Agua Caliente – Desert Hot Springs


Location: Anza-Borrego Desert (94 Miles / 2 Hours East of Downtown San Diego)

Open Daily: 9:30 AM – 5PM from September 1 – May 31; Closed During Summer

Cost: $5 per Vehicle, Extra for Camping

Features: Indoor and Outdoor Mineral Hot Springs; 142 Camping Sites; County Park; Hiking; Scenic Vistas

agua-caliente-parkHighlights for Agua Caliente Hot Springs: These natural hot springs are surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. People have been enjoying the healing effects of these springs for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It is located along the original Butterfield Stage Coach Route and served as a popular rest stop for early settlers making the long journey across the country. Today, the desert hot springs are a part of San Diego County’s Agua Caliente Regional Park. The county park offers 142 campsites, including full hookups for RVs and campers, a kids play area, picnic area, horseshoe pits, and shuffle board courts.

Indoor and Outdoor Desert Hot Springs – The outdoor springs are naturally heated to over 90 degrees. They feed two outdoor pools. The upper pool is used primarily by families with young children under 14 years old while the other is primarily used by adults. The indoor therapeutic spa heats the natural springs up to 102 degrees and includes Jacuzzi jets. The indoor pool is for adults only until 10:30AM. Afterwards, children who are at least 56 inches tall are allowed to enter the indoor pool.

agua-caliente-outdoor-poolAll of the pool decks include chairs for lounging. The locker room is in the same building as the indoor pool. You have to bring your own locks if you would like to use the lockers. (Most guests just carry their items in a bag with them.) You must also bring your own towels.

The is only one locker room for men and women but from there you can access one of several very small, private changing rooms that include showers.

Camping – In addition to what was noted earlier, the campground offers naturally-fed, hot spring showers and a Caravan area that can hold up to 30 RVs and 100 people. You can make reservations for campsites online.

agua-caliente-indoor-poolHiking – The surrounding area offers the most diverse desert landscape in the world. There are short trails that head several hundred feet above the campground and provide once-in-a-lifetime views of rugged desert terrain. It does come across as a lot of ‘nothingness’ but as far as deserts go, this offers one of the more appealing opportunities to experience what it is like to be in a desert. For detailed trail descriptions that include what to look for, the best option is Afoot & Afield in San Diego County by Jerry Schad. For the more adventurous, one of Schad’s recommendations is an 11 mile hike descending from the green pine forest of Mount Laguna, down 5,100 feet to the hot springs on the desert floor. As Schad notes in his description, “There are few places in the world where such as trip is possible.”

There is a ‘bulletin board’ display near the Ranger Station that includes pictures of birds and flowers you can see in the area. It provides a nice description of the local habitat.

Food – There is a general store at the entrance.  However, it is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Definitely bring water for your trip and consider bringing some snacks as well.

Information on Visiting Agua Caliente Hot Springs

Fees: (Costs are Approximate)

  • Parking is $5 per vehicle and includes the cost of using the indoor and outdoor natural springs.
  • Nightly Camp Site fees range from $5 for Tent spots to $25 for full hook-ups.

Agua Caliente Regional Park – Visit the County of San Diego web site for additional park details. Note, the springs are open extended hours for camp guests only on weekends.

Directions from Google Maps to the intersection of Agua Caliente Springs Road and Great Southern Overland Stage Road (S-2). Turn south off of S-2, between mile markers 38 and 39, onto Agua Caliente Springs Road and proceed less than a 1/2 mile to the Agua Caliente Regional Park. The Park is 38 miles south of Borrego Springs and about 25 miles north of highway I-8. If you use highway I-8 from San Diego, you will cross Border Patrol checkpoints on both I-8 and S-2. Don’t worry. You have not left the country and there is rarely a delay.

Road Warning – For those heading from areas surrounding downtown San Diego, Google Maps will recommend you turn on Mason Valley Truck Trail. This Trail is not passable. People should drag the blue line on the Google Map slightly to the north so that you make a right turn on SR-78 instead of Mason Valley Truck Trail. For those who want a flatter, straighter (but longer) route to reach the hot springs, drag the blue line south so that you take highway I-8 to Ocotillo where you will then head north on S-2. The S-2 is also called the Imperial Highway where it meets the I-8 but then changes names to Sweeney Pass and then the Great Southern Overland Trail.

Traffic – If you are heading towards the hot springs from the Northern Part of San Diego County, you may have some heavy traffic if you head eastbound on SR-78 until it reaches I-15. You will also have heavy traffic if you head southbound on the I-15 during the morning rush hour and northbound on the I-15 during the evening rush hour. Once you are east of highway I-15, you will have very little traffic as you work your way through the mountains and into the desert. However, do keep an eye out for motorcyclists around Palomar Mountain, which is a favorite destination for motorcycle enthusiasts because of the large curves in the road.

If you are heading towards the hot springs from the Southern Part of San Diego County, you will have heavy traffic when heading eastbound on highway I-8 between downtown San Diego and El Cajon during the evening rush hour. Also, listen for Strong Santa Ana Winds in the weather forecast. On occasion (usually limited to the fall and winter months), the winds may be strong enough that highway I-8 is shut down to any high profile vehicles, such as RVs and Campers from the Sunrise Highway eastward to the Desert.

If you take a route through the mountains, keep an eye out for possible mountain snow in the forecast, when tire chains may be required to get through the mountains. Slower vehicles should look for occasional pullouts to allow faster traffic to pass. There is very little traffic once you reach the desert. Be sure to travel with a full tank of gas since you will be going into a remote area.

Transit – There are no transit options that provide regular service into the desert.

Weather – Learn more about weather in the San Diego Desert and check the current Weather Forecast for the San Diego Mountains and Desert. The Desert’s high temperatures average over 100 degrees from June through September. Most tourists visit during the winter months when you still need to bring a lot of water, even if you are not planning on any strenuous activity.

Related Attractions – Visitors traveling along the S-2 may also want to visit the Butterfield Stage Coach Station at the Vallecito County Park and the Carrizo Badlands. There are also a number of activities available in the town of Borrego Springs.

Find More Attractions with Similar Themes or Location: Desert Adventure, Hiking, Parks - Local, State & National, Scenic Views, Vallecito / Southern Desert |

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