Borrego Palm Canyon Falls

Borrego Springs / Anza Borrego State Park, California, USA

About Borrego Palm Canyon Falls


Hiking Distance: 3 miles round trip with scrambling; add 1/4-mile for alternate trail on return
Suggested Time: 2 hours without seeking waterfalls; 3 hours to scramble to them

Date first visited: 2019-02-09
Date last visited: 2019-02-09

Waterfall Latitude: 33.27876
Waterfall Longitude: -116.43055

Borrego Palm Canyon Falls was our main waterfalling excuse to explore the most popular trail in the Anza Borrego State Park.

The Borrego Palm Canyon Trail earned its notoriety because the roughly three-mile round-trip hike reached one of the largest native Peninsular California Fan Palm Oases in the state.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_099_02092019 - The first of the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls that we saw
The first of the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls that we saw

The trail to access the natural grove was also reasonably wide and flat, which made it very accessible.

As for the waterfall itself, the reportedly year-round creek that gave rise to the desert oasis also gave rise to a series of cascades.

From what we could tell, there wasn’t really a signature waterfall though the first (or lowermost) of the waterfalls that we encountered probably came closest to having that distinction.

In addition to the miracle of a year-round creek with an oasis of fan palms, Julie even managed to spot a bighorn sheep during the hike!

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_180_02092019 - Another one of the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls that we encountered beyond the oasis
Another one of the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls that we encountered beyond the oasis

Indeed, after doing this hike, we could totally understand this trail’s popularity.

Julie and I managed to reach a couple more waterfalls further upstream from the fan palm oasis.

Then, we split off on the return hike, where she returned the same way we came in while I did the slightly longer Alternate Trail for a little more varied scenery.

That latter method is how we’ll do the trail description below.

Borrego Palm Canyon Falls Trail Description – the Main Trail

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_018_02092019 - Julie starting on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, which initially was in a wide and soil-rich alluvial fan
Julie starting on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, which initially was in a wide and soil-rich alluvial fan

The Borrego Palm Canyon Falls hike began from a well-established day use parking lot that was just beyond a pretty big campground (see directions below).

Right at the trailhead, we saw picnic tables as well as some signage, a little pond, an open-air restroom facility, and some interpretive trail brochures.

We picked up one of the brochures so we could follow along some of the numerical markers along the trail.

The trail started off in very open terrain flanked by hardy and prickly desert vegetation like beavertail cactus, cholla cactus, catclaw, and honey mesquite among others.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_025_02092019 - Julie passing by an ocotillo plant along the open part of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Julie passing by an ocotillo plant along the open part of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Julie also noted the presence of the eccentric ocotillo plant, which were strange-looking and apparently grew very fast with blooming cycles that occurred immediately after rain.

We also got a healthy dose of the aroma of desert lavender, and we spotted plenty of other blooming desert flowers as we happened to be there at the start of the bloom.

Most of the main trail traversed an alluvial fan, which was a typical desert geological feature where canyons carrying water (whether by spring or flash flood or both) would fan out at its mouth.

Typically such fans would have rich soil (deposited by the water), and we noticed evidence of settlement and use by the Cahuilla Tribe who had a village here.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_046_02092019 - Julie hiking amongst large boulders (some with red stains on them) as the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail started to undulate as the canyon closed in
Julie hiking amongst large boulders (some with red stains on them) as the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail started to undulate as the canyon closed in

The further up the trail we went, the more the canyon walls closed in, and the more we encountered larger boulders flanking the path.

During our visit, the trail briefly went alongside the main stream before crossing it in a couple of spots.

After about a half-mile or so, the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail pretty much followed along the base of the south-facing cliffs.

After the second stream crossing (roughly a mile from the trailhead), we noticed closure signs discouraging access further up along the stream.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_069_02092019 - Closure signs discouraging creek hiking to the bottom of the first waterfall so that bighorn sheep can have a clear path to water without people spooking them
Closure signs discouraging creek hiking to the bottom of the first waterfall so that bighorn sheep can have a clear path to water without people spooking them

A ranger that I encountered during our hike explained that the primary reason for it was to allow the desert bighorn sheep clear access to drink from the stream.

I would learn later that reaching the base of the first of the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls was not sanctioned as a result of this closure.

On the other side of the stream, the main trail joined up with the Alternate Trail, which I wound up taking on the return hike.

