Culp Valley Overlook

Hike the Culp Valley Overlook Trail in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

If you’ve ever been to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, you’ve likely experienced the incredibly awe-inspiring and slightly scary drive down Montezuma Valley Road to Borrego Springs and the desert floor. To some, it’s an Anza-Borrego rite of passage and an epic opening act to a fun-filled desert weekend.

But the next time you plan on heading down the 3,000-foot grade, take a pit stop at the 2.25-mile (round-trip) Culp Valley Overlook Trail to get those same magnificent vistas on your own two feet.

Park just off the S22 on the dirt road entering the Culp Valley Primitive Campground. Head right at the first junction towards the campground to start your loop.

After 1 mile of winding around high-desert flora and granite boulders, find a junction with the California Riding and Hiking Trail and take it right to a lookout point. Here, you can marvel at the sprawling Borrego Valley (where Montezuma Valley Road descends). After enjoying the incredible vista, continue west along the loop, listening and watching for darting birds such as scrub jays, canyon wrens, and even roadrunners among the shrubs and juniper as you head towards the San Ysidro Mountains. 

At the 1.5-mile mark, you’ll reach a junction with the Pena Springs Trail. To your right find perhaps the best viewpoint on the trail—the Culp Valley Overlook is another view over Hellhole Canyon, the San Ysidro Mountains, and Borrego Springs on the desert valley floor. This is the perfect spot for a picnic before heading down into the desert. Continue south along the trail and consider tacking on the 1.2-mile round trip here to Pena Spring, an important water source for local wildlife and a beautifully dense riparian oasis. Complete the loop by heading south towards the initial fork and your car. If you want additional mileage before heading down Montezuma, consider Tubb Canyon just 3 miles east of Culp Valley.

To get to Culp Valley Overlook Trail from Borrego Springs, head west on Palm Canyon Dr. for 1 mile and turn left onto Montezuma Valley Rd. After 8.1 miles up the grade, Culp Valley Primitive Campground will be on your right. No dogs! 

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik, @mattitudehikes

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