Oriflamme Canyon

Julian, California (SanDiego County)
Last Updated: 05/20/2018
4.5/5 (4 reviews)
Nearby Trails
Status: Open
Difficulty: 5-7
Length: 11.2 miles
Highest Elevation: 4152 feet
Duration: About 2 hours 6 minutes
Shape of Trail: Straight Through
Best Direction to Travel: North
Nearest Town: Julian
Nearest Town w/ Services: Julian
Official Road Name:
Management Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
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Highlight: Oriflamme Canyon

Situated in the southwest corner of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Oriflamme Canyon Trail runs up from the hot and dry Colorado Desert into the more moderate climate of the Laguna Mountains. The trail was initially used as a mountain pass by the Native Americans, and the Spanish, Mexicans, and American settlers have all used the route over the years. It offers beautiful, remote scenery with a wide variety of topography along the route. Today the trail is a somewhat lesser-known destination for off-roaders looking for a challenging and scenic adventure.


Route Information

Technical Rating: (5-7)

Rocks frequent and large, 12" and may exceed hub height. Holes frequent or deep (12"). Shelves to 9". Mud 8" deep and may be present on uphill sections. Grades to 25 degrees and sidehill to 30 degrees. Water crossings to 18" and may have strong currents. 1-1/2 vehicles wide. 4WD required. Driver experience helpful.

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Oriflamme Canyon Trail is an 11-mile through trail running from the historic Great Southern Overland Stage Route (S-22) to the town of Banner, CA on Highway 78. Beginning in the desert flatlands in the southwest corner of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the trail proceeds through flat desert terrain for a short period before ascending into craggy mountains. The ascent features a rocky and at times deeply rutted trail and tight switchbacks on the side of the mountain cliff. The trail winds along the summit of the mountains for a period, then drops back down a valley on the other side of the range. The second half of the trail is somewhat mellower than the challenging ascent of the first half, and the trail itself takes on more of a dirt composition rather than the more sandy/rocky grade seen previously. At mile 9.5 you can attempt to climb the Stairway to Heaven. This optional obstacle is a challenging climb on a deeply rutted, off-camber path that runs from the main trail straight up the side of a hill. The Stairway gives this trail its 7 technical rating on the high end. Well-equipped stock or moderately modified SUVs with high clearance will be able to handle the trail well. Rain, although relatively rare, will deepen ruts and turn parts of the trail into slick clay, creating potentially hazardous conditions.


1. Oriflamme Canyon Trailhead

The trailhead is clearly marked off state route S-2. There's a nice flat area to air down and get ready to hit the trail.

2. Connector - Private Closed Trail Start (1.48 mi)

Turn right (north) to continue through to Oriflamme Canyon. If you follow the trail straight here you'll hit a private ranch blocked by a closed gate. Some maps show this as a connector trail going through the ranch, but that route is blocked off.

3. Connector - Private Closed Trail End (1.94 mi)

This is where the blocked-off trail from the private ranch meets up with the Oriflamme Canyon trail.

4. Rodriguez Canyon Roundabout (2.09 mi)

Here you'll find that rare creature of desert backcountry travel -- the off-road roundabout. Veering right (NW) on the roundabout takes you to Rodriguez Canyon Trail. Do some donuts around the roundabout then veer left (SW) to proceed up through Oriflamme Canyon.

5. Turn Off to Campsite (3.44 mi)

A short side trail down the canyon goes to a primitive campsite next to an ephemeral creek. Don't expect to see water though, the creek only runs after very heavy rains.

6. Squeeze (5.37 mi)

Perched on the side of a cliff, the trail runs up the hills toward the Laguna Mountains. A boulder on the trail presents a very tight squeeze. Black marks on the rock wall on the uphill side of the trail indicate some vehicles have not quite squeaked through unscathed. I happen to know, through field experimentation, that the gap is approximately 2 mm wider than a 2013 Range Rover Sport.

