Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Update (April 20, 2021): With the Regional Stay at Home Order lifted, State Parks is reopening campground sites for existing reservation holders. The department will be using a phased approach to reopen other campground sites for new reservations, starting January 28. The public is advised that not all campground sites are open to the public due to the pandemic, wildfire impacts and other issues. Day use outdoor areas of park units currently open to the public remain open.

As State Parks increases access to the State Park System, it is critical that Californians continue to recreate responsibly in the outdoors as the pandemic is far from over.

Please take the time to read the information contained on this webpage to find out what is open and closed, and the COVID-19 guidelines for this park unit.

What is open now?
  • Trails, routes and open spaces are open for off-highway vehicle recreation.
  • Camping is permitted, including semi-developed and disbursed.
  • Most restrooms and shower facilities are available.
  • Picnic tables, shade ramadas, and group day use areas.
  • The park’s Discovery Center, Amphitheater, and Main Street Event Facility are open.
  • The Harold Soens Youth Track and 4x4 Training Area.
  • Limited special events, as permitted by County Health Orders

What is currently closed at this park and throughout the State Park System?
At this park:
  • Some restrooms and shower buildings may not be available.
  • Large special events, concessions and tours continue to be canceled until further notice.
Statewide:
  • Some park units and campground sites continue to be temporarily closed due to the pandemic, impacts from wildfires or other issues. Please visit the webpage of your local outdoor destination to find out if it is open.
  • High public-use indoor facilities, including museums and visitor centers.
  • Special events and tours continue to be canceled until further notice.

Are there any new visitor guidelines?
State Parks has implemented the following guidelines to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the outdoors:
  • Plan Ahead:
    • The ongoing pandemic response continues to be dynamic and fluid. Prior to leaving home, check the webpage of your outdoor destination you plan to visit to find out if it is open, if parking is available, and what visitor guidelines are in effect.
    • Learn what safety precautions you should take when exploring the outdoors at parks.ca.gov/SafetyTips.
  • Stay Safer at Six Feet: No matter the recreational activity, maintain a physical distance of six feet or more. Your guests should only include those within your immediate household. This means no guests or friends, and no gatherings or parties. If there are too many people to maintain the required physical distance, please visit us on a different day. 
    • Boating: Do not raft up to other boaters or pull up onto a beach next to other recreators.
    • Off-highway Vehicle Recreation: Do not ride next to others or pull up next to someone else as it could put you in close proximity to others. Stage 10 feet or more from each other during unloading and loading.
  • Keep Clean: Be prepared as not all services may be available. Some restrooms will be temporarily closed to keep up with cleaning schedules. Bring soap/hand sanitizer. Please pack out all trash. Park units are experiencing heavy use and you can help alleviate the impact on park facilities.
  • Stay Covered: The state requires you to wear a face covering when you cannot maintain a physical distance of six feet or more. Individuals must have a face covering with them at all times.

Although law enforcement entities have the authority to issue citations, the expectation is that the public is responsible for adhering to the advice of public health officials, visitor guidelines and closures.

California State Parks continues to work with local and state officials on a phased and regionally driven approach to increase access to state park units where compliance with state and local public health ordinances can be achieved. However, the situation remains fluid and park operations can change at any time. For information on statewide current closures and available services, please visit parks.ca.gov/FlattenTheCurve.

Welcome to Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area!

More than 85,000 acres of magnificent desert are open for off-highway exploration and recreation within the boundaries portrayed on the park map are operated by California State Parks, OHMVR Division. Outside the boundaries, to the south and east, large tracts of BLM land (U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management) are also open to off-highway vehicles. The western boundary and part of the northern boundary connect with the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which is closed to off-highway recreation, but open to exploration by highway-legal vehicles along established primitive roads.

The rangers and staff of Ocotillo Wells are dedicated to providing a safe and enjoyable desert riding environment, and to ensuring that a quality experience remains available for future generations.

No fees are collected for camping or day use. Open camping is permitted throughout the unit for up to 30 days per calendar year. Vault toilets, shade ramadas, picnic tables, and fire rings are located in the Quarry, Main Street, and Holmes Camp areas. Water is not available. Vehicle repair shops, telephones, groceries, hotels, motels, RV parks, and restaurants are available in the surrounding communities of Borrego Springs, Ocotillo Wells, and Salton City.

