Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial
Hotspots Near You

248. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, California

This vast park east of San Diego is home to about 300 bird species.

A collection of arid landscapes and habitats and diverse bird species drew me to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which occupies eastern San Diego County and reaches into Imperial and Riverside Counties. From the desert floor of the Colorado Desert to several towering mountain ranges, the park covers nearly 600,000 acres. Elevations range from near sea level to 6,200 feet.

Anza-Borrego offers lots of great places to bird. Raptors hover high above, and last winter, record numbers of Swainson’s Hawks arrived. Steller’s Jays are spotted in the higher elevations, and Greater Roadrunners scamper across the desert scrub. Fan-palm oases are a shady option for Black-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, and southeastern California holds a strong population of Burrowing Owls.

Two of my favorite fan-palm oases are Palm Canyon, located north of the visitor center, and Hellhole Canyon, just south of it. I’ve sat in the shade on granite boulders beneath the palms, waiting patiently. As spring water gently flows through the oasis, birds come and go. And in spring, don’t miss the hawk watch, located along Di Giorgio and Borrego Valley Roads. It tallies as many as 500 Swainson’s Hawks per day. — Chuck Graham

Chuck Graham is a freelance writer and photographer ( who often writes about birds in California. He also wrote about Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, Hotspot Near You No. 116, Soda Lake, Bakersfield, No. 123, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151, Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, No. 154, Mendocino Headlands State Park,  Mendocino, No. 167, Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, No. 185, Pinnacles National Park, No. 200, Agua Fria National Monument, Black Canyon City, Arizona, No. 203, Ormond Beach and Wetlands, Oxnard, No. 227, and Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Idaho Springs, Colorado, No. 234.

248. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, California


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the second largest state park in the lower 48 states. From San Diego and other coastal cities, take Hwy. 78 east to Hwy. 79 and head north. Drive 11.4 miles, turn right onto S2, go 4.7 miles, and turn left onto S22. Continue 17 miles to Palm Canyon Rd. in Borrego Springs and turn left to reach the visitor center.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
33°15’29.27″N 116°24’24.06″W


Desert washes, badlands, montane chaparral and oak woodlands, pine forests, canyons, California fan-palm oases, and several mountain ranges.


Flat desert trails to steep, rock canyons. Trail near visitor center wheelchair-accessible.


300 species. American Wigeon, Ruddy and Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead, Redhead, Hooded Merganser, California and Gambel’s Quail, White-winged Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Anna’s and Costa’s Hummingbirds, Verdin, Horned Lark, Cactus Wren, Western Bluebird, Steller’s Jay, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Black-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Brewer’s Blackbird, Lesser Goldfinch, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier, Merlin, Great Horned and Burrowing Owls.

When to go

October through May.


Primitive camping, developed campgrounds, restrooms, visitor center, restaurants. Borrego Springs Desert Birding Festival to be held March 15-17, 2017. The Borrego Birders hosts outings on Wednesday mornings; times posted at park headquarters.


State park. Open year-round from dawn until dusk. $10 day-use fees to enter campgrounds; overnight camping fees from $10 to $80. Visitor center hours: October 16-May 14, daily, 9-5; May 15-October 15, weekends and holidays only, 9-5.


Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and lip balm, sunglasses, and a hat. Temps can fluctuate from freezing to 100 degrees, so dress in layers. Wear good hiking shoes.

For more info

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, (760) 767-4205

Sites nearby

Salton Sea
About 30 miles east of Borrego Springs. 380-square-mile sea surrounded by fields, riparian areas, and other habitat for birds.

San Elijo Lagoon
Hotspot Near You No. 27
Just south of Encinitas and 20 miles north of San Diego. Light-footed Clapper Rail, Western Snowy Plover.

← Back to Hotspots