Cactus Loop Trail (Anza-Borrego State Park)

The Cactus Loop Trail
No doubt the ideal time to visit Anza-Borrego State Park is in the early spring when, depending on the conditions, desert wildflowers typically bloom. And somewhat later in the spring, the cacti usually begin to produce their colorful blossoms, adding another dimension to the desert’s pallette. But we found that even in the fall there were abundant colors to enjoy. The deep reds, golds, and browns of the rocky landscape contrast dramatically with the rich blue of the desert sky, and the various greens and browns of the numerous cacti and shrubs prove that life is abundant even in this hot and arid land. There’s no need to wait for spring to find beauty in the desert.Colorful rocks on the Cactus Loop trail

Although the Cactus Loop Trail is advertised as an easy 1 mile hike, the terrain is a tad more challenging than your average nature trail. The path is rocky in most areas so you’ll want to watch your step – especially around the sharp and pointy cacti that line the trail. This isn’t to say that its a difficult hike – even extremely casual hikers will have an easy time of it. Just make sure you’re wearing some sturdy shoes and be aware of where you’re placing your feet.

The Cactus Loop Trail is located immediately across the road from the Tamarisk Grove Campground. Another short trail leading to Yaqui Well begins less than 500 feet down the road. Since they’re both short, easy trails located so close to one another, I highly recommend combining the two to make the most of your trip.The Cactus Loop trailhead is immediately across the street from Tamarisk Grove Campground

We crossed the road from the campground and grabbed one of the informative pamphlets from the box. The trail passed briefly through some soft sand before becoming more rocky.20141109Cactus Loop3912

We started out in a narrow wash, gradually climbing upwards along a narrow wash, away from the road.Heading up the wash along the Cactus Loop trail

We kept our eyes open for the various exhibit markers along the trail, and dutifully referred to our trail pamphlet to learn about each item as we came across it. We found this to be a great way to learn how to identify the various plants that inhabit the area and gain a deeper appreciation for the natural beauty of the trail. I highly recommend taking your time on this hike to grab one of the pamphlets and read it as you progress along the trail (don’t read and walk at the same time though… that’s a good way to learn about the resident cacti in an unpleasantly intimate way).Numbered exhibits correspond to entries in the trail guide

Before long, the trail passed under a very overgrown Ocotillo plant, its thorny branches overhanging menacingly low. Ocotillo only grow leaves soon after rain, and shed them quickly thereafter. There certainly hadn’t been any rain in this area recently, so the Ocotillo were all completely bare. We skirted around the sharp, tentacle-like bows and returned to the designated path.An errant ocotillo bush obstructs the path

Soon after, we crossed the wash and made a brief ascent up a rocky hill.Heading up the ridge

Even this short climb was enough to provide some admirable views of the surrounding areas.View from the Cactus Loop trail

We found ourselves winding our way ever so gradually up the hillside. Rising above us to the north was Pinyon Ridge. The trail pamphlet informed us that the ridge was frequented by Peninsular bighorn sheep, which we had never had the opportunity to see before. We stopped regularly to scan the rocky slopes above us in hopes of seeing one of the elusive creatures, but had no luck.Pinyon ridge rises up to the north

Soon the trail leveled and then began to descend. As the trail turned back towards the road, we found ourselves on the edge of another, much deeper wash.Gazing down into a wash along the trail

As the trail continued downhill towards the road, the sun was fairly low in the sky.The cholla plants, backlit by the late afternoon light, seemed to emit an ethereal glow as the light was diffused through the thin spines.Cholla glow in the afternoon sunlight

We soon found ourselves back at the road, just a couple of hundred feet from our starting point. While the trail guide and most books list this as a 1-mile loop, our GPS logged us at just over ¾ of a mile.

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From Julian, take 78 east approximately 18 miles to Yaqui Pass Road (S3). Turn left onto Yaqui Pass road and proceed approximately .4 mile to Tamarisk Grove Campground on the right. Park on the side of the road in front of the Campground.

From Borrego Springs, take S3 (Borrego Springs Road and Yaqui Pass Road) south for approximately 12 miles to Tamarisk Grove Campground on the left. Park on the side of the road in front of the Campground.

map (Note: this map points you to the trail head – park across the street in front of the campground.)

Total Distance: .75 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Total Ascent: 262 feet
Dog Friendly?: No dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: No bikes allowed
Facilities: Port-a-potties at Tamarisk Grove Campground. There’s no potable water on tap, but you can buy water for $2/gallon from the campground kiosk when they’re open.
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
California State parks: Anza-Borrego State Park

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