South Coyote Canyon Trail

Starting Point:

DiGiorgio Road, 7.6 miles north of Borrego Springs

Finishing Point:

Middle Willows, Coyote Canyon

Total Mileage:

13.2 miles (one-way)

Unpaved Mileage:

13.2 miles

Driving Time:

2.5 hours (one-way)

Elevation Range:

700-1,800 feet

Usually Open:

October 1 to May 31

Best Time to Travel:

October 1 to May 31

Difficulty Rating:


Scenic Rating:


Remoteness Rating:


Special Attractions
  • Challenging historic trail to the southern end of the beautiful Coyote Canyon.

  • Access to many trails suitable for hikers and horseback riders.

  • Prolific and varied succulents in the Desert Gardens.

  • Primitive camping at Sheep Canyon.

  • Juan Bautista de Anza expedition route of 1774 and 1775.


South Coyote Canyon Trail travels up the canyon wash, passing close to a campsite of the second Juan Bautista de Anza expedition in 1775. The campsite was chosen because it had a suitable water source for the expedition; hand-dug wells produced enough water for nearly 800 head of stock and more than 200 people. In time, the area became known as Borrego Sink.

Juan Bautista de Anza first passed through the Borrego Valley in March 1774, on his first route-finding mission to the new Spanish settlements in California. Santa Catarina Springs was their campsite on March 14, 1774. They reached the spring on the feast day of Saint Catherine and, following tradition, named the spring after the saint. Fray Francisco Garcés carved words in a willow tree near the spring re­counting the difficulties they were having with the natives.

Even though the route was partially known on Anza's sec­ond journey in 1775, conditions were just as difficult. The ex­pedition, from Tubac in what was then Sonora, Mexico, (now part of Arizona), would take five and a half months to reach Alta California. The winter was harsh that year, and many expedition members suffered, including Gertrudis Rivas, an ex­pectant mother. The expedition battled its way across the Yuha Desert through winter snows, following San Felipe Creek through the Bor­rego Badlands before heading up the daunting Coyote Canyon. Gertrudis went into labor on Christmas Eve near Middle Willows Spring, just north of Collins Valley past the end of the vehicle trail. She gave birth to a son whom she named named Salvador, meaning "savior" in Spanish. The child's name lives on in Salvador Canyon on the northwest side of Collins Valley.

Set in the heart of Coyote Canyon, Collins Valley was named just after the turn of the twentieth century for a squatter named Collins. He took the opportunity to jump claim on an earlier homesteader's property.

The Galleta Meadows Estate marker near the start of this trail commemorates Sebastian Tarabal, a Cochimi In­dian of Baja California who guided Juan Bautista de Anza on his first expedition through the difficult region.

Rancho De Anza is bypassed these days as the trail enters the first narrows of the canyon. This was one of the earliest farming claims on the old trail, just north of the El Vado historical marker. El vado means a shallow part of a river, effectively a ford.

Doc Beaty, one of the colorful settlers of the Borrego Valley region, had tried his hand at many things: horse breaking, breaking unheard-of records in Wild West shows in Los Angeles, and mining. In 1913, he set about establishing a farm in Coyote Canyon with his family. He went on to become an important figure in the development of old Borrego. In 1927, he sold his valuable 1,000 Palms Ranch, so named because of the many palms upstream in Salvador Canyon. In 1936, the property sold again and was renamed Rancho De Anza by the new owner, A. A. Burnand Jr. Burnand also became a figurehead in Borrego Springs as a founding member of the Borrego Land Development Company.


Coyote Canyon runs from Anza to Borrego Springs and offers two separate vehicle trails, one from the north and one from the south. Of the two, the southern approach is more popular with hikers and four-wheelers. It is also slightly easier, although a rough half-mile sec­tion will test any vehicle. For eight months of the year, hikers, hors­es, and mountain bikers can connect the two trails via a 3-mile sec­tion of the canyon between Middle and Upper Willows. Between June 1 and September 30 each year, Coyote Canyon is closed to all users to protect water sources for the rare peninsular bighorn sheep. A seasonal closure gate after Second Crossing restricts users during this time.