7. Side Trail Stay Right (6.15 mi)

The trail continues to wind up the mountains through steep, rutted switchbacks. You eventually reach something like a summit. A trail splits off to the left (SW). According to the posted sign, it's not a through road. Stay right, heading in a general westerly direction, and continue on.

8. Connector 1 (6.8 mi)

A trail connects from the left (southwest). This is also an intersection with the Pacific Crest Hiking Trail.

9. Ephemeral Creek (7.6 mi)

An ephemeral creek crosses the trail. I happened to be there after a rare bout of heavy rains.

10. The Stairway to Heaven (Optional Hill Climb) (9.5 mi)

On the north side of the trail, drivers can test their rigs on the Stairway to Heaven. This optional obstacle is a steep climb straight up a hill alongside the main trail. It's an up-and-back spur — at the top there's nothing but a turnaround and a great view. The hill is extremely steep, especially for the last 10 yards. It's also deeply rutted with large embedded boulders and off camber sections that present a tipping hazard during the climb. For added fun, visit after a period of rare desert rainstorms, which turn the incline into slick wet clay. Some combination of big tires, high clearance, good suspension travel, and lockers/traction systems are needed to get to the top. Be sure to get out and walk the hill before attempting.

11. Connector 2 (10.1 mi)

A side trail splits off to the left (west). Stay right and continue heading north.

12. Connector 3 -- Rodriguez Canyon (10.45 mi)

Rodriguez Canyon Trail drops in from the east. Follow the trail straight, continuing north.

13. Gate (11.5 mi)

If you were running this trail north to south, starting near Banner, you would run into this gate shortly after the trailhead. The sign on the gate reads "LOCKED GATE AHEAD." Having come from the opposite direction, I happened to know that there was nothing of the sort ahead. Not sure of the gate's function, but it's something to be aware of. In any event, the gate was unlocked and passable.

14. End (11.8 mi)

A short distance from the duplicitous gate, the trail drops into Banner, CA, a hole-in-the-wall town on Highway 78.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 33.007548, -116.456364
From San Diego, take I-8 east and then take Highway 79 north 23 miles to the town of Julian. Turn east on Highway 78 (Banner Road) and then turn south on S-2 (Great Southern Overland Route of 1849). Go south about 12 miles and the trail head is on the right just before mile marker 27. There is a sign for Oriflamme Canyon at the trailhead.


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park features ample opportunities for camping in developed and primitive campgrounds as well as open camping most anywhere in the park. The locations of the designated campgrounds are marked on the Anza-Borrego official park map. The park allows open camping throughout its 600,000 acres. Campfires are allowed so long as they are confined in a metal container (most of the primitive campsites do not have metal fire pits, so you must bring your own container).
Camping: Oriflamme Canyon

Writer Information

Brent Colasurdo

Mapping Crew - California
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Brent's passion for outdoor adventures began with backpacking and mountain climbing while growing up in Portland, Oregon. Eventually, he realized that it was easier to drive the trails than walk them, and Brent's love of off-roading was born. Brent is now an (adopted) native of California. He can be found sullying the leather upholstery of his 2013 Range Rover Sport throughout the deserts and mountains of Southern California.


Questions & Answers (2)

Q: How difficult is the "squeeze" (waypoint 6) I want to do this trail and from the pictures it looks like the boulder is my only concern.
–Richard Torres (08/20/2018)
A: I took a mostly stock '18 Tundra on this trail on 10/7/18 and the boulder was tight, but passable. There's a rather low tree at one of the creek crossings on Chariot Cyn that was also a concern. Someone with an RTT or a cab-rack might have to be careful there too. Not sure why this write-up doesn't mention it, but most maps I consulted mentioned Mason Valley Truck Trail as the name for the first half of this route (until the top of the hill).
–sdde4n (10/08/2018)
A: I ran it today 9/30/2018 and fit a 2017 4runner and a Jeep Rubicon through it no problem. Didn't even come close to the sliders or door panels and I have a pretty wide truck. We didn't need a spotter or anything. It's pretty rocky in the wash on the east side so be sure to air down or risk a blown tire. Stairway to heaven was easy with the Rubicon (33s with a 3" lift). 4lo and front/rear lockers and no slippage, no spinning and with the right line no wheel travel. The view was ok from the top and it's as short as the pictures here make it look. Takes less than a minute to climb it both on foot and in the truck.
–Rob Thompson (09/30/2018)
Q: Is the trail narrow at times, will a pickup (Raptor) be able to pass without issues?
–Ben (01/31/2018)
A: Yes I've brought my 2012 here a few times. Some of the bushes have "kissed" the sides.
–Roland (02/12/2018)