Fuel is available in the communities of Borrego Springs and Salton City.

Destinations

Below are suggested destinations in the park for off-highway vehicles with high-clearance and 4-wheel capability or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). You can spend a few hours or all day visiting these destinations, depending on your pace. If you have limited time, save the remotely located Pumpkin Patch and Gas Domes for another day.

BLOWSAND HILL
Wind-blown sand is a highly effective agent of abrasion, as anyone who has been in a sandstorm will agree. Wind is one of the few agents that can and do carry material uphill. Here, the wind carries sand for miles before piling it up into this huge dune. Perhaps the most popular spot in the park, Blowsand is illuminated by a circle of headlights on many weekend nights.

DEVIL’S SLIDE
This 200 foot-high granite and sand island is named for the challenge it presents to the OHV enthusiast. It is actually an ancient decomposing mountaintop. A dark coat of desert varnish covers the rocks as a result of exposure to sunlight. There are several old hidden mine shafts along the mountainside. The mines are said to be haunted. People have reported seeing flickering lights near the mines at night after a rainfall.

BARREL SPRINGS
These mesquite sand dunes are an oasis for wildlife. The springs seep from the ground, especially after a heavy rain. Coyotes often dig holes to drink. Part of the area is designated as a cultural preserve. Archeological investigations indicate that several Native American groups and early settlers used the area. The shade and availability of water made it a convenient spot to rest, to meet, and to trade goods. Some of the dunes have been fenced to allow for natural restoration. Please do not ride close to the edge of the dunes as this kills the mesquite roots. Without these shrubs, the sand dunes would blow away.

SHELL REEF
Park beneath the reef and examine the soil. You will find not rock or sand but fragments of fossilized oyster shells. Look closer and you will find entire shells and even pieces of the reef which have fallen down the slope. The reef is estimated to be 4 million years old! It was pushed out of an ancient sea during a time of tremendous upheaval when the distant mountain ranges where formed. Please help preserve the reef. Find other “hills” to climb, and encourage others to do the same.

GAS DOMES
These mysterious waterholes produce large gas bubbles that rise up through muddy water. The water travels to the surface, emerging through a natural crack in the desert floor.

PUMPKIN PATCH
This unique landscape is the result of wind and water continuously eroding the surface soil and revealing these globular sandstone concretions. Such concretions are believed to be formed by the natural cementing of sand particles to a small object such as a piece of shell, a grain of sand, or even an insect. Please help preserve the Pumpkin Patch and the nearby ridges where new pumpkin-size desert “pearls” are emerging.

LOST OR INJURED PERSON
If a member of your party becomes lost, don’t panic. Make a note of where the person was last seen and at what time. Locate a Ranger either in person or call the Discovery Center during business hours. The Rangers know how to conduct search and rescue operations. If possible, send someone to find a Ranger. Most business establishments in the Ocotillo Wells area know how to contact a Ranger quickly. Park Rangers are the closest source of help, and are usually the first professionals to arrive at an accident scene.

Camping

Ocotillo Wells is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Open camping is available throughout the park for up to 30 days per calendar year. Camping is not permitted at Shell Reef, Devils Slide, Blowsand Hill, The Notches, or 4X4 Training areas. There is limited camping East of Poleline Road. If you are in a self-contained vehicle with holding tanks, fill your tanks before you arrive—water filling stations are not available. Also, the park does not have a dump station for your waste water disposal.

Vault restrooms and limited shade ramadas are located in the Quarry, Cove, Main Street, Holly Road, and Hidden Valley areas. Pay showers are available on Ranger Station Road, on Main Street, and in Homes Camp. The showers now accept quarters. Two quarters ($0.50) provides 2 minutes of hot water. Quarters are available at the Discovery Center. Note: Pricing could change.

Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area
Major geologic forces are at play at Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area which is caught in a tug-of-war along the boundary between the North American and Pacific Plates. As the Peninsular Ranges of southern California and Baja move to the northwest with the Pacific Plate, they pull apart and tear the plate boundary along the San Jacinto Fault and the Salton Trough.

Ocotillo Wells SVRA
(Photograph by Mike Fuller)

The full Geo Gems report  |  Geological Gems of State Parks