Marsh Trail and Desert Overlook

We had taken a couple days to camp at Agua Caliente County Park out in Anza-Borrego and explore some of the trails in the area. Agua Caliente is best known for its heated therapeutic pools fed by the naturally occurring mineral springs in the park, but there’s a handful of nice little hiking trails that start from the campground as well. We had explored Moonlight Canyon the evening before, and once the sun was finally up in the morning, we set off to explore this small network of trails on the other side of the park.

We walked back out of the campground to the kiosk we’d seen near the entrance and found the start of the trail. We wanted to hit the Desert Overlook first and get the climbing out of the way, so we turned left and made our way up the sandy path.20151113DSC_4860-EditMarshTrail

We passed the campground’s amphitheater, which lay just to our right. As we made our way up the small hill, we noticed some hoofprints in the sand. We were hoping we might see some Bighorn Sheep along the trail, but it was a little late in the morning so we weren’t overly optimistic.20151113DSC_4864-EditMarshTrail

The trail wound through a beautiful array of rocks and cacti.20151113DSC_4867-EditMarshTrail

We quickly came to the turn off for the Desert Overlook trail and turned left to begin ascending the small hill.20151113DSC_4870-EditMarshTrail

The trail wound its way up the hillside. Most of the inclines were rocky, and there were even stone steps in a few spots.20151113DSC_4873-EditMarshTrail

It didn’t take long to start getting some fantastic views.20151113DSC_4875-EditMarshTrail

Before long we’d gone .25 miles and were at the top. The views were well worth the small effort we had expended getting there.20151113DSC_4887-EditMarshTrail

To the northwest, we could see the green belt of our next destination.20151113DSC_4882-EditMarshTrail

And in the south, just below our rocky perch, we had a remarkable view of the campground below.20151113DSC_4886MarshTrail

After enjoying the views we headed back down to the junction and turned left along the Marsh Trail. In just a few hundred feet we found another trail fork, this one marked by a simple wooden post marked in Sharpie. To the right was the Ocotillo Ridge Trail, which made a small, inner loop to the larger loop we were hiking. We took the left fork to descend down along the Marsh Trail.20151113DSC_4892MarshTrail

At the bottom of the slope, we found a “T” junction where the trail met a sandy wash and turned left. 20151113DSC_4898-EditMarshTrail

We headed up the side of the wash as the center portion was a thick mat of pokey mesquite bushes and other plants. Numerous birds flit through the bushes. It was hard to get any good pictures since they tended to land deep within the green brush, but one guy was finally cooperative enough to have a brief rest atop one of the many trailside boulders.20151113DSC_4919-EditMarshTrail

The mesquite on our left grew thicker and thicker until it appeared to swallow up the trail.20151113DSC_4909-EditMarshTrail

We ducked under some branches and were able to continue a bit further. At .75 miles we finally encountered some moisture on the ground and some willow and palm trees. The area was tightly hemmed in by overgrown vegetation so it was difficult to get decent photos of the spot.20151113DSC_4912-EditMarshTrail

It appeared that the trail continued on for a short ways beyond the low-hanging palm fronds, but a mass of sharp and pointy mesquite branches on the other side dissuaded us from venturing any further.20151113DSC_4911-EditMarshTrail

We turned around and started heading back out the wash. We passed the junction where we had come down from the Desert Overlook trail and continued straight.20151113DSC_4920MarshTrail

As we neared the entrance of the canyon we found some beautifully sculpted rock walls to admire.20151113DSC_4926-EditMarshTrail

Around 1.2 miles, as we neared the road, we found another wooden trail marker labeled in Sharpie on the right. We turned here to head back to our starting point.20151113DSC_4930MarshTrail

We passed the other end of the Ocotillo Ridge Trail, which you could add on to extend this hike a little bit if you were so inclined.20151113DSC_4932MarshTrail

But we stayed straight, following the well-marked path past the amphitheater until we were once again back at the trailhead.20151113DSC_4934MarshTrail

Take Highway 78 east to Scissors Crossing. Turn right (south) onto S2, and continue for 22 miles to Agua Caliente County Park on the right. Pay the parking fee at the campground entrance, then drive around to the Day Use Parking area near campsites 7 and 8 or park at the Day Use picnic area just before the campground entrance. The trailhead is across from the Day Use Picnic Area. map

Total Distance: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Total Ascent: 350 feet
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: Bathroom and water at campground
Fees/Permits: $3 parking fee per vehicle

For more information, visit:
County of San Diego Parks & Recreation: Agua Caliente County Park
Park Map with Trails
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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