Sandstone Canyon

Ocotillo, California (San Diego County)

Last Updated: 03/04/2019
5/5 (7 reviews)
Nearby Trails
Status: Open
Typically Open: Year Round
Difficulty: 4-8
Length: 3.74 miles
Highest Elevation: 1795 feet
Duration: About 2 hours
Shape of Trail: Out & Back
Best Direction to Travel: North
Nearest Town: Ocotillo
Nearest Town w/ Services: Ocotillo
Official Road Name: Sandstone Canyon
Management Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
District: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
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Highlight: Sandstone Canyon

Sandstone Canyon is a fun route for the more experienced off-roader. This overland trail offers some difficult four wheeling along with some of the most breathtaking views. But don't let your experience level stop you from trying this trail. Even though there are several rock slides, the first couple rock slides can be easily traversed in most capable 4x4 vehicles. Once in the canyon you will be struck with awe inspiring views of 300+ foot plus sand stone walls towering over just a few feet wide trail. Whether your are a Jeep person, Toyota lover, rock crawling junky, die hard overlander, or just looking for the most epic camping spot, Sandstone Canyon should be your next stop when traveling near Palm Springs in the low desert of Anza Borrego in Southern California.



7 day forecast for Sandstone Canyon

Route Information

Technical Rating: 4-8

Rocky or undulated road surface. Rocks less than 84" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 72" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 14' foot. Tire placement not good. Can be steep and off-camber.

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If you really want to experience the Sandstone Canyon but not fully built for it, the first portion of the trail is very easy and there are plenty of options to turnaround. This short but fun overland trail offers some rock crawling fun that will put your 4x4 to its test. The trail itself isn't very long, but along the route are several rock slides that require some driver experience plus vehicle capability if you plan on trying to get to the end. On the trail, you will see some of the most beautiful cliff formations in all of Anza Borrego. The second can easily do damage to the running boards, undercarriage, and body. The third should be for short wheelbase only.
This area is prone to flash floods. Never travel in this area if it has any chance of rain.


1. Sandstone Canyon

The beginning of Sandstone Canyon

2. Slot Canyon (Hiking) (0.05 mi)

Hidden behind a bush is this short slot canyon that requires a bit of climbing. Not far back up the canyon you are given the opportunity to come back out to the entrance but 40 feet up.

3. Old Rock Slide aka Gate Keeper (Obstacle Has Been Cleared) (0.61 mi)

Obstacle has been cleared and is passable in any 4x4 or off-road vehicle. This was a rock slide that happened not long ago. The line was to the left and check the other side of the slide before driving over. The part of the rock slide that you had to drive over was roughly 4 feet tall with a steep up then down. Getting high centered was a possibility here. Photos 1 & 2 - How it currently looks. Photo 3 - What it used to look like.

4. Rock Slide (0.62 mi)

The newest rockslide of the trail, this slide happened roughly the week of Feb 18th 2019 as they experienced major flooding in the trail. The obstacle only has one true line over it on the right side. You will need high ground clearance to make it over. Short wheelbase will be much easier while longer wheelbase might struggle. Don't be afraid to use the rocks on the left to get the ground clearance up. Also, pay attention to the cliff wall, tall vehicles can likely hit it doing damage to the vehicle.

5. Rock Slide (0.63 mi)

Now the first gate keeper, this obstacle isn't much to stop people unless you are in an extremely wide vehicle like a H1. This is the end of the road for any 2wd vehicle though.

6. Rock Slide (0.84 mi)

The next slide is a little harder than Waypoint 4 and offers a few larger rocks you will need to drive over. Most 4x4's with high ground clearance should easily be able to get thru this spot.

7. Big Rock Slide (1.12 mi)

This is one of the hardest locations along the trail, if you wish to park here you can easily hike on foot up the canyon. To clear this landslide you are required to drive over the center of the slide itself. High ground clearance and rock sliders are recommended to be on the safe side to proceed past here. Stock high ground clearance short wheelbase 4x4's can likely do this obstacle with proper spotting.