I’ll describe that stretch later.

Borrego Palm Canyon Falls Trail Description – approaching the oasis

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_074_02092019 - Downed California Fan Palm Trees re-purposed as trail barricades along the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Downed California Fan Palm Trees re-purposed as trail barricades along the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

One thing that I noticed along the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail was the presence of downed fan palm trees.

Apparently, they were victims of flash flooding that occurred over the years.

Now, most of these trees became re-purposed as trail markers or trail barricades to keep people on the path.

Continuing along the main trail, it now hugged the north-facing cliffs.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_082_02092019 - The Borrego Palm Canyon Trail climbing around the rocky terrain harboring the first Borrego Palm Canyon Falls
The Borrego Palm Canyon Trail climbing around the rocky terrain harboring the first Borrego Palm Canyon Falls

The trail gained a little more elevation quickly in this stretch, and roughly 0.2 miles later, we spotted the first of the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls.

This particular waterfall was nestled amongst some giant boulders (as pictured in the first photo on this page).

Since signs continued to discourage access to the creek to get to this waterfall from the bottom, I had to do an unsanctioned scramble atop the jumble of boulders for a more top-down look at it.

Back on the main trail, I could already start to see the fan palm oasis further up the canyon.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_103_02092019 - Julie skirting by the stream as she approached the Borrego Palm Canyon oasis
Julie skirting by the stream as she approached the Borrego Palm Canyon oasis

After crossing the stream a couple more times, the trail was flanked by more giant boulders while starting to become one with the stream itself.

The part of the trail that pretty much coincided with the stream started at a arrow sign (roughly 0.1-mile beyond the first waterfall).

This sign was an important landmark on the return hike, which I’ll explain later.

In any case, after another 0.1-mile the trail veered left away from another tiny waterfall fronted by a deep pool.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_152_02092019 - Looking towards a small waterfall and deep pool just before the last turn in front of the fan palm oasis at the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Looking towards a small waterfall and deep pool just before the last turn in front of the fan palm oasis at the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Right after this turn, the trail ended up in the oasis surrounded by the Star Wars Wookie-like Peninsular California Fan Palm Trees.

Signs and barricades were set up to prevent any further scrambling beyond this point.

So that kind of made the experience a bit on the anticlimactic side (especially from a waterfalling standpoint).

Yet as far as the sanctioned trail went, this was the turnaround point.

Borrego Palm Canyon Falls Trail Description – searching for more waterfalls

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_227_02092019 - Looking back at the misleading arrow pointing towards the stream crossing and the fan palm oasis at the end of the trail, but the sign seemed to point you away from the trail to the right of this large rock
Looking back at the misleading arrow pointing towards the stream crossing and the fan palm oasis at the end of the trail, but the sign seemed to point you away from the trail to the right of this large rock

According to our Ann Marie Brown book, she said there was another waterfall after another quarter-hour of hiking.

While we ultimately decided against hopping the barricades at the oasis, we did backtrack to the arrowed sign before the last stream crossing.

That was when we noticed some people who took what appeared to be a trail that the arrow was pointing away from.

We explored this path for a few minutes (even going in between some wedged boulders that might have been put there by flash flood or rockfall).

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_166_02092019 - A more satisfying look at the fan palm oasis away from the currently-sanctioned part of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
A more satisfying look at the fan palm oasis away from the currently-sanctioned part of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Then, we suddenly saw an interpretive sign with a more satisfying view of the oasis from a higher and more distant vantage point.

Encouraged that we had stumbled upon a once-sanctioned trail, we followed it past a few more boulder jumbles and small cascades further upstream.

Then, the terrain opened up again a short distance beyond the oasis revealing another pretty satisfying waterfall tumbling over some boulders.

We weren’t sure if this was the waterfall pictured in Ann Marie Brown’s book because there didn’t seem to be any more fan palms upstream from the main part of the oasis.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_193_02092019 - This small waterfall was the last of the satisfying Borrego Palm Canyon Falls that we encountered beyond the fan palm oasis before we headed back
This small waterfall was the last of the satisfying Borrego Palm Canyon Falls that we encountered beyond the fan palm oasis before we headed back

After a few minutes more of scrambling and bouldering to see if there were any more waterfalls, the bouldering got to a point where we were questioning whether the risk versus reward justified going any further.

So this was our turnaround point, and we ultimately made our way back to the trail junction with the Alternate Trail.

