Slot Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert, CA

• 4-star hike
• 2.2 mile loop
• Medium difficulty | Gain 300 feet
• Ocotillo Wells, CA | Southwest US
• Driving Directions: Trailhead

Starts wide and gets progressively narrower.

The wild and arrid expanse of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is less than two hours East of San Diego, on a spectacular journey that's so scenic you'll hardly notice the long drive. However, there's a good chance you'd still miss this impressive slot canyon near Ocotillo Wells if you didn't know what to look for - when we journeyed out there there wasn't a sign in sight to direct you down the dirt trail to the trailhead.

Often known as just "The Slot" this well-travelled path snakes through a tight siltstone canyon with 40-foot high walls towering above you. Our recommended clockwise route follows the off-roading trail heading West, drops into the canyon down a steep sandy slope, and leads up the slot canyon back to the parking lot. Initially the slot is wide enough to accommodate four-wheel-drive vehicles, but eventually becomes so narrow you're going to wish that you hadn't eaten so many cheeseburgers last week. We didn't do a good job of capturing the narrow slot canyon in photos, though we did make a poor-quality video that we link to in this article to give you a good impression of what to expect.

Slot Canyon Loop

Slot Canyon Loop 4★
2.2 mi, Loop, Medium, Gain 300 ft
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails

An alternative approach is to immediately drop into the canyon from the trailhead. We don't think this is the best way to experience this geological marvel, but we can understand that some would want to eschew the two mile desert walk in favor of getting straight to the heart of the site. Unfortunately this does result in problems where two-way foot traffic meets the tightest of canyon spots, and this is best overcome by arriving early or at off-peak times.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is best explored in the shoulder months to avoid the heat, and particularly in late February and early March when wildflower displays can carpet the desert floors.

We assume it is intentional that there are no signposts leading from State Route 78 to avoid crowding the area. Locating the dirt road off the highway should be easy when using our driving directions link at the top of the page. Follow the dirt road for 1.8 miles until you reach the trailhead where the road takes a sharp left turn.

A mile of the Anza-Borrego Desert before reaching The Slot's East entrance.

Steep sandy hill down into the slot canyon. | Get ready for a squeeze. [YouTube]

Bring cash as trailhead parking requires a fee payment unless you already paid at the Visitor Center some 17 miles distant, but close to Borrego Springs. This short hike is a popular attraction for this State Park, so try and arrive early - particularly on weekends and holidays when the parking lot fills up quickly.

If you're heading West when you've finished exploring the park, consider checking out the small town of Julian where you can stretch your legs and explore the gold-rush era town with an ice cream in hand. The town is also well known for its locally baked apple pies, made with the fruit from locally grown apple orchards.

One of over 130 large metal sculptures scattered around Borrego Springs.

• Trail Links: Official, Public Map at AllTrails
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

Trailspotting YouTube
Hiking through the slot canyon. Our video provides a good idea of what to expect.
Check out our clip here.

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