The Slot Canyon Trail Overview
The Slot Canyon Trail in Anza Borrego State Park is one of the more popular yet spectacular hiking trails. The trail itself is fairly easy hike, but the Slot Canyon can get very narrow and is not the best place if you are claustrophobic. I had trouble fitting through a few sections with my backpack on...
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There are a couple ways to hike the Slot Canyon and the mileage varies slightly, but overall it's definitely an easier hike. If you go out in the summer though be prepared with a lot of water either way!
- Big Loop: 2.19 miles
- Short Loop: .94 miles
- Out and Back: This can really be as long or as short as you want, some people choose to hike into the slot canyon and hike until it opens up into more open desert then turn around and go back the way they came. This is probably the best option if you don't want to get lost.
We decided to hike the big loop when we were out exploring the slot canyon.
Driving Directions: Anza Borrego Slot Canyon
In order to drive out to the Slot Canyon trail head I would recommend that you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. The trail is a very easy off road trail in my opinion but I drive a Jeep Wrangler... The trail didn't have any large rocks or drop offs, but there were some decent parts of deep sand that you could easily get stuck in. With that said, we did see a minivan out there... but I wouldn't recommend it. Lastly desert trail conditions can change pretty quickly, after big winds or rain storms, so go at your own risk and know your limits.
The turn off for the trail can be found on Google Maps here.
You can view, and download the map above on Caltopo here.
The 1.81 mile drive through the desert was an easy drive for my 4 door Jeep Wrangler, as we rumbled over hard packed sand and pulled through a couple of deeper sand sections. As stated earlier I recommend a 4 wheel drive vehicle for this trip and experience driving through sand.
As you get to the end of the drive and near the trailhead you can't miss it, there is a parking lot and a bathroom structure. The day we went the parking lot was pretty full, but the canyon didn't feel too crowded.
Pro Tip: Off Road Recovery Gear Recommendations
While off-roading make sure you fully prepared for self recovery. Here are two items I recommend:
- Hi-Lift Jack (Amazon Affiliate): Helps if you get a flat while off-roading and can also be used as a mechanical winch. I have also used this to get out of snow and off rocks where I was center pinned.
- Traction Mats (Amazon Affiliate): Helps in muddy or slippery terrain where your tires cant get enough traction.
- Portable Battery Jump Starter (Amazon Affiliate): If your car battery dies while off-roading there may not be anyone around to jump start your battery. Use a portable jumper to be able to jump start your battery without anyone else around.
Anza Borrego Slot Canyon Trail Map
As mentioned earlier my fiancé and I did a bigger loop then the normal Slot Canyon hike, which came out to about 2.19 miles. The Big Loop we hiked is on the map below in red. If you are interested in the shorter loop you can see the "shortcut" for the smaller loop in green on the map below. You can view and download the map below on Caltopo here.
Slot Canyon Anza Borrego State Park Trail guide
After the fun quick drive through the desert at Anza Borrego, we parked in the crowded parking lot, made sure our water bottles were full and headed off towards the trail head.
Navigation wise, the hardest part of this hike is probably finding the exact trailhead start, but it is marked by a small sign so you shouldn't have any problem. If you want some help though its in the north east corner of the parking lot.
The Goole Earth imagery used above, was a bit old and did not have the bathrooms, so I placed an Icon there for reference.
Also worth mentioning that as mentioned in the sign, no dogs are allowed on Slot Canyon trail, so leave your furry friends at home for this hike.
The trailhead is little disorienting because it starts off going slightly up, which I think slightly threw me off cause I was expecting to hike straight down into a slot canyon. Don't worry though you will see the slot canyon on your left as this trail quickly turns toward the left and begins going down into the slot canyon.
The Anza Borrego Slot Canyon doesn't start out too deep or narrow, but don't worry that will quickly change as you meander its paths deeper and deeper into the desert.
Since we were visiting the Slot Canyon in December, it wasn't too hot outside at around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately we did forget sunscreen, but lucky for us there was enough shade in the slot canyon where we didn't fry. Friendly reminder even in the "cooler" desert temps it's easy to burn! Be safe and bring sunscreen!
In the shade of the high slot Canyon walls, the temperature was absolutely perfect though!
Pro Tip: Hiking in the Desert Sun
Along with risk of dehydration sunburn is also a big risk, make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. My favorite sweatproof sunscreen is Bull Frog (Amazon Affiliate), it doesn't go on slimy like regular sunscreen.
In addition to sunscreen I recommend lightweight long sleeve sun shirts (hoods help) and long pants. Here are two of my favorites:
- Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoodie - Super lightweight SPF 50 long sleeve shirt with hood to protect you from the sun
- Arc'teryx Lefroy Pant (Amazon Affiliate) - Lightweight hiking pants with a nice built in belt to stay snug as you lose those pounds on the trail.
For more expert gear recommendations check out the Seek Adventure Gear Locker.
As the slot canyon narrows the further you travel down, you might struggle to get through with a backpack on. I had to suck it in and contort my body to fit through some of the small gaps in the small slot canyon to keep hiking on.
The geology is absolutely fantastic while hiking through the Anza Borrego slot canyon, the hard smooth weather walls are fascinating and soft sand below your feet. Its like you have been transferred back in time. If you can time the hike where there are not a lot of other guests, you will be blown away by how quiet and peaceful the desert canyon can be.
While hiking along the slot canyon, don't forget to look up! There are a lot of awesome boulders and rock formations that look like they have gotten stuck while falling!
Eventually the fun winding slot canyon comes to an end, and the canyon begins to open up wide again. At this point if you are doing the out and back hike, this is probably a good time to turn around before the desert opens up to wide for your liking. If you are hiking one of the loops, the short loop cut off will be just a short ways ahead after the canyon walls begin to open up.
Since we were hiking the larger loop which is only 2.19 miles in length we continued through the desert and eventually hit an intersection with some of the off roading trails. Looking left from the intersection you will see a big drop aptly named "The Drop Off." This is where we hiked out of to follow the road back along the canyon edges and back to the parking lot.
Be careful hiking up here, as you can see from my image above there are a lot of tire tracks and off road vehicles may come flying down this. I recommend you hike off to the side of the sandy roady. It's a pretty steep hike and the sand is kind of deep. It was a good short workout for the hike out of the slot canyon.
Once up and over, the trail flatten out and is pretty hard packed sand again. You will be able to see the Slot Canyon Parking lot in the distance and it is an easy hike back to where you started. Hiking out this way was nice, as we had some great views of the slot canyon down below where we just hiked!
🗺️ More Anza Borrego Adventure Guides
Here are a few other adventures in Anza Borrego State Park that I wrote:
Anza Borrego Slot Canyon 4k YouTube Video Footage
While driving out to the Anza Borrego Slot Canyon and while hiking the Canyon I took my GoPro along as well. Here are some highlights from hiking the Slot Canyon: