Sandstone Canyon

Ocotillo, California (San Diego County)

Last Updated: 03/22/2021
4.9 / 5 ( 20 reviews )
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Status:
Open
Typically Open: Year Round
Difficulty: 2-3
( EASY - MODERATE )
Length: 3.35 miles
Highest Elevation: 1993 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

Highlights

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.

Video

Route Information

Advanced Rating System

Recommended Vehicle:
Stock SUV with High Clearance and 4 Low
Concerns:
Summary:
Due to the recent limits put on the trail's extent, the trail no longer has the difficult rock crawling obstacles it was known for. It does have a few spots you have to squeeze through in which a wider vehicle could struggle and may require a spotter. Overall the rating is due to the sand on the trail. Please note: It also depends on how soft the sand is at the time. Normally the sand is hard, meaning it is easily passable, but if the sand is soft from a recent storm, 4wd could be required. Either way, wide tires at low PSI are recommended.

Technical Rating

MANDATORY
2
EASY
OPTIONAL
3
MODERATE
Dirt and/or rocky road. Potential rocks and/or tree stumps less than 8" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 9" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 12" inches. Good tire placement likely. Can be steep but with good traction.
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Community Consensus

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Description

This trail can change overnight due to rain events. Always be prepared for the unexpected. The road is comprised of sand with mild obstacles. Recently a good portion of the road has been closed by the State and now only travels to Waypoint 7. The trail is an out and back.
This area is prone to flash floods. Never travel in this area if it has any chance of rain.

Waypoints

1. Sandstone Canyon (0 mi)
The beginning of Sandstone Canyon
2. Slot Canyon (Hiking) (0.8 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) (1.02 mi)
The 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 (Obstacle Has Been Cleared) (1.14 mi)
This obstacle has been cleared. This slide happened roughly the week of Feb 18th, 2019 as they experienced major flooding in the trail. The major rains in Nov 2019 cleared the obstacle and are now an easy drive. The obstacle only had one true line over it on the right side. You needed a high-ground clearance to make it over. Short wheelbase was much easier while longer wheelbase struggled. It was common to have to use the rocks on the left to get the ground clearance to get over the obstacle. The cliff wall often got tall vehicles and did damage to the vehicle. Photo 1 - How it looks now Photo 2&3 - How it used to look
5. Rock Slide (1.3 mi)
Now the first gatekeeper, this obstacle isn't much to stop people unless you are in an extremely wide vehicle like an H1. This is the end of the road for any 2wd vehicle though.
6. Rock Slide (1.39 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 through this spot. Photo 1&2 - How it looked before the rain of Nov 2019 Photo 3 - How it looks after the rain of Nov 2019
7. Big Rock Slide (Trail Closed Past This Point) (1.71 mi)
Do not drive past this point. From this point forward, all remaining waypoints are closed and cannot be driven to. Photos and written content remain here for historical purposes. 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 take one of two lines to drive through this spot. The center of the slide itself is the easiest line or you can take the line in the wash which is for extreme rock crawlers only that don't mind body damage. 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. The trail has been closed past this point.
8. Old V-Notch (Filled In) (Closed) (1.92 mi)
The trail has been closed by the park service starting at waypoint 7 meaning all this trail past there is no longer open. Please call the park service and ask them to reassess the wilderness boundary and to move the end of the trail to that point. 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 (Closed) (2.2 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 (Closed) (2.4 mi)
This obstacle was filled in as of late 2018 but was recreated back in Nov 2019 and once again filled halfway back in2020. It will likely alternate for some years to come. But this deep V-Notch is nothing to think is easy. A vehicle could do body damage on its side as it tries to navigate this deep obstacle.
11. V-Rock Obstacle (Closed) (2.43 mi)
This obstacle was filled in as of late 2018 but came back after the rains in Nov 2019. It once again filled in during the rains of 2020. This will likely alternate for some years to come so be careful when traveling through this spot. It is very easy to get stuck on this one rock that is sticking up out of the ground. It will likely catch a diff or a center skid plate. You will need larger tires and high ground clearance to get through this obstacle. Do not attempt alone, you could get stuck.
12. Old End - Now Beginning of Rock Crawling (Closed) (2.72 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 (Closed) (2.98 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 (Closed) (3.03 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 (Boundary) (Closed) (3.35 mi)
The trail hits the wilderness boundary 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

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.

Camping

Dispersed
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. http://www.reserveamerica.com/camping/anzaborrego-desert-sp/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=CA&parkId=120006
Camping: Sandstone Canyon

Trail Reviews (23)

Questions & Answers (2)

Q: Should I be concern about fuel ? As in bringing extra fuel cans ? Or it’s not needed.
–Jacob Aleman (01/10/2020)
A: No need for fuel unless you have a really small fuel tank. We will spend the whole weekend out there, going in and out of the park and usually only fuel up on the way home. The paths to Sandstone are mostly washes so you can get some MPG's while heading to the canyon.
–Josh Noesser (01/11/2020)
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?
–White JK (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)

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.
For individual use only, not to be shared.