Tectonic Gorge - Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Salton City, California (Imperial County)
Last Updated: 06/05/2017
Nearby Trails
Status: Open
Difficulty: 1-2
Length: 5.3 miles
Highest Elevation: 381 feet
Duration: About 1 hour
Shape of Trail: Connector
Best Direction to Travel: West
Nearest Town: Salton City
Nearest Town w/ Services: Salton City
Official Road Name:
Management Agency: Ocotillo Wells SVRA
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Highlight: Tectonic Gorge - Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Overlapping San Diego and Imperial Counties nestled between Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the Salton Sea is the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area; an 85,000-acre playground for off-road enthusiasts. Some of the popular attractions in the park are Truckhaven, the 4x4 Training Area, the Badlands, Pumpkin Patch, Shell Reef, Devil's Slide, and Blowsand Hill among many others. There is a network of dirt trails and washes that sprawl throughout the park. The main trails are marked with street signs at every intersection, and trail markers at every 1/10th mile. Please use caution while traveling through the park keeping mindful that other vehicles (such as dirt bikes, quads, and buggys) can be zipping through.


Route Information

Technical Rating: (1-2)

Dirt road. Dry, or less than 3" water crossing depth. Some ruts. Slight grades, up to 10 degrees. 2WD under most conditions. Rain or snow may make 4WD necessary. Usually one and a half to two vehicles wide.

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Tectonic Gorge trail from east to west begins in a wide sand wash area at the north end of Cross Over Trail and narrows as you enter the canyon gorge. The narrowest sections will have bypass paths to navigate around other vehicles. The terrain varies from hard packed and small rocks to soft sand, with small dirt mounds, dips, berms, and ruts. The trail winds through the gorge flanked by dirt small hills and steep canyon walls. Most of the trail is relatively flat with a mild incline ascending out from the canyon gorge onto the desert plateau. 4wd is not required, and 2wd vehicles with high clearance should have no problems as long as you stay on the main trail. Temperatures at the park can soar over 110 degrees in the summer and fall below freezing during the winter. There are also occasional thunderstorms and flash flooding. Always check the weather and prepare accordingly. Being in the desert during extreme heat can be unforgiving. Bring more than enough water to stay hydrated, and ensure your vehicle's cooling system is up to par. You may consider bringing a bottle of coolant and spare hoses or hose repair kits. Cell phone coverage in the park can be inconsistent. Have a backup plan in the event you are unable to call for an emergency. Ocotillo Wells Ranger Station and Discovery Center is a great place to visit and obtain information of the park, pick up maps, and refill on water. They are located on the southwestern end of the park off CA-78 freeway (coordinates: 33.154524, -116.167849).


1. Tectonic Gorge Trailhead (5.3 mi)

Riding the trail from east to west, the trailhead begins at the intersection of Cross Over Trail and Tectonic Gorge. From this point head north (right turn). There are mile markers posted every 1/10 mile with the trail name. Because this is an open off-road area, there may be trails that split off or crisscross over the main trail. Look out for the trail markers to ensure you are on the correct path. Starting from the east end, the first trail marker you'll see is marked 5.2 miles and will be in descending order as you travel westward.

2. Access to Camp Area (0.2 mi)

On the right (north) side of the trail is a pathway to the upper ledge where there is more area to camp. While there are only 7 shaded picnic tables with fire pits spread throughout this area, there is plenty of space for open/primitive camping. This is where we camped during Tierra Del Sol 2017.

3. Offroad Playground (0.4 mi)

On the left (south) side of the trail, there are hilly dirt paths crisscrossing in every direction. This is a fun area to play around in your quad, dirt bike, side by side, buggy, or vehicle. 2wd vehicles are not recommended. Stock 4x4 with clearance should be ok. Walk any sections before committing to it to be certain it is something you and your vehicle can handle. It's easy to become lost as you wander through this area, but when you find your way back to the main trail just look for the trail marker.

4. The X Files (0.6 mi)

Ocotillo Wells SVRA offers a variety of unique land features and scenery that has lured TV and film companies to come and shoot their scenes. Tectonic Gorge is no exception as the hillside at this location was featured in the final episode of the cult classic TV show The X-Files.

5. An Oasis for Life (1 mi)

Here on the left (south) side of the trail you will find an interpretive display, and protected habitat area. While Ocotillo Wells offers the freedom of open OHV travel for off-road enthusiasts, it is illegal to disturb the wildlife or drive over vegetation. Some areas such as this are protected to preserve the fragile habitat. Please follow the Tread Lightly principles to help maintain the environment, stay safe, and to keep OHV parks open.

6. Rock Slide (1.5 mi)

At this spot is a rock slide area next to the hill on the left (south) side of the trail with a bypass on the right (north). The forces of water, wind, and seismic activity has transformed the landscape of Ocotillo Wells throughout time and continues to be ever changing. If you have visited the area in the past, chances are the terrain may be different on your next visit. The eroding landscape can pose a danger so take precaution while traveling close to hillsides, between slots, or atop ledges.

