out to ride the trails in the badlands, ride through the open desert, and generally have a fun weekend.  With all that off road activity in a desert area, the dust can get pretty thick at times.  And so can the parking.  I’ve seen this area wall to wall with RV’s and off roading groups.  And if you’re not an off roader, I’d suggest continuing on toward Borrego Springs.

Ocotillo Bloom
Ocotillo Bloom

Peg Leg and the Clark Dry Lake

One of the most popular spots for RV’ers over wintering in the Borrego Area has to be the “Peg Leg” site, and the Clark Dry Lake site as well.  Both located a few miles out of town on S22 (Borrego Salton Seaway), these boondocking hot spots have been getting more popular every year.

From November through January you can expect amazing temperatures while visiting the area.  While the rest of the country might experience major cold snaps, the Borrego area always trends warmer.  In 2014 while visiting in late February we experienced days in the mid to high 90’s.  That’s one of the major draws to the area, the warm winters.  So if you’re into boondocking, and warmer temperatures for the winter, this is a snow bird haven!  And these two sites are some of the most popular.

Over the years Peg Leg has become very well known.  When I first visited in 2007 the camping area had some good space between trailers.  For my 2014 visit to the area I found Peg Leg to be a little crowded, with RV’s getting closer to each other.  For that reason we moved our Airstream to the Clark Dry Lake area, seeking a little more solitude.  If you’re looking for an RV community and people to visit with all day, Peg Leg is a good option.  Want some privacy?  You can find it at the Clark Dry Lake area!

All along the Borrego Salton Seaway you will see RV’s pulled off into unique spots.  Some are just staying for a few days, others are staying for the whole winter season.  Be sure to look ahead when picking spots, and make sure your RV can handle the terrain.

Ocotillo Wells

South and East of Borrego Springs along Route 78 you will find another popular OHRV area, Ocotillo Wells.  This area is another interesting boondocking location.  Like Arroyo, this is a hotspot for off road vehicles.  With that in mind, expect a lot of dust on the weekends when folks are out riding in the badlands.  Week days always offer less traffic for your visit.

From Ocotillo Wells there are also many good tracks for 4×4 trucks to travel along and site see.  You don’t have to be a hard core off roader for some of the tracks.  Personally I’ve taken my Nissan Titan along many of the tracks and found some interesting areas for photographing the open desert!

Open Desert Near Ocotillo Wells
The author standing out in the middle of open desert near the Ocotillo Wells OHRV area.

Recreational Opportunities

There’s plenty to do in the Borrego Springs area, even if you don’t recognize it at first.  A vast open desert area, crazy badlands, off road vehicles, photography opportunities, hiking trails, and so much more.  There’s something for everyone when visiting Borrego Springs.

Bring your Bikes

With all the off road trails, any mountain biker has to think to themselves, “There might be some good riding in them there hills….”  And that thought would be correct.  While there aren’t any super technical rides in the area, the paths through the badlands offer some interesting rides.  Of course, mountain bikers will need to stay aware of their surroundings and of the motorized vehicles sharing the paths.

There are also multiple dirt roads rolling off into different canyons around the area.  These roads make for some interesting mountain biking as well.  In 2014 Bert Gildart and I cycled along one canyon road to see if a fresh water spring was running or not.  The ride went from hard packed dirt to super soft sand, and back to hard pack again.  Every ride in the area can be described this way.  A fun one, the ride out to Font’s Point from Peg Leg, offers super soft sand in large sections, hard pack in others, and an incredibly rewarding view when you reach the point.

Font's Point View
A very wide panoramic from Font’s Point

Road cyclists should also take interest in this area.  While there are many RV’ers visiting the area, the roads around Borrego Springs are actually pretty low traffic.  Additionally, given most of the people staying in the area are looking for over winter recreational opportunities, most are very aware of cyclists on the road.

Rolling roads, steep mountain climbs, full day cycling loops are all available for road cyclists.  And over the course of my time visiting the area I’ve seen solo riders and large club rides alike along the Borrego Salton Seaway, Route 78, and the intrepid cyclists who ride up the mountain passes to the west of the town.

