Vallecito Stage Coach Station


Location: Anza-Borrego Desert (90 Miles / 2 Hours East of San Diego Coastal Areas)

Open Daily: Labor Day Weekend (September) – Memorial Day Weekend (May); Closed During Summer

Cost: $2 per Vehicle, Extra for Camping

Features: Restored Butterfield Stage Coach Station; 45 Camping Sites; County Park; Hiking; Scenic Vistas

vallecito-county-parkHighlights for Vallecito Stage Coach Station: The original Butterfield Stage Coach Route provided the first regularly scheduled mail and passenger service across the United States. Following the Gold Rush, San Francisco was a top West Coast destination. To reach it, the Stage Coach Trail avoided the Rocky Mountains by heading through the Southwestern United States. The Butterfield Route sent passengers through hundreds of miles of desert landscape before heading north to reach San Francisco. The Vallecito Stage Coach Station was the final desert station where weary travelers could get out to enjoy natural hot springs and view the first signs of forests and vegetation as they glanced up at the San Diego Mountains (now part of the Cleveland National Forest).

You can visit the restored Butterfield Stage Coach Station to appreciate the arduous cross country journey that occurred before the creation of the transcontinental railroad and the inventions of cars and planes. Soak in the nearby Agua Caliente Hot Springs, look east to the never ending desert and then west to the San Diego Mountains and imagine what it would have felt like to see green vegetation after a long trip through the desert and knowing the Pacific Ocean was almost within their grasp.

vallecito-stage-coach-stationThe outside of the Stage Coach Station can be seen at any time during the year since it sits right alongside of the Great Southern Overland Stage Road.  With the exception of summer time, the surrounding campground is open to visitors and is overseen by a volunteer. However, to enter the Stage Coach Station, you must contact the County Park Rangers located at the nearby Agua Caliente Desert Springs. (The general number for County Parks is 858-565-3600.)

You will find a ‘bulletin board’ type of display about 50 yards to the right of the Stage Coach Station. This board includes a few stories from the Stage Coach era, including shoot-outs, a phantom stage coach, and ghosts.

Additional displays describing the historical significance of this location are set up only once a year during a re-enactment of what travelers on the Butterfield Stage Coach Trail experienced during the mid-19th century. The re-enactment called ‘Vallecito Days’ is generally scheduled in March or April.  Visit the San Diego County Parks Events Calendar for schedule information.

To learn more about the Butterfield Stage Coach Trail, you can also visit the Wells Fargo Stage Coach Museum in San Diego’s Old Town or get this book about the Butterfield Stage Coach Trail.

What Else to Expect – The Stage Coach station is maintained as part of Vallecito Regional Park, which is surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The Vallecito Park is operated by the County of San Diego and offers camp sites and related amenities. It is in a very desolate location. However, visitors can enjoy the local hot springs and multitude of hiking trails with scenic vistas. Many travelers will also go to the visitors center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the nearby town of Borrego Springs.

Camping – The campground offers 45 camp sites, naturally-fed, hot spring showers, a kids play area, picnic area, horseshoe pits, and shuffle board courts. However, there are no hookups. (For those wanting hookups, check out the county camp grounds 4 miles south at the Agua Caliente Hot Springs). You can make reservations for campsites online.

Information on Visiting the Vallecito Stage Coach Station

Fees: (Costs are Approximate)

  • Parking is $2 per vehicle and includes the picnic areas and related amenities. Visitors driving by to take a quick look at the Stage Coach Station and not planning to use the Park Facilities will often park on the shoulder of the S-2, outside of the Park.
  • Nightly camp site fees run $15.

Vallecito Regional Park – Visit the County of San Diego web site for additional park details.

Directions from Google Maps to the intersection of Agua Caliente Springs Road and Great Southern Overland Stage Road (S-2). (This map takes you to the nearby Agua Caliente Regional Park since there is not a specific address to reach Vallecito in Google Maps. Vallecito is on the S-2 between mile markers 34 and 35 and 4 miles north of Agua Caliente Regional Park.) If you are driving south on S-2, you will see a Butterfield Stage campground and a Rancho Vallecito on your way to the Stage Coach Station. Neither of these is related to the County Park. 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 stage coach station, 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 stage coach station 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 stage coach station 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 the 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 near Julian, keep an eye out for possible mountain snow in the forecast, when tire chains may be required to get through the mountains. 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 – 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. Learn more about weather in the San Diego Desert and check the current Weather Forecast for the San Diego Mountains and Desert.

Related Attractions – Visitors traveling south on S-2, should also consider stopping by the Agua Caliente Natural Hot Springs and Carrizo Badlands.

Find More Attractions with Similar Themes or Location: Nostalgia & Western Frontier, Parks - Local, State & National, Vallecito / Southern Desert |

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