Borrego Palm Canyon Falls Trail Description – the Alternate Trail

On the return hike, we returned to the trail junction near the crossing of the creek by the re-purposed downed fan palms.

At this point, Julie went back via the main trail on the left while I took the Alternate Trail.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_240_02092019 - Context of the alternate trail and some cacti alongside the wide open trail during our return hike from the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls. It was at this point that Julie decided to take the main trail and leave me to hike this alternate trail
Context of the alternate trail and some cacti alongside the wide open trail during our return hike from the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls. It was at this point that Julie decided to take the main trail and leave me to hike this alternate trail

Right off the bat, the Alternate Trail actually had brief stretches of climbing while also turning quite a bit more.

While the Main Trail was definitely flatter and more well-used, this Alternate Trail had far fewer people.

It kind of made me wonder if a bighorn sighting might be more likely along this route (though it turned out to not be the case on our visit as Julie spotted one from the main trail).

In addition to passing by more ocotillo plants and the variety of cacti, the trail eventually undulated then descended briefly into a wash before veering away from it.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_251_02092019 - Looking ahead towards the day use parking area and campground as seen from the Alternate Trail
Looking ahead towards the day use parking area and campground as seen from the Alternate Trail

For the final stretch, I was once again flanked by low-lying brush and cacti (similar to what we encountered along the main trail).

At the end, the trail went past an amphitheater (where I’d imagine night time talks or programs were held) before the trail ended at the southern end of the day use parking lot.

All told, this Alternate Trail extended the hike by another quarter-mile or so.

So the out-and-back distance on the main trail was roughly three miles round trip.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_008_jx_02092019 - This was the desert bighorn sheep that Julie spotted along the main Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
This was the desert bighorn sheep that Julie spotted along the main Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

It’s probably more like 3.25 miles round trip returning via the Alternate Trail.

We spent a little over three hours on this excursion though we spent quite a bit of time route-finding for more waterfalls.

Knowing what we know now, it would probably take more like 2- to 2.5 hours for the whole excursion.

