Tubb Canyon Trail to Big Spring in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park hike

Driving around Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, you will pass quite a few unnamed or unmarked footpaths heading off somewhere into the desert. If you are curious enough to venture down one of these mysterious trails, make your way to Tubb Canyon. Located near Culp Valley Primitive Campground in the San Ysidro Mountains on the west side of the park, Tubb Canyon Trail offers an easy 1.5-mile round trip hike with 200 feet of elevation gain. The trail ends beneath Pinyon Ridge where a trickle of water flows from Big Spring down a rocky desert canyon toward the Borrego Valley.

The trailhead along Montezuma Valley Road has a large dirt turnout, but lacks a real trail marker next to the worn path other than a sign pointing out that ground fires and shooting are prohibited. The trail goes straight south from the road, taking a gradually uphill course across a desert plane in Culp Canyon.

Brush and fun desert plants like cholla cacti, yucca, and agave line the trail. To the Southeast, you will see a couple short boulder-covered peaks that rise above Tubb Canyon.

Anza-Borrego Desert Tubb Canyon Trail
Looking back down Tubb Canyon Trail toward San Ysidro Mountain

After less than a quarter mile, the trail reaches a saddle at the top of the plane and turns downhill, descending equally gradually into the fan-shaped depression at the top of Tubb Canyon. You will cross Tubb Canyon to reach Big Spring.

Anza-Borrego Desert Tubb Canyon
Hiking down into Tubb Canyon

After hiking downhill for another third of a mile, the path will appear to split in Tubb Canyon. To the left is a V-shaped window through the rocks toward Borrego Valley, 2,500 feet below. Follow the cairns and angle up the trail to the right, which ascends toward a shallow dip in a second ridgeline.

Anza-Borrego Desert Tubb Canyon
Looking back across Tubb Canyon

Crest this second saddle, 2/3 of a mile from the start, and turn downhill toward Big Spring. The trail fades as you reach rock outcroppings just above the canyon containing Big Spring. This is a good place to turn around after 3/4 of a mile of hiking.

For more fun (and a little cross desert hiking), you can venture down to Big Spring, where a small creek is visible trickling down the canyon. This area is historically covered over by willows, cottonwoods, and other dense brush that thrive in the illusive water, but all of that was burned in a lighting fire in 2012. Charred soil and burned branches remain as new plants begin to take root. If you wish, you can venture down to the scorched earth surrounding the spring. On the other side of the canyon is Pinyon Ridge, a long east-west running ridge that towers 2,000 feet above Big Spring.

Anza-Borrego Desert Big Spring
Big Spring below Pinyon Ridge

After seeing what you can at Big Spring, simply hike back the way you came. In the spring you may spot flowering chia, lupines, barrel cactus, fern-leaved phacelia, bush sunflower, and other colorful plants along the trail. Dogs and mountain bikes are not allowed. No fee or permit is required to hike Tubb Canyon Trail to Big Spring, so get out and enjoy!

To get to the trailhead: From Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, drive 1.3 miles west on Palm Canyon Road. Turn left on Montezuma Valley Road (Route S22), which is 0.4 miles before the park visitor center. Drive southwest on Montezuma Valley Road for 6.2 miles and pull off into a dirt turnout on the right (north) side of the road. Tubb Canyon Trail begins from the south side of the road, across from the turnout.

From outside the west side of the park, take Route 79 to Warner Springs and continue south on Route 79 for 3.5 miles. Turn left (east) on San Felipe Road and proceed 4.7 miles to Montezuma Valley Road. Turn left and drive 11.2 miles on Montezuma Valley Road (2 miles past Culp Valley Primitive Campground) and pull into the large dirt parking area on the left, just past mile marker 11. Tubb Canyon Trail begins from the south side of the road, across from the turnout.

Trailhead address: Montezuma Valley Road, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Ranchita, CA 92066
Trailhead coordinates: 33.211274, -116.438534 (33° 12′ 40.58″N 116° 26′ 18.72″W)

Trail Map
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Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding California Desert trails and campgrounds.


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These photos were taken in March of 2013. Click to enlarge.
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Tagged with · California State Parks · Free Trails · San Ysidro Mountains
Distance: 1.5 miles · Elevation change: 200 feet

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