8. Old V-Notch (1.33 mi)

Once a v-notch. This spot has filled in with sand. It is likely this spot will return after a rain storm or two, thus be prepared to drive it again. Photos 1 & 2 - How it currently looks. Photo 3 - What it used to look like.

9. Waterfall (1.64 mi)

This unexpected obstacle isn't very hard to go up and down. The rock provides plenty of traction with zero slippage. But be warned, this obstacle could change drastically after a rain.

10. V-Canyon (Filled In) (1.73 mi)

This obstacle was filled in as of late 2018. Even though this spot has been filled in, it doesn't mean a light rain in the area can't bring it back. Please hike this area first.

11. V-Rock Obstacle (Filled In) (1.95 mi)

This obstacle was filled in as of late 2018. It was very easy to get stuck on this one rock that is sticking up out of the ground. Even though this spot has been filled in, it doesn't mean a light rain in the area can't bring it back.

12. Old End - Now Beginning of Rock Crawling (2.23 mi)

At one time, the trail used to end here and so does the rating of 4. With recent changes, you can continue on to try the more difficult rock crawling obstacles where body damage and vehicle failure is likely. The rating from this point on is bouncing between 5 and 6 as the rocks shift. There is several paths to enter this section. The more popular is the extremely off-camber section high up on the hill side on the right. The other harder route is on the left and requires you to drive up a large rock ledge.

13. S-Turn Rocks (3.03 mi)

After the 1/4 mile of rock crawling you come around the corners to see these giant rocks in the trail. Not that hard unless you are overly wide, this spot makes for great photo shots.

14. Rock Garden (0.31 mi)

The last hard rock garden of the trail, there are several lines for everyone that has made it this far. Pick a good line or you might get stuck. Once you pass this section, the trail immediately changes to a an open wash with plenty of space to turn around even the largest groups.

15. End of Trail (Blocked) (0.7 mi)

The trail is blocked by this large boulder that will keep you from continuing on. This trail is an in and back out meaning you now have to navigate all the obstacles backwards.... Make sure you look around as you head back down because the scenery is very different due to the different things you get to see. Also be ready because several of the obstacles are harder going down including the large land slide.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 32.979250, -116.214700

Starting Point: Ocotillo, CA

From highway 78, turn south onto Split Mountain Road. Continue 8 miles on Split Mountain road. Fish creek wash will be on the right hand side. Take Fish Creek roughly 12.5 miles and Sand Stone Canyon will be on the left.



You are allowed to do dispersed camping in this area but no fires are allowed. The trail does not have anyone spot that is great for camping. If you plan on camping in the canyon, your best bet is towards the entrance where the canyon is wide. Anza Borrego Park offers tons of designated camping in the area that allow fires. Please visit Reserve America to find the camping area for you.

Camping: Sandstone Canyon

Writer Information

Josh Noesser

Mapping Crew - California

Joshua Noesser grew up in Southern California but has lived in different parts of the country during his young adult life. Josh was first turned to four wheeling when he road with one of his friends dad up Surprise Canyon in the Panamint Valley at age14. After nearly 3 different roll overs later and a half dozen intense waterfalls, Josh was hooked. At 16 he purchased his first Jeep a CJ 7 and by 17 was putting his first locker in it. Currently, Josh is the owner and CEO of Nybble, an IT Solutions Company based in Orange County, California. Nybble isn't your normal IT company where everyone stays in and plays video games. Nybble's average company trip is out on the trails since a good amount of his staff enjoy wheeling too. As Josh likes to say, he offers the only IT Company with the ability to provide services in extreme locations. "If you want a server at the top of The Hammers, we will take care of that for you." Today you can find Josh out on the trail behind the wheel in one of his three different off-road vehicles. See the vehicles below for more information. If you ever run into Josh, please say high, he is a very friendly person and is always happy to have a new person join the group.


