Boondocking, dry camping, primitive camping, dispersed camping. These terms all refer to camping for free out in the “boondocks” — away from civilization and outside of developed campgrounds. As full time RV travelers, we usually end up having to pay a nightly fee to stay in an “RV Park”, which provides a place to park our 5th wheel, along with “hookups”, the electric, water, and sewer connections that allow us the conveniences of a typical stationary home. To me it’s a stretch to refer to staying in an RV park as camping, so sometimes it’s nice to stay out in the middle of nowhere and enjoy the outdoors, privacy, and solitude nature provides (and did I mention the FREE part?).
One of the great things about Anza Borrego Desert State Park is it allows free dispersed camping throughout the park, but only as long as you remain within one vehicle length of the road. Well, the free part is great, but the part about staying right next to the road is kind of contradictory to the whole idea of boondocking. It’s not really in the boondocks if it’s right next to the main road, is it?
Luckily, we found a great spot more closely aligned with our idea of boondocking. I’m not sure if this area is technically inside the park boundaries or if it’s private property just outside the park, but it’s accessible with an RV and allowed us to pick a spot pretty far away from anyone else and away from the main road. There were a few other RVers there (within shouting distance), but all far enough away we weren’t bothered and didn’t really notice them. It turned out to be the perfect boondocking spot and we’ll try to return there again next time we’re in the area.
- To get to Borrego Springs and the state park, we drove on CA-76 east from Oceanside, which led to S22 and right into town and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center.
- To get to the dry camping spots from the Visitor Center, take Palm Canyon Dr (S22) east. Follow the road as it curves north into Pegleg Rd, then just as it starts to curve east again, turn left onto Rockhouse Trail. Pick any spot along Rockhouse Trail. It’s a small dirt road that leads through several dispersed camping areas. It’s about 9 miles from the visitor center.
- To get to the Salton City dump station, take S22 east from Rockhouse Trail for 20 miles. The road gets very bumpy and washboardy a couple miles before the Arco station.
Since we don’t like to travel with full water tanks (water weighs a lot takes up a significant chunk of our trailer’s rated payload capacity), we drove to Borrego Springs with nearly empty tanks, then stopped at the park’s RV campground near the visitor center to fill up with fresh water for an $8 fee. Our boondocking campsite was only a few miles from the visitor center, so this worked out perfectly. At the end of our stay, we drove to Salton City about 20 miles east on California Route S22 and found an Arco station with RV dumping for free with a fuel fillup.
After we got set up at our campsite, I got the bikes out and kids enjoyed riding around and exploring the area. It’s definitely a desolate place right in the middle of the Colorado Desert. There isn’t much vegetation, definitely no trees, but a few creosote bushes scattered around. The mountains provided a nice view and the temperature was just perfect for a 3 day visit with highs around 85. The kids loved camping there because they could wander around and explore and play (with a warning to watch out for snakes and scorpions — no we didn’t see any).
We had a bit of a scare our first night camping. The wind picked up and howled all night, shaking and rocking our trailer. I’m not sure what the windspeed got up to, but our chairs and cooler were trying to blow away so I had to put them away. It kept things interesting for sure and made for a long and worrisome night, but when morning came all was calm again and we went about enjoying the rest of our stay.
The timing of our visit to the desert coincided with the new moon and perfectly clear skies, providing a great view of the stars. We didn’t break out the telescope this time because of the wind, but it was still fun to help the kids pick out some constellations and see the Milky Way.
Our favorite part of Anza Borrego was hiking through “The Slot”. This narrow canyon hike was about 1.5 miles round-trip and was pretty easy. The kids loved climbing over and squeezing through narrow passages and exploring in the canyon. After we got through the narrow part of the hike, we were surprised to find caterpillars crawling all over the canyon floor. They were everywhere, trying to climb up the sides of the canyon, but failing, slipping and rolling back to the canyon floor. There was no vegetation in the canyon, so we think they all blew in from up above during the strong winds the night before. Of course the kids wanted to try and save them. Life lessons or something.
Videos of our hike
Part I –
Part II –
We were just in time to see a lot of blooming wildflowers.
We found some neat statue art along the road near Borrego Springs.