Looking for information on the Anza Borrego slot canyon hike?! You’re in the right place → we just went to Borrego Springs and I’m here to share everything you need to know about The Slot in Anza Borrego State Park!
Tall narrow passages. A pink and tan siltstone canyon. Floating rocks. The slot canyon in Anza Borrego shouldn’t be missed on any trip to Borrego Springs! It’s nestled right in the heart of Anza Borrego State Park, and I still find it super crazy that it’s right here in California!
Imagine wandering through 40-foot high canyon walls in a remote part of the desert. It’s such a unique hike in Anza Borrego — such remarkable topography! The canyon walls get so narrow you have to literally squeeze your way through parts of it! The Slot in Anza Borrego is the most visited slot canyon in the state park, most likely because regular cars can easily drive on the dirt access road!
So if you’re looking for a fun (and short) desert adventure, don’t miss it! We loved it! The Slot (the hikes nickname) was easily one of our favorites of all the things we did in nearby Borrego Springs. Let’s get to it!
- Trail Length: 1 mile
- Route type: Loop trail or out and back (you pick)
- Elevation Gain: ~100 feet
- Level: Easy
- Parking Info: small dirt lot near trailhead
- Cost: $10, possibly (more on this below)
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Restrooms: 2 singles at the trailhead
The Slot hike felt similar-ish to larger favorites like Antelope Canyon in Arizona but on a smaller scale (i.e. not as impressive) and without the bright oranges and reds. We found the colors at the Anza Borrego slot canyon to be kinda drab, a light brown/gray without many light patterns and definitely no beams. I don’t say this to deter you; I just wanna keep your expectations in check. Still pretty fascinating to walk through though!
Where is The Slot Canyon Hike
You’ll find The Slot within Anza Borrego Desert State Park near Borrego Springs. And where’s that exactly (haha)? About an hour and a half east of San Diego (and still within San Diego County!). It’s also 1 ½ hours from Palm Springs, 1 ½ hours from the southern entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, 1 ½ hours from Salvation Mountain, and 45 minutes from Julian (that town with the infamous apple pie). You can easily make a day trip to The Slot from any of these areas if you’re pressed for time.
It’s a bit further from LA at around 3 hours and OC from ~2 ½ hours, so those would be super long day trips. Might as well stay overnight at that point! Anza Borrego is actually the largest state park in California, with over 600,000 acres to explore. So there’s no reason to rush a trip to the desert.
What to Bring to The Slot
Since The Slot is kinda in a remote spot in the state park, you’ll wanna come fully prepared. There’s no services or rangers on duty over here. The little town of Borrego Springs isn’t terribly far (just about 20 minutes away or so), so it’s not like you’re completely in the middle of nowhere. But once you get to the trailhead, there’s nothing (although there is a pit toilet!).
- Wear a hat, sunscreen, and protective clothing
- A small backpack (nothing large). My husband brought a small belt bag and we kept our keys and other necessities in there.
- Comfortable hiking shoes would be great, although we wore regular sneakers and were just fine
- $10 CASH for possible parking/entrance fee
- A small hydration pack or water bottle; and turn around if your water is ½ way gone (bring lots just in case)
- A salty snack (like pretzels, salted nuts, chips)
What Not to Bring:
- No large bags! It’s hard enough to squeeze through the narrowest parts as it is! We actually saw someone lugging a large cooler and he had particular difficulty getting through the slot canyon (his stuff hardly fit and he had to carry it above his head).
- No Large hydration packs
- Zero Trash! Pack it out — there are no trash cans along the trail so plan to take out whatever you bring down
When to Visit The Slot Canyon
Plan to visit one of two times:
- early morning before it gets too hot (although there’s some shade within the slot canyon itself due to its high walls)
- Late afternoon once the sun is lower in the sky
With that being said, Spring and Fall are the best times to visit! And this goes for not only the park and Anza Borrego Slot Canyon but Borrego Springs in general! This is when you’ll find the temps a bit cooler, and not as scorching hot.
The summer months, from May to September, commonly see temps soaring past 100°F – ack! There’s even signs posting extreme heat warnings in effect from April through October. People unfortunately suffer serious illness or even death (!!!) from the HEAT, so come prepared! And always at your own risk.
