Sandstone Canyon

Ocotillo, California (San Diego County)

Last Updated: 03/22/2021
4.8 / 5 ( 19 reviews )
Information
Nearby Trails
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
Distance:
Showing 0 trails within 2 miles

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

Weather

7 day forecast for Sandstone Canyon

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: 2-3
( EASY - 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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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

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.

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 (20)

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
This trail is beautiful! Highly suggest running it without the top if not fully nude. The canyon walls begin to close in and makes you feel like Indiana Jones! Unfortunately couldn't get to the good stuff because of the closure but it was still worth it! Highest rating now would probably be a 3 just because of the deep sand you will encounter on the trail. Definitely worth the visit if you're in the area. Didn't get to get out and take too many pics cause it was busy. Lots of traffic in and out of the canyon along with campers too.

Author:
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Sadly it was closed where it becomes difficult but the drive was still amazing and is an awesome experience. It’s not a long drive so if you’re already in fish creek it’s definitely worth the time.

Author:
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
This is another trail closed report, however it might not be permanent. I went out to Sandstone Canyon after I found out about the closure online. I hiked the canyon from the closure signs to the Wilderness Border way up canyon. There were old vehicle tracks going into the Wilderness. This was partially why it was closed. It is also reported that some one had gone into the wilderness all the way to the saddle between Sandstone Canyon and June wash, then drove in an anchor and winched into June wash over the saddle. This is the main reason the canyon was closed. I saw no signs at the Wilderness border warning users they were crossing into Wilderness. I called CORVA, and San Diego Off-road Coalition. to let them know and ask for advice. I have also been in contact with Ray Lennox, the Superintendent for the desert district in charge of Anza Borrego. I am working to reach a compromise with the State Parks system. If you want this canyon back open, at least some of it, support CORVA, and the SDORC. Call and Email Ray Lennox, and ask him to re open the canyon at least a reasonable distance and give users back some of the trail before the Wilderness boundary. Most importantly we as off-roaders, need to not let this happen, we are often our own worst enemies, and one of us doing the wrong thing can get a lot of land access taken away. In fact, who ever created this trail log for the website crossed into Wilderness by looking at waypoint 15. the color change from light green to a darker green on the map is the Wilderness boundary. We as off-roaders, need to be better than this if we want to keep access to our beloved trails.

Author:
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Sad to say that this trail has been closed to Vehicle Traffic starting at Waypoint 7! Camped a bit to the front of the canyon and jogged in. There’s a sweet Canyon Slot Hike which does not show up in these waypoints provided. Followed it in and it goes on for miles!! It’s a little further ahead of waypoint 7 and I’m curious to where it ends. Definitely get GPS when venturing in. Sad to see this closed. I still think it it’s worth it to visit this beautiful canyon! Just no rock crawling anymore :(

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Ran the trail, feel it might be at the easiest it has been in a long time in the lower half. The middle landslide is getting really easy too. But be warned, someone dug out the backside of it so with the sand it is easy to slide into a rock and hit your door.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Great views on this trail that wows at every turn. We made it through waypoint 7 and the waterfall, but decided to turn around at waypoint 10 as the 100 series was just slightly too big to be comfortable. Got a couple of scrapes and bumps going back down 7 as noted. There were several other big groups meandering the canyon, but nothing past 7, so it was indeed a gatekeeper. Good mix of trail exploration and rock crawling. Great times, sliders definitely recommended if going through 7.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Sandstone Canyon seems to have changed quite a bit from the pictures posted on way points 3, 4, 7, 9, 11, 14. Way point 9 seems to have changed the most from the picture. Still difficult, but much easier than what the pictures show. A few technical spots that may require a spotter especially if you have a wider vehicle. Definitely recommend this trail for an adventure and beauty.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Was an amazing day running Sandstone Canyon, excellent weather and a great group of people. We were able to do all the obstacles, all the way to the end of the canyon, vary beautiful and scenic location.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Rolled into the canyon about 8 pm looking for campsite. Drove about 1/3 way in but turned around because the camping seemed better at start because the canyon was wider. There was only one other guy in canyon doing the same. The walls were high and well shielded from wind. I chose area that I scrambled up in the morning. The views from above were amazing.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Ran the trail well into the rock crawling part. The trail is clear but the obstacles at 10 and 11 are back. This will be a problem for anyone that has no lift. Also, long wheelbase will struggle through this spot. On a fun note, I was able to push through the wash at the large waterfall. Based on what I saw, I believe I might have been the first person to do that since the landslide. #FalkenTires #JeepAdventures #Raceline

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
The “new” gatekeeper at waypoint 4 seems to have been washed out or worn down because we made it to the main gatekeeper without having to traverse it. Then the waterfall is much more challenging now because the rains have washed away the sand at the foot of the ledge, exposing more rocks and making it a taller climb. Finally, the group of 9 vehicles that were in front if us turned around not far past the waterfall because there was a large boulder blocking the trail now. We were unable to confirm this as we were forced to turn around at the top of the waterfall before the other large group.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
The first obstacle (waypoint 4) seems to have been run down or washed out because we made it to the main gatekeeper without realizing we’d gone through it. The V-notch is completely filled in with sand, so it not even an obstacle now. But, the waterfall is much gnarlier as the rains seem to have washed out a lot of the sand leading up to the ledge, exposing more rocks just before it. There is still an easy bypass to the right side. The last thing of note is we were told by a group of 9 vehicles who were running the trail ahead of us that there is now a large boulder blocking the trail not too far past the waterfall. We weren’t able to confirm this as we were forced to turn around because of the big group.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
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:
Rating:
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.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
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.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
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:
Rating:
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:
Rating:
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:
Rating:
Full video of the trail

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.