Authorities

Borrego Palm Canyon Falls resides in the Anza Borrego State Park near Borrego Springs in San Diego County, California. It is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_011_02092019 - Looking ahead at the Borrego Palm Canyon Trailhead right from the parking lot
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_012_02092019 - Looking back at a pond towards the day use parking lot at the Borrego Palm Canyon Trailhead
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_031_02092019 - Julie forging ahead along the wide open alluvial fan portion of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_032_02092019 - Looking at some of the wildflowers in bloom in the alluvial fan portion of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_035_02092019 - The Borrego Palm Canyon Trail followed along the year-round stream responsible for the oasis we were hiking towards
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_042_02092019 - One of the flowers blooming alongside the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_044_02092019 - Julie traversing the first stream crossing on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_058_02092019 - Julie continuing to walk amongst giant boulders along the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail as the canyon was continuing to close in
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_063_02092019 - Canyon walls continuing to close in as we went deeper into Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. That fellow up ahead was talking about wildflowers here to Julie
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_067_02092019 - Another closeup look at some purple wildflower that we saw along the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_080_02092019 - Partial view of the first Borrego Palm Canyon Falls as seen from the sanctioned part of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_083_02092019 - Looking down at that first Borrego Palm Canyon Falls after a little off-trail boulder scrambling to at least see it better without the rocks getting in the way
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_085_02092019 - Portrait look at the first Borrego Palm Canyon Falls from an outcrop yielding the cleanest view that I could get of it
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_102_02092019 - Looking ahead from the first Borrego Palm Canyon waterfall towards the fan palm oasis further up the canyon
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_105_02092019 - Julie getting closer to the attractive oasis of Peninsular California Fan Palms, which are native to the Anza Borrego Desert
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_110_02092019 - Looking ahead at some fan palm trees as we were approaching the oasis as we got closer to the end of the official trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_114_02092019 - Contextual look at the fan palm oasis further ahead as the trail pretty much started merging with the trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_123_02092019 - Julie approaching the last stream crossing. Notice the arrow sign in front of her.  That was the misleading sign that took us away from a trail that proceeded further past the oasis while also yielding a nice view of it as well
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_126_02092019 - The Borrego Palm Canyon Trail coinciding with the stream for a brief stretch before ending
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_131_02092019 - Looking up towards the top of the fan palm trees from the end of the official Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_137_02092019 - One of the small waterfalls near the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_138_02092019 - Context of the tall Peninsular California Palm Trees as seen from the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_140_02092019 - Another look up at the jumble of Wookie-like fan palm trees as seen from the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_154_02092019 - Looking towards some more of the year-round creek by the oasis as we scrambled around for a way to continue further upstream past the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_156_02092019 - We noticed this little butterfly while scrambling past the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_159_02092019 - After backtracking to the misleading arrow sign, we saw other hikers also following the arrow and heading to the end of the official Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_173_02092019 - While hiking on the newly-found trail beyond the misleading arrow, we got this satisfying look at the fan palm oasis. This trail was seemingly once sanctioned, but now it seemed like it wasn't meant to get traffic anymore
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_174_02092019 - Looking through a pair of wedged boulders that the newly-found trail went through before reaching the interpretive sign with a nice view of the fan palm oasis at the end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_176_02092019 - This was the next 'big' Borrego Palm Canyon Falls that we spotted, which was further upstream from the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_178_02092019 - Another look at the next 'big' Borrego Palm Canyon Falls that we spotted
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_190_02092019 - Looking back downstream at the oasis of the Peninsular California Fan Palm Trees clustered at the oasis at end of the official Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_195_02092019 - This tiny waterfall was the last of the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls we spotted before turning back
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_197_02092019 - Julie looking back at how far past the oasis at the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail that we had gone
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_214_02092019 - Last look at the attractive waterfall beyond the official end of the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_231_02092019 - Julie heading back on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail after having had our fill of the oasis and the waterfalls upstream from there
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_237_02092019 - Julie going past an ocotillo plant while we were hiking back on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail and about to start hiking on the Alternate Trail back to the trailhead
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_241_02092019 - Looking down at a yellow wildflower blooming alongside the Alternate Trail to the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail on the return hike
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_245_02092019 - Looking in the distance towards the alluvial fan turning towards the campground and parking lot for the Borrego Palm Canyon as seen from the alternate trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_248_02092019 - Looking across the Borrego Palm Canyon at the main trail from the alternate trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_262_02092019 - Looking back at the wash I had to traverse on the Alternate Trail to the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_265_02092019 - Passing by more of the interesting ocotillo cacti on the return hike back from the Borrego Palm Canyon Falls
Borrego_Palm_Canyon_011_jx_02092019 - Contextual look at the bighorn sheep that Julie spotted from the main trail on the way back

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Borrego Palm Canyon Falls was along the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail.

The trailhead was at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground just west of the town of Borrego Springs.

We had to pay a day use fee of $10 per vehicle during our visit in 2019.

Since we did the drive from Julian, we’ll describe the driving directions from there.

From the main drag in Julian, we drove east on Hwy 78 for over 18 miles to the Yaqui Pass Road (S3).

Turning left onto Yaqui Pass Road, we then took this road for about 7 miles to the Borrego Springs Road.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_003_02092019 - Context of the the Borrego Palm Canyon Trailhead as seen from the parking lot
Context of the the Borrego Palm Canyon Trailhead as seen from the parking lot

Next, we turned left onto Borrego Springs Road, and then we followed it for over 5 miles to the roundabout called Christmas Circle.

Taking the west exit (5th exit, I believe), we then passed through the main drag of Borrego Springs.

Afterwards, we turned right onto a road leading to the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground (it’s the turnoff just before reaching the Anza Borrego Visitor Center).

We followed this road to the kiosk at the campground.

Borrego_Palm_Canyon_267_02092019 - Looking back at the parking lot at the Borrego Palm Canyon Trailhead
Looking back at the parking lot at the Borrego Palm Canyon Trailhead

After paying the fee, we then followed the signs and drove to the end at the day use parking area.

Overall, this drive took us a little under an hour.

For some geographical context, Borrego Springs was about 87 miles (over 90 minutes drive) south of Palm Springs, 81 miles (under 2 hours drive) east of Oceanside, 67 miles (under 90 minutes drive) east of Temecula, 88 miles (under 2 hours drive) northeast of San Diego, and 151 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) southeast of Los Angeles.

Back and forth downstream to upstream sweep revealing the year-round creek as well as the fan palm oasis before focusing more on the waterfall and its surroundings


semi-circular sweep showing the uppermost waterfall that we encountered while contrasting against blue skies

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About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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