The trail leaves from Borrego Springs to the north, passing the historical marker commemorating Sebastian Tarabal. It passes the graded road to Vern Whitaker Horse Camp before leaving the citrus groves behind and entering Anza-Borrego Desert State Park up a formed, sandy trail. There are three crossings of Coyote Creek; the first is usually dry, the others normally have year-round water that may be up to 24 inches deep. Conventional vehicles can generally handle the trail as far as Second Crossing but should not at­tempt to cross. You can view abundant succulents at the Desert Gardens. The gardens make a pleasant spot for a picnic. Two small tables have been set among the ocotillos, cane chollas, teddy bear chollas, creosote bushes, beaver tails, and prickly pear cacti. Many hiking and horse trails leave from along this trail and access other remote corners of the park.

Second Crossing is approximately 100 yards long, with a moder­ately soft bottom. It is often the deepest of the three crossings, but a slow steady approach in a high-clearance 4WD will normally be trou­ble free. Do not at­tempt this if the creek is in flood or appears unusual­ly deep.

The notoriously difficult stretch of trail comes a short distance after Third Crossing. The trail ascends a steep, rocky pinch that consists of loose, fist-size rocks and large embedded boulders. Careful wheel placement and a spotter to help select the best line and watch the undercarriage are a big advantage. However, with a careful experienced driver at the wheel and a bit of care, most stock SUVs will make the ascent. Good tires with sturdy sidewalls are also an advantage to help minimize the risk of flats from sharp rocks. This is the 6-rated section of the trail, and it extends for half a mile. The first 200 yards are the worst; park at the base of the climb and scout ahead on foot to be sure you want to tackle it. This is not a safe place to back down should you change your mind. It is difficult to pass on this section, so if you see oncoming vehicles, wait for them to finish their descent before you head up.

Once at the saddle, looking north into Collins Valley, the difficult part of the trail is over–although you do have to re­turn the way you came. The trail reverts to a smooth, sandy surface as it descends into Collins Valley. A trail to the east leads a short distance to a historical marker at the site of Juan Bautista de Anza's camp near Santa Catarina Springs. The springs can be seen from the trail a short dis­tance farther. The green growth and trees of the marshy area around the springs stands out clearly in the drier surroundings. The springs are a major source of Coyote Canyon's year-round water supply and attract many species of birds and other animals. The springs themselves cover a large area and are the largest single natural water supply in San Diego County.

The trail forks in a short distance. To the left leads around an alter­nate, slightly longer loop around Sheep Canyon, which passes a primitive camping area with a few pic­nic tables and pit toilets but no other facili­ties. There is no fee. Looking farther up the canyon from the camping area, you can see an area of fan palms. The Indian Canyon-Cougar Canyon trail for hikers and horses also leads off from near the campground. This trail passes an Indian sweat lodge as well as grinding stones.

The main trail continues through Collins Valley before it swings past the entrance to Salvador Canyon, where there are more fan palms, and drops into Coyote Creek. The trail here is lumpy and uneven, but even though it is slow going, it will not cause any difficulty to anyone who has made it this far. Water flows in this section of Coyote Creek for most of the year. The trail ends at the closure gate just south of Middle Willows, where a keen eye will find the mortar beds of Indian camps from a time long past.

The trail is best suited for small and midsize SUV be­cause of a couple spots where there is tight clearance be­tween large boulders. Good clearance and tires, and an ab­sence of side steps and low-hanging brush bars, are a defi­nite advantage.

