When we head south to warmer temperatures for the winter, we’re not content hanging at an all-inclusive RV resort. Sure, the pool would be nice, the pickleball courts fun, and the large air-conditioned pavilion great for meetings and greetings. But we love being outdoors – hiking, biking, chatting with fellow RVers over an evening campfire, and watching the stars appear as dusk evolves to dark skies. Luckily, we found a great part of Southern California that more than meets all our needs as active snowbirds.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
We kicked off our snowbirding at Anza Borrego Desert State Park near Borrego Springs in southern California. This park offers both full-hookup and no-hookup sites. One of the things we love about our Winnebago is the ability to enjoy both venues. This time we chose to go without hookups because it gave us an up-close view of the surrounding mountains and a large, spread out site.
Several of the campsites have ramadas built of local stone and timbers constructed by the CCC back in the 1930s. Some of these even have operational stone fireplaces. The full-hookup sites are also a good option, but we found the spacing between campsites a little too close for us, particularly when we could instead enjoy the wide-open spaces closer against the mountains and operate off the grid.
Although we didn’t have one of the cool ramadas, our chosen site was well situated for great views. Since we were dry camping, we set up our solar panels and with the California sunshine, we were set to live here without the need for our generator in this magnificent desert landscape.
Nearby Outdoor Activities
But, enough of camping discussions – the activities are why we come to Anza Borrego! First, we biked the three-quarter mile paved trail over to the partially underground Visitor Center. It’s a very informative VC with a terrific video and lots of information about the desert, its plants, and its creatures. There are also ranger programs, such as an early morning birding walk we joined.
Leaving directly from the campground, we hiked the 2.9-mile loop trail to the Palm Canyon Oasis. This was an easy hike (with a little scrambling at the end) to an amazing place. Here, amid the coolness from the water and shade from the palms, we could enjoy our packed lunch and talk with other hikers. Catching sight of mountain goats along the cliff walls honed our perception skills as well as bringing further enjoyment to the hike.
Exploring Borrego Springs
Another day, we biked several miles to the town of Borrego Springs for some shopping, lunch in town, and a visit to the art museum. Photos of the spring wildflowers over the years kept us “ahhing” at what a beautiful place this is and made us want to return for the flower show. Exact dates are dependent on rainfall, but this website tells you what is blooming and where. February and early March are times to watch for best profusions.
Roads are generally quiet when blooms are not at peak, so we biked a loop along the local roads out to the Sky Art Sculpture Garden. This sculpture park is spread across many square miles in the Galleta Meadows Estate and features over 130 sculptures done by Ricardo Breceda. There are huge steel plate sculptures of prehistoric animals that once roamed this area, including the elephant-like gomphothere, Columbian mammoths, saber-tooth cats, and dinosaurs, as well as a giant scorpion and a dragon-headed serpent creature that squirms in and out of the desert. What great photo ops!
While biking near the town of Borrego Springs, we also discovered a very nice RV resort. The Springs at Borrego RV Resort has all the amenities that a typical RV snowbird would want. The pool, the clubhouse, and the golf course all looked good to us, but this trip we preferred our rustic choice. (Read this article for more about Borrego Springs).
After many days of hiking, biking, and exploring at Anza Borrego, we were ready to soak our bodies in healing waters. Agua Caliente, a San Diego County Park just 31 miles away, was just the place to camp next.
Quick Pie Stop in Julian
On our drive, we took a short detour to the quaint western town of Julian, CA. There is a small grocery store for restocking along with several western outfitting stores, and shops selling local products reflecting the fruit grown in the area. The prime reason to detour to Julian, though, is to stop, purchase, and eat some of the pies from the Julian Pie Company. AND, to put some in the freezer as we continue our journey. Ahhh, the RV life.
Hot Spring Hopping
Once at Agua Caliente, we set up quickly and headed over to the hot spring pools. All three pools are naturally fed from an underground hot spring. There is an indoor hot spring pool maintained at around 102 degrees, an outdoor pool at a warm, but refreshing temperature, and a children’s pool for those with little ones. We most enjoyed the outdoor pool, soaking up the warm waters while basking in the sun’s rays, bird watching, and enjoying the changing colors of the sky and mountains in the desert oasis.
Agua Caliente is equipped with both improved campsites with water and electric, and no-hookup sites. The campsites are more spaced out than the full-hookup sites at Anza Borrego and all have amazing views.
What fun to discover that this county park even had horseshoe and shuffleboard courts. Having joined some of our California friends at this campground, we competed for the last few pieces of our Julian Pie. Good thing we won!
Other Nearby Activities
Hiking is also available here at the park. One trail threads 1.6 miles through Moonlight Canyon behind the campground. We hiked this trail in the daytime, but we heard that when visiting this park in the summer, this trail is a popular night time hike, especially with a full moon.
But, we were far from the first to discover this area. It is situated along the Butterfield Overland Stage route which operated from 1859 to 1861, between San Antonio and San Diego. We took a short drive over to the Vallecito Stage Station to learn more about the history.
This area of Southern California offers a great option for snowbirding. It has great weather in the winter and plenty of activities – all in a scenic outdoor environment!