Desert Access Guide - Points of Interest
North of Interstate 8, Table Mountain offers views of the In-Ko-Pah Mountains and Jacumba Mountain. Table Mountain provides numerous opportunities for recreation. The Table Mountain area has been designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and private lands border public lands on Table Mountain, please respect all posted signs.
LARK CANYON OFF HIGHWAY VEHICLE (OHV) AREA
Located north of State Highway 94, along McCain Valley Road, Lark Canyon OHV Area contains approximately 30 miles of trails for use by motorcycles and All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) less than 40 inches wide. The surrounding area is designated as "limited use" and riders are required to stay on established roads and trails. Cross-country travel is prohibited. Adjoining the area is Lark Canyon Campground, with individual sites for tent or recreational vehicle camping. Facilities include; tables, fire rings, vault toilets, and water. A user fee is charged for use of the campground.
Approximately 7 miles north of Lark Canyon OHV Area, Cottonwood Campground is nestled in the live oaks along an intermittent stream. Cottonwood Campground contains 30 individual sites for tent or recreational vehicle camping. Facilities include; tables, fire rings, vault toilets, horse corrals, and water. A user fee is charged. Cottonwood Campground is a good jumping-off point for day hikes or overnight backpacking trips into the In-Ko-Pah Mountains. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and private lands border public lands near Cottonwood Campground, please respect all posted signs.
This spur road extends east 1.5 miles to Sacatone Spring, from which Carrizo Gorge (the narrow southern section of the Carrizo Canyon) may be viewed. Several wooden trestles of the now abandoned Arizona-San Diego Railroad can be seen from the overlook. Today, several proposals exist for the abandoned tracks. Reopening the railroad has been suggested while some would like it converted into a hiking trail. Interpretive panels are located at the overlook. Access is via Sacatone Spring Road off McCain Valley Road. See McCain Valley Recreational Opportunity Guide for more information.
This scenic view point is located a short distance east on McCain Valley Road. To the east is Carrizo Canyon. Looking northeast across the mouth of the canyon, the Carrizo Corridor is visible. This gap in the mountains provided an access route for early Spanish, Mexican, and American travelers, including those on the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage. On a clear day, views of over 60 miles are not uncommon.
ANZA-BORREGO DESERT STATE PARK
This is the largest unit of the California State Park System, and shares approximately 150 miles of boundary with BLM public land in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The park offers developed and primitive campsites, a visitor center in Borrego Springs, and outstanding opportunities for hiking, backpacking, nature study, and vehicle touring. Vehicles must remain on established roads. Significant winter rains will often bring blooms of colorful wildflowers in the spring. Visitors venture from far and near to see the wildflowers. Access is by County Highway S2, State Highway 78, and the Borrego Salton Seaway (County Highway S22). For more information, contact Anza Borrego Desert State Park at 760-767-5311.
LAGUNA MOUNTAIN RECREATION AREA
Even before it was designated a recreation area in 1926, Laguna Mountain was a favorite spot for Cleveland National Forest visitors. Popular activities today include camping, hiking, picnicking, snow play, horseback riding, scenic driving, photography, and nature study. Half of the sites at the Burnt Rancheria and Laguna Campgrounds are available on reservations, the other half on "first come, first served" basis. All of the group camps require reservations. Starting in 1997 a National Forest Adventure Pass will be required for recreation use on the Cleveland National Forest. Motorized vehicles driven within the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area must be licensed and must stay on the roads. For additional information, please contact Cleveland National Forest at 858-673-6180.
CORRAL CANYON OHV AREA
This 1800 acre area was set aside as an open area for off-road vehicle users. It was developed with the use of State of California Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Funds (Green Sticker Funds). Twelve miles of OHV trails are accessible from the Four Corners Trailhead. There are challenges for rides of all types of vehicles and operators of all skill levels. Access is by Interstate 8 to Buckman Springs Road. Corral Canyon Road off Buckman Springs Road, leads to the Four Corners Trailhead and staging area. For more information contact the Cleveland National Forest at 858-673-6180.
FISH CREEK MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS
This wilderness resembles a plateau rising as a great wall above the desert basin. From a distance, few dramatic peaks are visible. However, on closer examination, a rugged land of jagged ridges and peaks appears above twisting canyons and small valleys, creating a pristine natural environment. The steep mountain slopes contain limestone outcrops that have resisted erosion. Access this wilderness from Split Mountain Road, which is off Highway 78. See Fish Creek Mountains Wilderness page for more information.
Located within the Coyote Mountains Wilderness, Fossil Canyon exposes a 50-million year record of geologic history. The numerous bluffs and ridges contain sandstone impressions and marine fossils. Fossil Canyon has been designated an ACEC. A gate in the canyon marks the wilderness boundary. Beyond this point no motorized/mechanized vehicles are allowed. This area is excellent for day use staging.
Located within the Jacumba Mountains Wilderness, Davies Valley is a large, picturesque valley with abundant desert vegetation and striking geologic formations. Its relatively isolated location makes an ideal setting for hiking, equestrian use, photography, and nature study. Side canyons and rocks outcrops are rich in quartz crystals, garnets and other gemstones.