Current Road Information

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
200 Palm Canyon Drive
Borrego Springs, CA 92004
(760) 767-5311

Map References


Borrego Valley


Cleveland National Forest


1:24,000 Borrego Palm Canyon, Collins Valley, Clark Lake


1:100,000 Borrego Valley

Maptech CD-ROM: San Diego/Joshua Tree
Southern & Central California Atlas & Gazetteer, p. 115
California Road & Recreation Atlas, p. 111
Other: Tom Harrison Maps-San Diego Backcountry Recreation map, Earthwalk Press - Anza-Borrego Desert Region Recreation map, Wilderness Press­Map of the Anza-Borrego Desert Region

Route Directions



From Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, zero trip meter and turn north on Borrego Springs Road. After 2.9 miles, the Galleta Meadows Estate historical marker will be on the right. Swing right 0.3 miles after the marker and join Henderson Canyon Road. After the turn, a dirt road to the left goes to Vern Whitaker Horse Camp. Continue east on Henderson Canyon Road for 4.4 miles to the T-intersection with DiGiorgio Road and zero trip meter. Turn left and proceed north on DiGiorgio Road.



GPS: N33°18.08' W716°21.96'



Graded road on right. Road turns to a formed dirt trail. Continue straight ahead, following the marker for Coyote Canyon.



GPS: N33°19.52' W116°22.01'



Entering Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.



GPS: N33°19.66' W116°22.01'



Desert Trail on left for hikers and horses only (no dogs allowed).



GPS: N33°20.70' W116°22.10'



Alcoholic Pass Hiking Trail on right.



GPS: N33°21.18' W116°22.97'



Desert Gardens plaque on right and couple of
benches and picnic tables.



GPS: N33°21.53' W116°23.48'



Cross through Coyote Creek. This is First Crossing and is often dry.



GPS: N33°21.48' W716°23.79'



Ocotillo Trail for hikers and horses on right.



GPS: N33°21.55' W116°24.01'



Track on left at Anza's Overland Expedition
Marker. Zero trip meter.



GPS: N33°21.51' W116°24.08'



Continue to the west.



Trailhead on left to Horse Trail Camp.



GPS: N33°21.93' W116°24.89'



Second Crossing of Coyote Creek. This normally has water. The trail enters the creek at the Second Crossing marker and bears around to the right.



GPS: N33°21.94' W116°24.92'



Ocotillo Flat Trail on right for hikers and horses only; then seasonal closure gate (closed June 1 to Sept. 30).



GPS: N33°22.12' W116°25.21'



Lower Willows Trail on right for hikers and horses only. Bear left and cross Coyote Creek at Third Crossing. This normally has water.



GPS: N33°22.28' W116°25.36'



Start of difficult 6-rated section of the trail.



End of difficult section. Trail starts to descend to Collins Valley.



Track on right goes 0.3 miles to Santa Catarina State Historical Marker. Follow the marker to Coyote and Sheep Canyons.



GPS: N33°22.21' W716°26.35'



Sheep Canyon Trail for hikers and horses on left.



GPS: N33°22.32' W116°26.90'



Track on left is alternate longer loop via Sheep Canyon Camp. Zero trip meter and follow the marker to Middle Willows.



GPS: N33°22.45' W116°26.90'



Continue to the north. Lower Willows Trail for hikers and horses is on the right just after the intersection. Santa Catarina Springs is visible to the right (south of the trail), marked by palms and abundant growth. Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail parallels the main trail at this point.



Track on left is end of loop through Sheep Canyon. Zero trip meter and follow the marker to Middle Willows.



GPS: N33°22.94' W116°27.74'



Continue to the northwest.



Monkey Hill Trail, for hikers and horses only, crosses the main route. To the left it goes to Sheep Canyon Camp.



GPS: N33°23.56' W116°28.17'



TR T-intersection. Track on left goes 0.25 miles to the start of a hiking trail into Sal­vador Canyon. Turn right and pass through fence line.



GPS: N33°23.66' W716°28.34'



Monkey Hill Trail crosses the main route.



Track on left is Monkey Hill Trail. Track on right is Main Wash Trail, for hikers and horses only. Trail now enters the line of Coyote Canyon Wash.



GPS: N33°24.00' W716°28.03'



Trail ends just south of Middle Willows at the start of the hiking trail through Upper Willows that connects with South Coast #20: North Coyote Canyon Trail. Hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers can connect through but vehi­cles are prohibited. Retrace your steps back to Borrego Springs.



GPS: N33°25.23' W116°28.54'

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