Hiking to a desert oasis is always a fun experience. After trudging through the hot and arid desert, finding a cool stand of trees where you can kick back, watch the birds flit from tree to tree, and enjoy the quiet stillness of the day is bliss. This hike, starting from the Mountain Palm Springs Camprgound in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, takes you to not one, not two, not even three, but up to six separate palm tree groves of varying sizes.
Despite getting an early start, by the time we arrived at the trail head the day was already quite warm. The sky was clear blue, devoid of even a hint of clouds. We were only planning a short hike, but had filled our Camelbaks completely (3 liters each) because desert, and liberally slathered on the sunscreen. Thus prepared, we set off.
From the parking area, we headed west where a small stone pedestal with an information sign about the palm groves marked the start of the trail.
Looking up the wash from here, we could see the tops of two small palm trees, and we set off towards them.
We were too early for any significant flower blooms, but we did find a few barrel cacti with emerging flowers.
As we approached the first trees, we noticed a small stream of water running on the ground, moistening the sand beneath our feet. We passed the palms and continued up the wash.
We quickly came upon the first of the palm tree groves – the Pygmy Grove. The trees here were of a modest stature, and their trunks fire-scarred.
We followed the trail through the trees and continued through the canyon beyond. To the right, an isolated stand of palm trees stood in the distance.
The trail continued up the left side of the canyon, and we soon came upon a low, hard-packed ridge. We followed the trail up to the top of the ridge.
Ocotillo lined the trail here, and they were starting to produce fiery red blooms at their tips.
At the top we found a small wooden sign marking the junction with a trail towards Bow Willow Campground to the south.
Turning right, we continued west along the ridgeline. We could see the green tops of palm trees of the Southwest Grove in the distance.
Just before reaching the grove we found some more water trickling by.
We squished through the sticky muck then headed uphill into the cool of the palm grove.
This grove was pretty big so we took a few minutes to explore the area. When we were ready to press on, we found the rather subtle trail heading northeast up the rocky slope. It’s a little tricky to spot, but as you cross through the middle of the grove, look to the right as you reach the canyon wall on the north where there are some burnt palm trees.
Once we had taken a few steps the path became pretty obvious.
We wound our way up the rocky hill, gaining some fantastic views of the trail we’d come in on.
The climbing didn’t last long. We quickly found ourselves winding through the beautiful red rocks of this ridge top.
The trail up here was generally pretty easy to follow if you paid attention, but amid all the rocks and twists and turns, it wouldn’t be difficult to get off trail if you spaced out for a few minutes. Fortunately, between the two of us, we didn’t have any navigational issues.
We made our way over the first ridge and caught a glimpse down into the canyon where we had earlier spied the small isolated group of palm trees off trail.
From here, there was a bit more easy climbing as we made our way over a second ridge.
At 1.15 miles we abruptly came to the edge of Surprise Canyon.
The trail turned left, making its way down the slope towards the next palm grove.
At 1.2 miles we reached the floor of the canyon. Large palm trees with full skirts of dead fronds stood before us.
From here, the route out of the canyon and back to our car lay to the right, but we had some more exploring to do. We turned left, heading further up canyon, to search out the Palm Bowl Grove.
Heading up the sandy wash, we found some red-tipped chuparosa starting to bloom.
The canyon walls narrowed down to a slender bottleneck.
We soon found ourselves at the edge of a wide, sandy bowl. On the other side, we could see the large cluster of palm trees of Palm Bowl Grove.
A large field of stabby plants was between us and the grove. We headed up the right edge of the bowl and found a relatively clear path to the trees.
At 1.6 miles an old, fire-scarred sign marked the edge of the grove.
A little ways past the sign, we found a use trail heading uphill into the shade of the trees.
We found a nice log to sit on, and sat down for a snack and to watch the many birds and insects that inhabited the area.
After enjoying the shade, we retraced our route back to the Surprise Canyon Grove, and continued down the wash.
Around 2.5 miles, the trail dropped down again into another wash running almost perpendicular to our current path.
The parking area lay short distance to the right, but we still weren’t quite finished with our adventure. We turned left and headed through more rocks to reach the North Grove, which we could see a short ways away.
A little bit of minor rock scrambling brought us to the Grove.
A sixth and final grove, Mary’s Grove, lay up another canyon just beyond, but we neglected to make the journey. Instead, we turned around and headed back out the wash.
We continued straight, following the sandy wash bottom, and it led us straight back to the parking area to conclude our loop.
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Take I-8 east to the Ocotillo/Imperial Highway exit. Turn left onto Imperial Highway/S2 (which eventually changes name to Sweeny Pass Road). Follow S2 for approximately 17.3 miles (note: you will pass through a Border Patrol checkpoint) to the turn-off for Mountain Palms Springs campground on your left. Follow this dirt road for approximately .6 miles to the end where you will find a large parking area. map
A note on road conditions:
Once you turn off S2 you will be driving on a dirt/sand road. This road was in good condition when we went and we had no issues in our little passenger car. You can check road conditions in the park here, or by calling the Anza-Borrego Visitor’s Center at 760-767-4205.
||Easy – Moderate
||Dogs not allowed
||Bikes not allowed
||Vault toilet in parking area; No water
For more information, visit:
California State parks: Anza-Borrego State Park
View route or download GPX in CalTopo