San Diego Trail Tramps

  Bow Willow Cyn/Rockhouse Cyn Loop Hike & Campout

Date: Sunday Hike: Feb 18th, 2018 08:00 AM - 05:00 PM, Saturday Campout: Feb 17th - Feb 19th (President's Day Weekend)

Location: Anza Borrego Desert State Park

This hike is located in the SE part of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. (Check the Maps page of this website for more directions and a map to print out.) After hikers leave from the Hillcrest carpool site at 8 AM rather than 9 AM, we'll plan to meet out at the Bow Willow Campground at 10:00 am and start hiking about 10:30 from the trailhead there.

The turnoff for the dirt/sand road into Bow Willow Campground is on the west side of Highway S-2, at Mile 48.4. This is about 11.6 miles north of Ocotillo where Highway S-2 meets Interstate 8. (There is day parking in the campground, with room for about 4-6 vehicles. This area is about 4 miles north of the Canyon Sin Nombre/Carrizo Badlands Overlook.

Above, a camoflaged "horny toad", or Southern Desert Horned Lizard, tries to hide under a low bush in the Bow Willow Cyn Wash.

They eat mostly ants and have only two speeds: sit still/hide, and run away as fast as you can. For more info, go to:

Hike Description: Bow Willow/Rockhouse Canyon Loop

See Area D-1:, Trip 4, In-Ko-Pah Mts., in Schad's book (c 2007, p. 407, map on p. 402) for hike details. *** degree of difficulty out of a possible *****. 7.5 miles roundtrip loop hike. Elevation gain/loss is about 1100'. Hiking boots are recommended for traversing some of the steeper rocky trails. No flip-flops, PLEASE!

This 4 1/2 hr. hike takes us on a longer, but fairly easy walk through a steep desert canyon, passing a historic cattleman's cabin along the way. We will begin the hike from the day-use parking area within Bow Willow Campground, again, at mile 48.4 on Highway S2, in southern Anza-Borrego. The hike begins by following Bow Willow Wash to the west. The canyon is known for its dense stands of desert willow. Palm trees also cluster higher in the canyon.

A Colorado Desert Shovel-nosed Snake moves along the desert floor, searching for insects, scorpions, spiders and centipedes.

This non-venemous snake (not to be confused with the coral snake, milk snake or king snake) is found in extreme southeastern California.

About .5 miles west, in Bow Willow Wash, we will turn south at a small alluvial fan and hike up into a rocky draw. As we gain altitude and continue south/southwest, it will open up to a glently sloping plateau that eventually leads down into Rockhouse Canyon. From there, we turn right (West) and head up canyon about .5 miles to our destination, a 1930s cattlemen's line shack nestled against a huge boulder. The line shack marks the halfway point of the hike.

The shack remains from the years when the large McCain family ranged cattle through the desert canyons during the winter months. The decrepit interior of the shack houses the remains of a fireplace and the usual rusty bedsprings.

Our return to the campground will be a cross-country route directly north from the rock house, that crosses a low pass in the hills and drops down back into Bow Willow Canyon. From there, we turn to the right and head northeast/east along the flat, sandy canyon bottom, back to our trail head at the Bow Willow Campground.

No Dogs allowed on this hike.

Canine Companion Regulations in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park:

Although some hiking areas in the park have no signs posted prohibiting dogs (like the Calcite Mine area), the park rangers say that dog owners are supposed to be aware of all park regulations. If not, they may be subject to some hefty fines ($250!). Beware!

Here are direct quotes from the state park's website regarding dogs:

"Pets must not be left unattended. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet and under the immediate control of a person during the day. Dogs or cats must be in a tent or vehicle during nighttime hours. Dogs are not allowed on dirt hiking trails."

"Is my dog welcome in the campground?

Yes. Your dog is welcome on a six-foot leash in the campground and on the many dirt roads in the Park. Common courtesy and safety regulations require that you keep your dog under control at all times."

"Why aren't dogs allowed on trails or in wilderness areas?
There are many reasons. Many animals in the Park react to the scent of a canine, reading only: predator. Although your dog may be friendly, many of the animals that live in a habitat will avoid areas where a predator scent has been left. This means they may not be able to search for food or find safety in their usual places. In addition, many diseases may be spread either to your dog from wildlife or vice versa. Some of these diseases like plague and Lyme disease are dangerous to humans as well."

"The desert poses some special problems for dogs. Cholla cactus can easily become embedded in a dog's paw, then mouth, the other paw, etc. Many dogs have been rushed from the Park to emergency veterinary care an hour or more away. Rattlesnakes are another concern. Humans are wise enough to heed the snake's warning; a dog may not. Pet dogs have been killed by rattlesnakes (and coyotes) in the Park. Even burned pads on the bottom of your dog's feet will ruin his visit to the Park. Not only is it illegal to take your dog on trails into the Park, it is dangerous, and your dog would probably rather be at home."

Here’s the .pdf file with all the same information, and, it's loaded with other useful info and photos, great maps of the area and a list of hiking trails and their locations:


Come join the fun with other rugged men around a crackling campfire! We're planning another campout under the stars at the Mt. Palm Springs primitive campground, just up the road from the Bow Willow Campground. (Mt. Palm Springs is FREE, vs. the Bow Willow Campground $15/night fee.) There are 2 vault toilet restrooms and that's it. You bring everything else you need for eating and sleeping arrangements.

There are some spots for RV's. Everyone else usually sets up tents. Don't forget to bring binoculars for star gazing! Campfires are allowed, but must be contained in a metal bowl that you bring. Extra firewood is always welcome and appreciated!

Some of us will arrive Friday afternoon, others on Saturday, to have a potluck supper and campout on Sat. night. (Some of us may also campout on Sunday night, since Monday is a holiday: President's Day). Bring some culinary surprises! For those interested in joining the campout, please email ASAP to SanDiegoTrailTramps @ gmail dot com. Thanks!