VALLEY OF THE MOON
Within the Jacumba Mountains Wilderness, this landscape features granite boulders jumbled in fantastic piles and towers that conceal mazes of passageways and caves. Camping and hiking are popular recreation activities. Campfires must be confined to the fire rings provided to protect against wildfire.
SAWTOOTH MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS
Ridges and valleys alternate here rising from 1,400 to 5,600 feet. The ridges extend like fingers from the Laguna Mountains into the desert, creating the alluvial valleys of Vallecito, Inner Pasture and Canebrake Canyon. More than 200 species of plants are believed to grow within the wilderness, where vegetation transforms from a dense chaparral at the higher elevations to low desert creosote brush. The only legal access into the wilderness is from the Pepperwood Trail at the end of the McCain Valley Road. View Sawtooth Mountains Wilderness page for more information.
PACIFIC CREST NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL
Open to non-mechanized use only, the Pacific Crest Trail follows the crests of the west coast mountains from Mexico to Canada. The 2500 mile trail is a popular journey for adventurous hikers. Permits are required for overnight camping along the trail on National Forest lands. For additional information contact the Cleveland National Forest at 858-673-6180.
CARRIZO GORGE WILDERNESS
East of McCain Valley Road, this wilderness offers some of the most expansive scenic vistas in the California desert. Views stretching 100 miles or more are common on clear days. Three peninsular bighorn sheep herds call the area home, and the San Diego coast horned lizard, Swainson's hawk, golden eagle and other birds of prey have all been spotted here. California fan palms line the edges of dry washes and narrow canyons, creating desert oases. A portion of the In-Ko-Pah Mountains ACEC is within the wilderness. View Carrizo Gorge Wilderness page for more information.
JACUMBA MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS
This wilderness is located on the eastern flank of southern California's coastal peninsular ranges, extending to the International border. The Jacumba's are a broad range, made up of ridges and intervening valleys. This wilderness contains mule deer, Peninsular bighorn sheep, golden eagles, the Mexican Trinidad Merriam kangaroo rat, and small oases of California fan palms. Valley of the Moon and Davies Valley are a few of the popular destinations in the Jacumba Mountains Wilderness. The wilderness can be accessed from either Interstate 8 at In-Ko-Pah Exit or Highway 98 at Clark Road. View Jacumba Mountains Wilderness page for more information.
CUYAMACA RANCHO STATE PARK
This 25,000 acre park sits between 3800 and 6512 feet in elevation in the peninsular range of mountains of central San Diego County. The park offers a museum and park gift shop, and you can reserve the 166 developed family campsites with pay showers, primitive campsites, cabins and equestrian campsites as well as group sites for equestrians and non-equestrians. Undisturbed wilderness, pristine meadows, and slopes covered with oak, pine and cedar offer outstanding opportunities for hiking its 110 miles of trails, fishing at Cuyamaca Lake, horseback riding, natural and cultural study, and often snow play in the winter months. Access is by Interstate 8 east of San Diego and north on Highway 79. For additional information contact Cuyamaca Rancho State Park at 760-765-0755.
PINE CREEK WILDERNESS
The 13,100 acre Pine Creek Wilderness is located south of I-8, near Lake Morena County Park. It is mountainous terrain, with elevations ranging from 2,000 feet to 4,000 feet. The vegetation is almost entirely chamise, chaparral, and scruboak; encounter deer, mountain lion, coyote, gray fox, hawks, owls, and various reptiles. Motorized vehicles and bicycles are prohibited within the wilderness. A permit is required for overnight camping. For more information contact the Cleveland National Forest at 858-673-6180.
The Hauser Wilderness is an 8,000 acre area with elevations from 1,600 to 3,700 feet in mountainous terrain with steep slopes. Granite boulders and rock outcrops are common throughout the wilderness. Motorized vehicles and bicycles are prohibited within the wilderness. A permit is required for overnight camping. For more information contact the Cleveland National Forest at 858-673-6180.
SUNRISE NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY
The 24-mile long Sunrise National Scenic Byway is located 50 miles east of San Diego. It extends north from I-8, one mile east of Pine Valley to its intersection with State Route 79, eight miles south of Julian. Visitors traveling the Byway will find constantly changing vistas of picturesque mountain meadows, pine and oak forests, and complex chaparral ecosystems. Spectacular panoramic views of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, 6,000 feet below, greet visitors who take this route. Spring brings abundant wildflowers in the meadows, and in the fall the oaks turn a magnificent yellow. Visitors will also find numerous campgrounds, picnic areas, and information centers.
AREAS OF CRITICAL ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN (ACECs)
Certain lands managed by the BLM, have been designated ACECs. ACECs are areas that contain significant natural, archeological, or historical resources. Please respect all signs regarding ACECs and their management.
Although recreational opportunities exist throughout the entire desert, use caution when in proximity to the United States-Mexico border. Both U.S. and Mexican authorities patrol the border area. Do not under any circumstances cross the border without using a port of entry. Entering the US or Mexico without using a port of entry is dangerous and illegal.