7. Fork to Gettysburg (1.7 mi)

Stay to the left (southwest) of the fork to continue on Tectonic Gorge. Turning right (northwest) at the fork leads to Gettysburg. Note: Gettysburg will also join Tectonic Gorge at the east end of the trail. If you decide to take Gettysburg on the return trip eastward, it will loop you back to this location.

8. Ascending out of the Gorge (3.6 mi)

This is where the trail begins to ascend up out of the gorge. Trail marker indicates there is 1.8 miles remaining to reach the east end.

9. Badlands and S-22 Connector (4 mi)

As you reach the plateau look left (south) for a grand view of the Badlands. Be cautious not to get too close to the edge. There is a split on the right (north) side of the trail that heads towards intersecting Gettysburg and to Borrego Salton Seaway S-22. There are large wavy washboard sections in this area. (This terrain feature may be what is referred to as "whoop-de-doos".)

10. Ocotillo Garden and USN Microwave Tower (4.7 mi)

Large Ocotillo plants are scattered throughout this mesa. If you happen to visit the area after the rain, you may see the Ocotillos blooming with fiery red flowers on the branch tips. On the right (north) side of the trail you can see the USN Microwave Tower in the distance. This sky touching relic is situated on the north side of Borrego Salton Seaway S-22 on the border between Truckhaven and Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

11. Tierra Del Sol (5.25 mi)

On the left (south) side of the trail is a drop in access point into Tierra Del Sol trail. Tierra Del Sol trail from this location travels southeast into the Badlands and leads to NF Arroyo Salado and Cross Over Trail.

12. Tectonic Gorge End (5.3 mi)

This is the end or beginning of Tectonic Gorge and connects with the Gettysburg trail. At this location you will have reached the border between Ocotillo Wells SVRA and Anza Borrego Desert State Park. The quickest way back to Borrego Salton Seaway S-22 is to take Gettysburg and continue northeast until you see the highway on your left. If you stay on Gettysburg, it will return you back to the east side of Tectonic Gorge.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 33.264520, -116.023750
Take the S-22 freeway to Cross Over Trail which is less than 1/2 mile west of the Ocotillo Wells SVRA 4x4 Training Area. Cross Over Trail is located on the south side of S-22 at 25 miles east of Borrego Springs via Palm Canyon Drive, and 5 miles west from the 86 freeway via Borrego Salton Seaway. (Coordinates: 33.26600, -116.01885) After turning onto Cross Over Trail, continue southwest approximately 1/4 mile through a large primitive camp area. There is a small building on the left with vaulted toilets, and a fenced dumpster area. (Coordinates: 33.26448, -116.02284) It may be a good idea to use the restrooms while here as there are no others along the trail. You can also air down your tires at this location. Continue another 200 feet and you will reach the intersection of Cross Over Trail and Tectonic Gorge. (Coordinates: 33.26452, -116.02375)


In this particular area between S-22, Cross Over Trail, and Tectonic Gorge, there are a total 11 shade ramadas with picnic tables and fire pits, and 2 vaulted toilets. Aside from this, it's a wide open area for primitive camping. The area is accessible to RVs and trailers. Camping is free and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Fires are allowed within your camp area, in a stone surrounded pit or metal container. Pets are welcome but must be on a leash at all times. Possessing or discharging of firearms within the park is unlawful. Other developed campgrounds within Ocotillo Wells SVRA are at 4x4 Obstacle Road, The Cove, Main Street, Quarry Road, Holmes Camp, County Line Road, Holly Road, Hidden Valley, and Benson Lake Loop. These are all primitive camp areas with no hookups. Coin operated showers are available at Holmes Camp, and by the Discovery Center. There are also showers at the Main Street Event Center, however I believe it may only be open while the Event Center is in use. The Event Center is available for rent and would be ideal if you are planning a large gathering. If you are looking for camping with full hookups in the area, Blu-in RV Park is a place to consider. There are also more options if you travel west into Anza Borrego or east to Salton Sea. .
Camping: Tectonic Gorge - Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Writer Information

Zulu Juliet

Mapping Crew - California
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I am a southern California native and an outdoors wanderer with a passion for camping, exploring new trails, and seeking interesting sites that are only accessible off paved roads. While traveling to remote areas presents unique challenges and risk, finding solutions and adapting to unforeseen crisis is part of my enjoyment. Perhaps my stint in the scouts and marines have helped prepare me for this endeavor. Every trip is a learning experience, as I test myself, my gear, and my rig. My mantras are, Build, break, fix, repeat!" and "We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.". Since my kids are grown and off to college, I'm able to get out more often. Overlanding is how I roll, with occasional "mild" rock crawling. My bucket list trip is a Pan American expedition from Alaska to Argentina. In the meantime, I've been roaming the deserts and mountains of SoCal, Baja, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Joining TrailsOffroad was an inevitable decision, and I look forward to contributing to this platform.


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