Questions & Answers (1)

Q: Do all the way points listed have a turn out (with the exception of way point 9) in case I decide the obstacle is to much for me?
–JK Xplor (10/19/2018)
A: The first half of the trail is pretty easy, unfortunately there is no way around waypoint 6. But at the same time, the remaining trail isn't a long hike from there. Just make sure you don't block the trail where you park.
–Josh Noesser (10/19/2018)

Trail Reviews (8)

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Great trail sliders are a must have if you are bigger than a 4runner or inexperienced. My 100 series land cruiser came very close to rubbing.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Great trail, had a ton of fun. A new landslide made for interesting times as one of our vehicles in our group just couldn't do it. But overall, still my favorite in the area by far.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
What a trail! It was quite the change from driving though most of the other trails and washes in the area. This was essentially the first rock crawling experience I've had, but with good spotting and taking it nice and slow, our two 3rd gen 4Runners (2"+ lift, 33" tires, rear locker) were able to make it through the gatekeeper both ways. It was pretty hairy coming back down with no bumpers or sliders, but both trucks made it though with the only casualty being a rear fender that popped half-way off from tire rub. We saw a 100-series Land Cruiser go through and his added width and wheelbase meant he didn't make it through unscathed. He had to make use of his front steel bumper and his rock sliders weren't able to protect his rear passenger door from contact with a boulder. It took 20-30 minutes to get him back through. That being said, know your vehicle and it's limits, but if you're up for a challenge and aren't afraid of a few scratches and dings it's a fun challenge.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
What a beautiful place! We went out in a two 4Runners with no lifts and stock-size tires. Made it through waypoint #4 above easily, but did not attempt waypoint #5. We walked the canyon up to the "Big Rock Slide" (waypoint #6). Only really hardcore rigs are going to make waypoint #6, but by our judgment stock rigs are also not going to make waypoint #5. We chose not to try it. Maybe if you spent some time with shovels filling in areas, building up ground, and/or brought a lot of Maxtrax=type devices you could make waypoint #5 in an unlifted vehicle without damaging your rig, but without that, you're definitely doing damage without a lift--as it currently sits.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Love this place... It has it all, both scenery and the wheeling. This was also the second trail I got to really test out my new Falkens M/T's on. Boy, did they work great. I crawled a 4 foot ledge in the back of the canyon and didn't even slip a tire while the others in the group struggled. Because of my new found confidence we pushed way further back into the canyon... I am thinking we might find an out pretty soon.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Wow, what a great trip. We went out with a group of friends and also did a update run all together. There was a giant flash flood sometime either in late Sept or Oct that caused some major changes to the trail. Overall I would say the trail is a lot easier. But you can now get farther back into the canyon then before. Some of the obstacles changed including the gate keeper that is no longer there and the v-notch now has filled in with sand. The major land slide has been covered with sand making it easier, but now there is two more land slides, a deep v notch that requires to drive deep on your side, and a large rock in the middle of the trail that requires you to straddle a big hole... Stay tuned for a rewrite on this trail. Attached is the video from March 2017

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Sandstone Canyon changed dramatically from early June 2017 to November 2017. One or more flash floods in September/October has completely erased the first rock slide, also known as the gatekeeper. The overhanging rock from the canyon wall and a few remaining tire marks are the only things left to identify where it once was. The large boulders that blocked the trail before have moved fifty or more feet due to the flooding. On the way into the canyon we completely passed them, not realizing that they had moved. It wasn't until exiting the trail that we saw what had happened to this once memorable obstacle. That being said, other rockfalls and shifting sand has created some new challenges further into the canyon. A large new rockfall blocking the main path, around a quarter of a mile deeper, marks a new gatekeeper and forces you to take a previously existing up and over on the left that is rocky and moderate, but can be traversed by a high clearance 4x4 with small lift. The second Rock Slide at Waypoint 3 still exists and is mostly unchanged, however much of the sand filling gaps between boulders has washed away, slightly raising the difficulty of this obstacle. After the Waterfall at Waypoint 4, two new challenges have presented themselves. First, much of the sand floor after the waterfall has washed away, possibly up to a foot depth. This now creates a very technical and off-camber section where you must balance between riding up on a smooth slanted wall while leaning into the opposite wall. Inches now make the difference between success and fender scrapes. Not far after, a new boulder creates an interesting challenge where you have to ride an edge with your sidewall to avoid getting your differential caught on the lip of this new boulder. We stopped at Waypoint 5 and turned around like most do, yet have plans to attempt to explore further back in the near future.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Full video of the trail