I mean, this is the desert we’re talking about! And like most desert towns (Palm Springs included), Borrego Springs is hot and dry. The whole area sees very little rain, with the tiny bit it does receive from December to March (but really, it’s hardly much).
To put things in perspective, December and January see average winter daytime temps of around ~70°F, so yeah, it never really actually gets cold cold here.
Getting to The Slot
- Trailhead address: Borrego Mountain Wash, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA 92004
- Trailhead coordinates: 33.18213, -116.21417 (33° 10′ 55.7″N 116° 12′ 51″W)
I could simply tell you to input “Slot Canyon Trail” into Google Maps and leave ya with that, but I’ll go into a tad more detail. 🙂 But for real though, it pulled it right up for us! I read it can be pretty challenging to find, so I’ll give more info. Although we honestly found it right away. Maybe the signage is better than it used to be? But we had no problems whatsoever!
The Slot Canyon trail in Anza Borrego is roughly 20 minutes southeast from Borrego Springs.
If you’re coming from the Borrego Springs Visitor Center, you’ll need to take Borrego Springs Road south for a bit, turn onto Highway 78 for a minute or two, then drive a few miles down dirt roads (first Buttes Pass Road and then Borrego Mountain Wash). Do note the road is a bit sandy, so use caution especially if it’s been raining.
High clearance vehicles are recommended, but don’t worry, it’s doable/passable in a regular car. We had zero problems in our rented sedan (which was quite small).
Important note: You probably won’t have cell service over here (actually pretty positive you won’t), so you can either download offline maps ahead of time or use WiFi at your hotel. Make sure to plug in “Slot Canyon Trail” before making your way to the hike.
If you’re using WiFi, make sure not to exit the directions once you press start as you won’t be able to activate them again! When you’re all done and it’s time to leave, just go the same way you came and if you’re lucky you’ll regain service as you get closer to the town of Borrego Springs.
Parking at The Slot
You’ll see a small parking lot at the end of a dead-end road where the trailhead starts. We parked no problem, but by the time we left, it was completely full. Do yourself a favor and get here early!
Some people claim to have waited 30-40 minutes to be allowed in (due to not many parking spaces), although we drove right up to the parking area so I’m not sure if this is maybe due to weekend crowds.
So, you may or may not need to pay to hike The Slot in Anza Borrego. Why the confusion? It used to be completely free, but recently, park rangers have been on the road collecting fees/checking park passes. But only sometimes. If they are collecting, you’ll need to fork over $10 — CASH ONLY. So make sure you bring some money just in case!
There were no park rangers or guards collecting fees when we went in early April 2021. I’m not sure if they’ve recently been more diligent about it, but I’ve read comments from those visiting in previous months getting charged. We happened to hike the canyon mid-week, so that’s possibly why? If you’re hiking over the weekend I would 100% expect to pay the ten bucks. It’s worth it though — I promise!
And don’t get upset if you need to pay — The Slot is part of Anza Borrego Desert State Park, which you technically need a pass for anyways…. so yeah. No hard feelings, haha. Your money goes to supporting and sustaining the park after all!
Other tips when visiting the Anza Borrego Slot Canyon
- Flash Flooding: Yes, rain can happen in the middle of the desert! And all slot canyons (including The Slot in Anza Borrego) are susceptible to flash flooding — without any warning at all. Avoid hiking The Slot if there’s any rain (at all) in the forecast, as rain from miles away can make its way to the canyons. Ultimately leading to a possible flash flood, which is super hard to escape from if you’re down in a slot canyon. People have become seriously injured or even died. Use caution and hike at your own risk — and ALWAYS check the weather prior to heading out!
- Bring Water: As noted earlier, it’s hot hot hot in the desert. And The Slot is no exception. I suggest you carry at least a liter of water per person, and once you finish half, turn back around! But don’t bring anything too large if you wanna easily get through the narrow parts of the canyon!
- Avoid Crowds and be Courteous: You’ll hardly ever have The Slot Canyon all to yourself. But if you want the best chance, definitely go mid-week in the early morning. We encountered some people on our hike, and it was kinda tricky to navigate past them. The super narrow canyon walls don’t leave much space, so if you see people heading through a particular section, let them pass to a wider area then you can go.
