Top Ten Los Angeles Adventures

Culp Valley Walk-In, Anza Borrego State Park

I know of no plant crueler than the desert cholla. Backlit by a low sun, it gives off a soft glow that makes it look warm and welcoming. But the slightest brush against its tiny spines can tear through fabric and flesh—my left leg has the scars to prove it. Like the desert itself, however, the cholla's beauty is enough to make its dark side obsolete. There is no other landscape that feels this rough and free.

Anza Borrego is unusual in that camping is allowed just about anywhere in the park. There's nothing about Culp Valley that makes it particularly campground-like—it has no fire pits, no picnic tables, no facilities at all. It's basically just a backcountry spot that so many visitors deemed perfect for tent-pitching that the park gave it official status. Set up camp amid the boulders and set off into a nearby canyon and you'll see why.

Wandering is the pastime of choice here. A particularly satisfying trail is the five-mile round-trip to Maidenhair Falls. The trailhead is three-quarters of a mile down a turnoff just before the visitor's center. You'll watch the arid terrain become more lush as you walk deep into Hellhole Canyon. At the end, a 20-foot waterfall crashes over moss and ferns—not what you'd expect from a desert.


Directions: Take Highway 15 south to Escondido. Head east on 78, 19 miles past the town of Julian, to Highway S3 (Yaqui Pass Road). Turn left and drive 12 miles to Borrego Springs. Turn right onto S22 (Montezuma Valley Road) and drive 7 miles to the dirt road that leads to Culp Valley.

Travel Time: Approximately 2 1/2 hours

Information: 760-767-5311

Reservations: No

Fee: $5 backcountry parking permit; no camping fee

Open: Year-round


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