Plenty to Hike Around Borrego Springs

Many of the paths and trails in the area lead to some absolute gems.  The most well known is Desert Palm Canyon, located in the Anza Borrego State Park (which is also another camping location with hookups).

The park service offers a map of the whole Borrego area, showing many hikes that are available.  Some are close to the state park, others are a short drive.  Personally I’ve hiked Hawk Canyon (an interesting slot like canyon), Palm Canyon, Ghost Mountain (well outside of the park), and a short segment of the PCT.  There are many more trails available, so be sure to pick up a map, they’re low priced and help support the state park.

Solar Games

Bert's Solar panels on his 30 foot Airstream
Bert’s Solar panels on his 30 foot Airstream

Given the location, there’s still plenty of sun throughout the winter.  And in the case of most folks boondocking near Borrego, solar panels are on their rigs.  Over the years I’ve found that a good amount of time is spent comparing solar setups, charge rates, and when batteries are topped off for the day.  I like to think of all of this as, “Solar Games.”

When boondocking with friends I’ve often been told, “My batteries were fully recharged by 9 a.m.”  Others took a little longer, but if you like seeing how your boondocking setup is working, you’ll have plenty of fun keeping up with the Jones family two sites away.  😉

Be At Rest

All joking aside about comparing solar panel output, this is a great place to relax and really unplug.  In the Clark Dry Lake Bed rigs are parked pretty far apart.  There isn’t a lot of traffic in and out of the area, and you can actually enjoy a lot of quiet time.

So, that book you wanted to finish reading?  Better yet, that book you’ve been meaning to finish writing?  This is the place to get it done.  Pull out your awning, make sure your solar panels are getting the maximum amount of sun, and then sit and be at rest!  This is the place to do it.

Arroyo and Ocotillo Wells aren’t the place for that.  So if it’s peace and quiet, look to Peg Leg and the Dry Lake. 

Day Trips Abound!

When visiting an area I always find myself exploring where I am, and also what’s nearby.  And Borrego Springs is close to many other interesting locations to visit.  A personal favorite day trip?  Driving up to Julian California.  It’s only about a 45 minute drive from Peg Leg to Julian, and you will be shocked by the environmental change on your drive.  Leaving the Borrego area, you make your way up to Julian where it feels more like a New England town then a place right next to a vast desert.  On my last trip there we left Borrego which was in the high 80’s, and got into Julian which was in the 50’s….of course I forgot my jacket.

What else is Borrego Springs close to?

There are more locations.  These are some I’ve personally visited over the course of my trips to Borrego Springs.  For more ideas on additional locations to see, check out the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce list.  It’s pretty complete!

Borrego Camp
A favorite site from our 2014 Borrego Trip

The Desert Bloom

Given the fact that Borrego is a very dry desert area, most of the year there’s very little going on with vegetation.  But sometimes, if there’s been enough wet weather over the course of a year, the desert comes to life with amazing blooms.  There’s no guarantee on any given year that this will be “the one,” but when it happens (early Spring) it’s amazing!

Normally the bloom takes place somewhere in March, but I’ve experienced it as early as the last week of February.  Fortunately there are several websites (linked below) that can help you plan your trip if you’re looking for the bloom.

Borrego Desert Bloom
Borrego Desert Bloom

A few final thoughts on Borrego Springs

Borrego is a small community that grows by leaps and bounds every winter.  The downtown area is pretty small, and the “basic necessities” are covered, but little more.  A small grocery store can be found, a few small gas stations, medical services, and a few restaurants.  If you’re planning a stay in the area you should load up on provisions for while you’re camped.  One year while visiting I found the local grocery store was completely out of Toilet Paper!

Visiting Borrego Springs is quite the experience.  You’ll see many RV’s parked throughout the desert area.  From November through March the town’s “population” increases dramatically with the arrival of RV’ers.  And for that time it becomes a bustling community that you can be part of.

So, pick your patch of desert, pop up your solar panels, and prepare to ration water if you’re in a small rig.  It’s a boondocking experience that you should try out some day!


A gallery from Borrego Springs

Video From Borrego Springs

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