- Leave No Trace: Whenever you’re hiking (here at the slot canyon in Anza Borrego or elsewhere), always follow the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. This includes leaving the landscape exactly as you found it, packing out all trash, and not taking any rocks/sand from the area. Do your part!
How Slot Canyons are formed
But wait! First of all, what are slot canyons exactly? A quick Google search tells us that a slot canyon “is a long, narrow, deep and tortuous channel or drainageway with sheer rock walls”. They’re usually eroded into sandstone or other sedimentary rock. And get this — slot canyons have a depth-to-width ratio that typically exceeds 10:1. Meaning the height of the walls are crazy high and the width is super narrow!
Slot canyons are formed and created by flash floods and flowing water eroding rock over millions of years. These things didn’t form overnight! Crazy what Mother Nature can do!
The Slot in Anza Borrego is one of the few slot canyons in Southern California, with some others being in Death Valley National Park and Ladder Canyon & Painted Canyon Trail (still on my California bucket list) near Mecca.
The Anza Borrego Slot Canyon Hike
Finally, now that we’ve gotten all that outta the way, I get to gush about the actual hike now! The entire slot canyon hike is pretty short, (took us less than an hour round trip), so you can make this your morning activity then head to the pool for the rest of the afternoon.
Just one thing — The Slot is made of siltstone, meaning it’s exceptionally brittle. Because of this, watch your footing and be extra careful if you decide to climb around. We followed the main path and were completely fine.
Starting the hike:
There’s two main ways to get down into the Anza Borrego Slot Canyon itself —
- Turn right from the parking lot and follow the actual path up (what we did) before going down to the canyon. You’ll see a few trail markers at the beginning. Once you’re down, go left! Can’t miss it!
- Go down the side of the rocky cliff (for more adventurous seekers) → but this looked pretty dangerous so I wouldn’t recommend it. It honestly looks like a sheer drop. We followed the actual trail and made it down faster than those climbing down the cliff anyways!
You’ll soon see the entrance to the start of the slot canyon. Keep going, and the canyon starts to get taller and taller, while the path gets narrower and narrower.
During the hike:
Weaving your way through the canyon is so fun! You never know what’s around the next bend, and it’s filled with breathtaking views and narrow bits.
The narrowest part of the canyon is only about 2 feet wide! Some will most definitely have to squeeze through (!!!), depending on your height and weight. I’m pretty petite and felt like I almost wouldn’t make it during one or two instances! I’m glad we didn’t eat a big breakfast and saved our boozy brunches during our weekend in Palm Springs, haha.
I mean, we even had to turn sideways a few times; it was that narrow! And if you’re wearing a backpack/large hydration pack, be prepared to take it off so you’ll fit through the narrowest bits of the canyon.
Be sure to look out for the natural rock bridge about halfway through the slot canyon; it could fall at any moment but don’t worry, it looks pretty lodged in there for now.
Ending the Hike:
Once you make your way through The Slot (the main attraction over here), the canyon opens up much wider. We walked for quite a bit, but there wasn’t honestly much to see so we eventually turned back around.
The trail is supposed to be a loop, but you can walk back the way you came (so you essentially get to walk through the Anza Borrego Slot Canyon twice!). And trust me, it’s just as fun the second time around. If you absolutely wanna do the loop it’ll add another mile or so to the hike, and it didn’t look like there was tons to see. Obviously just my opinion since we went back the way we walked in.
However, if you walk far enough and know exactly where to look, you’ll come across some wind caves! We were already so stinkin’ hot and tired that once we couldn’t find them (after looking for .2 seconds), we quickly gave up and hiked back to the car.
Other Things To Do in Borrego Springs
If you’re in the area, be sure to check out the other attractions in Borrego Springs! Besides hiking The Slot in Anza Borrego, we enjoyed taking photos with the Galleta Meadows metal sculptures, hanging at the pool (it was so hot out there in the desert), and stargazing once the sun went down!
→ Read about our weekend in Borrego Springs here!
I hope this gives you some insight on hiking the Anza borrego slot canyon! When are you visiting?!