Location: Ocotillo Wells (93 Miles/ 2 Hours from the Coastal Areas of San Diego)
Open Daily: Open Year-Round (October – May are the Main Months)
Features: Desert Playground for Off-Road Vehicle Enthusiasts
Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreation Area Highlights: Within a two hours drive of the San Diego Coast, off-road highway vehicles (OHV) can be used to explore 80,000 acres (125 square mile) of diverse desert landscape. Open camping is permitted and no day-use or camping fees are charged. The Ocotillo Wells State Park home page lists several attractions that can be found while traversing the desert landscape. Some of the more notable sites are the Gas Domes where gas bubbles rise to the surface of the earth and Shell Reef where you will see fossilized oyster shells up to 4 million years old.
Best Times to Visit – If you want to avoid crowds, avoid the holidays during winter when 100,000 – 250,000 people descend into Ocotillo Wells. (Read more about what to expect on a holiday weekend in this Union Tribune article.) Summer is another time to avoid the area when average high temperatures approach 110 degrees.
Park Map – This map shows the locations of the aforementioned attractions. You can obtain a more detailed map in front of the Ranger Station or have one mailed to you by calling 1-760-767-5391.
Be sure to visit the Ocotillo Wells State Park site to familiarize yourself with all of the rules and regulations as well as important information on emergency services. To get a better idea of what to expect, watch this video produced by the DesertUSA web site.
Information on Visiting the Ocotillo Wells OHV Area
Traffic – Traffic is fairly light once you are east of highway I-15, except for those that take the I-8 during evening rush hour, where heavy traffic will continue to El Cajon. You will encounter curvy and hilly roads when you traverse the San Diego mountains to reach the desert. 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. 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. Slower vehicles should look for occasional pullouts to allow faster traffic to pass.
RV drivers generally head towards Ocotillo Wells from the intersection of SR-79 and S-2. Some drivers will turn on S-22 and head down the steep and curvy Montezuma Grade towards Borrego Springs. Most will continue on S-2 until they reach the flatter and straighter SR-78. Also note, the State of California places restrictions on motorhomes over 40′ in length.
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. During the cooler winter months you still need to bring a lot of water. Check the current Desert Weather Forecast.