72 Mi.(116 KM)
% Rideable (time)
The Anza-Hapaha Overnighter loop starts and ends in the small town of Borrego Springs, California. This 72-mile route follows mostly dirt and sand roads and offers a quick tour through magical landscapes, wind-sculpted canyons, and the vibrant Colorado Desert, a subset of the Sonoran Desert ecoregion. The loop falls mostly within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP), which takes its name from 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, the Spanish word for sheep. Boasting 600,000 acres—one-fifth of San Diego County—it’s the largest state park in California.
The route follows desert washes and weaves in and out of rock formations and colorful badlands, large arid landscapes, and craggy desert mountains. Even more interesting is the layered history that can be seen throughout. ABDSP lies in a unique geologic setting along the western margin of the Salton Trough, a now inland area of southeastern California that wasn’t always a desert. The expanses of ABDSP’s eroded badlands contain glimpses into its vanished tropical past, and a fossil record that includes preserved plants, a variety of invertebrate shells, animal tracks, and an array of bones and teeth. Most fossils found in ABDSP date from six million to under a half million years in age.
Anza-Borrego’s unique cactus-shrub ecosystem features a wealth of flora and fauna. Plants along these roads include the the palo verde tree, velvet mesquite, a variety of cacti, and massive, flowering ocotillo. Seasonal wildflower displays (March/April) can be seen along the route, for which it was purposefully designed. Throughout the park, visitors may catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep, kit foxes, mule deer, coyotes, greater roadrunners, golden eagles, black-tailed jackrabbits, ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, quail, prairie falcons, or even mountain lions. In the reptile family, there are countless lizards, desert iguanas, chuckwallas, and red diamond rattlesnakes.
In terms of difficulty, the Anza-Hapaha Overnighter is a 5 out of 10. This doesn’t mean it’s easy. However, with the proper planning and preparation, it’s not difficult. The three main reasons it was assigned a five are: 1. Its sandy roads contain some deep sections that may require walking; 2. There is no water along the way; and 3. There are a couple places that require bike portage at the end of Pinyon Wash, just before Pinyon Wash Road. These massive boulders require lowering the bike down, which might be difficult to do solo. That’s not to say it’s not possible, but you might need to remove luggage and gear and do it in phases. See the Must Know tab for other details.
- Spectacular wildflower displays around the super bloom, usually in March
- Cycling among some of Ricardo Breceda’s 130 massive metal sculptures, scattered amongst the desert in Borrego Springs
- Avoiding the jeep tourists on the less-traveled Old Borrego Road and Hapaha Flats
- Weaving in and out of high walls within Fish Creek Wash
- Camping amongst kangaroo rats above Fish Creek Wash
- The dazzling displays of light on the colorful badlands at sunset and sunrise
- Seeing layers of history in the sedimentary canyon walls
- Spotting wildlife along the way
- Passing massive ocotillo, yucca, and agave
- Studying the tiny wonderland of succulents and plants on the desert floor
- October-April are the best months to visit Anza-Borrego, although the bookend months may be hot, depending.
- Be prepared for a freak cold snap in the winter months. December through February see highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s (°F).
- Many visitors come to Anza-Borrego for the wildflowers and cactus, which bloom from January or February through March or April. March is usually the best bet.
- Parking is available anywhere in town. We asked the Sheriff, who let us park at the station.
- Although I rode this route with 2.35” tires, I highly recommend plus or fat tires. It had rained recently, so much of the sand roads were well-packed. Depending on wind and weather, the roads might be softer and perhaps have sections of deep sand that are unrideable. Old Kane Springs road and the upper parts of Fish Creek Wash might be particularly sandy.
- Warning: this route should be ridden by at least two people. There are two significant portages down boulders in Pinyon Wash, just before Pinyon Wash Road. This could be done solo, but it might require removing luggage, etc.
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is unique in that it offers free dispersed camping. This means you can camp anywhere within Anza-Borrego State Park as long as you are at least 100 yards away from any water source. As always, make minimal impact on the land, do not burn found wood (no fires), and absolutely Leave No Trace.
- The best place to backcountry camp along this route is in the higher areas of Fish Creek Wash near Harper Flats. The higher up you go, the more vegetation there is.
- There are a few basic hotels and lodging options in Borrego Springs. If you’re car camping prior to setting out, there is a dirt road with pullouts south of town (just west of the dinosaur and eagle sculptures).
- Carry all the water you need for this route; there are no reliable water sources along the way. We carried 7-8 liters between the two of us (which wasn’t enough, but we got by).
- There is a minimal resupply option off route at Ocotillo Wells (see map). Don’t expect much, and check the RV store hours.