Trail Reviews (7)

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Great little trail. Didn’t think it was too hard. If you are coming from south to north it’s a lot of uphill driving with loose rocks, but never scary as there is more than enough room to drive comfortably. The stairway to heaven was definetly the highlight. The gate right from the exit onto the 78 was “locked”, which scared me at first after driving all that way, but a closer look revealed that it was dummy locked.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
No Squeeze! The bolder that was supposed to be on the left side of the trail at mile 5.3 was no more. But that aside, with 33-inch tires and a 3-inch lift, the trail really was no trouble at all. My only complaint (along with my passengers) was that the rocky first few miles of the trail got a bit old... A stock 4wd could do the trail if the driver was competent enough, but more difficult without sufficient clearance. Also stock road tires with thinner sidewalls would increase your chances of getting a puncture in all the rock gardens. Overall, it was a fun little trail with great views and enough of a challenge to keep you engaged!

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
This is a great trail for all levels from beginner to intermediate. It is rocky enough to be fun, even for someone with experience, but not technical so that a beginner can still do the run too. Note that the wheeler can make it into a loop and return to his starting point by heading back down Rodriguez Canyon. I did the trail today with my 07 JK (4" lift, 35" mud tires, 4.88 gears, front and back lockers), but I note that I also did it back in 2013 when my vehicle was stock including 4 season AWD tires. Although the trail is rocky, there is virtually zero chance of getting high-centered or slipping sideways into a rut on a turn. Also, there are almost no off-camber sections worth mentioning beyond 10 degrees here or there. I'll say that the trail does not require a 7 rating and I will make an appeal to the trailsoffroad mods to change it to a 5 at best. Finally, the trail indicated traverses both Oriflamme and Chariot Canyons and the title should be updated to reflect such.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
This is a good trail. I have driven it both directions with different Subaru groups and it's probably at the upper end of the challenge rating for most drivers but it is quite capable of being completed. Not a good trip for a solo driver, especially a newer driver due to the ruts and larger obstacle rocks, but it was worth the drive. Good views and a nice shady primitive camp spot towards the S-2 end of the trail.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
We took this trail from the northwest end outside of Julian heading southeast, on our way to Anza Borrego. It's a nice trail, but I have to disagree with the trailsoffroad.com rating of 5-7 out of 10. The majority of the trail is pretty easy, with no real challenges to speak of. I would give this trail a 2-4 out of 10 rating in terms of difficulty, other than the optional "Stairway to Heaven" which is maybe a 5 or 6 out of 10. The view from top of Stairway to Heaven is great, and very much worth the challenge to get up.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
My wife and I did this one solo vehicle in our stock 2017 JK Rubicon. No clearance issues with this vehicle. Good moderate trail. We took a route through a wash not described here, which was fun and had some fun articulation and break-over challenges. Awesome views as you climb up, very much worth the trip. However, do this trail before the summer months, it was over 100 degrees when we went in June.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
My wife and I did this one solo vehicle in our stock 2017 JK Rubicon. No clearance issues with this vehicle. Good moderate trail. We took a route through a wash not described here, which was fun and had some fun articulation and break-over challenges. Awesome views as you climb up, very much worth the trip. However, do this trail before the summer months, it was over 100 degrees when we went in June.