|Distance||5+ Miles out and back|
|Elevation Change||550+’ gain/loss|
|Rating (on the day we went)||5+ Stars (out of 5)|
|Trail Conditions||Smooth sandy road in excellent condition, slot canyons require some scrambling|
|Comments||I did some research on this trail before our hike but didn’t find any reliable details on how to find the slot canyons. We ended up doing a lot of exploring in the wrong areas and were almost satisfied when we found the first (smaller) slot canyon, but I’m glad we decided to go around one more bend in the road.|
|Directions||Take Interstate 8 East to County Route S2. Take S2 north for 13.1 miles to a dirt road on the right. It is past mile marker 53 and the Carizzo Badlands Overlook. This is Sin Nombre Canyon Road. You can park in a dirt lot just off S2 at this turn off, or if you have a higher clearance vehicle you can drive about a mile down the dirt road to the east to the beginning of Canyon Sin Nombre Canyon.|
I’m slowly working my way through all the hikes in the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego. I’m not creating posts for all my hikes as the book has everything you need for most of the hikes. I’ve started a page (see Afoot and Afield Hikes on the menu at the top of the page) to track my progress, rate the trails, and post a picture for each hike I do. However, if a hike has changed or if I think there is something I can add or make more clear I am creating a post. For Canyon Sin Nombre, I think the description of the slot canyon is not completely clear in the book. The biggest thing missing is that there are actually two very nice slot canyons not one. In looking at other posts about this hike I believe some people have only found the smaller of the two slot canyons, and I don’t see any posts that describe both.
As you turn off County Road S2 onto the unmarked Sin Nombre Canyon Road you will see a sign stating that the road is only for street legal vehicles. Based on the number of vehicle tracks along the road this is a fairly popular route for off road vehicles. We drove about a mile down the dirt road to just before the beginning of the canyon. There was plenty of room to park off the road at this point. You’ll see the rocky beginning of the canyon as you approach this pull out area.
We started the hike in the late morning around 11 am. It was a cool breezy winter day with a clear blue sky. At the beginning of the hike we were wishing we had brought jackets, but we were fine after we started walking. Because I was unsure exactly where the slot canyons were we ended up taking a couple of exploratory trips off the main road that did not find the slot canyons, but they were interesting side trips. Both were up erosion gullies on the east side of the canyon. Not sure why I thought to look on this side as the slot canyons we ended up finding were both on the west side of the main canyon. But the side trips took us through some interesting areas and gave us some great views.
We finally gave up on the side trips and decided to walk down the main road. At about a mile down the road (32.843725, -116.154400) we came on a trail on the left that had 3 posts in front of it and even more encouraging there were lots of footprints headed down it! Our footprints had been pretty lonely on the other exploratory trails we had followed. Near the start of the trail it splits into two different trails.
The only accessible slot canyon we found was to the right. There was also an inaccessible slot that looked interesting but there were very large rocks blocking the entrance and we didn’t attempt to climb through. The accessible slot canyon was on the right side of the right path. This was the smaller of the two slot canyons we found off Canyon Sin Nombre and the harder one to find. There is a rocky path up to the opening of the slot, but it is hard to see.
Although it was the smaller of the two slot canyons, it was still about 150 yards long with lots of interesting twists and turns.
We found another very short slot in this area but it was only 20 or 3o yards deep. But I did get one good shot of the wider canyon on the way out.
There was another area that was posted off just south of where we had found the entrance to the trail to the slot canyon. We decided to explore there next. There was another wash similar to the ones we had explored on the east side of the canyon. It went higher up on the canyon walls than the others did though. I particularly like this picture back toward the main canyon with three Ocotillo Cactus along the path. These have red blooms in the spring… but still interesting looking plants in winter.
We climbed nearly to the top of this path/wash, and got a pretty good view of the area from where we turned around.
It was a long way up and a long scramble back down.
By the time we got back down to the road we were pretty tired. Although this hike is listed as 550′ of loss/gain in elevation, my GPS route showed a total of almost 1000′ by the time we finished all of our side explorations. On the way back down I told Sean we would head back when we got down, but by the time we got to the road I decided we should explore around one more bend in the road. I just didn’t think we had seen everything yet.
As we rounded the bend a high solid looking wall came into view. I didn’t initially see any openings but we kept going and eventually came to a break in the wall that looked very encouraging.
The entrance to this larger/longer slot canyon (32.847642, -116.154712) at the back of this opening is not immediately obvious, but all you have to do is keep walking toward the left side of the back and you’ll see the path. There are a couple of wider areas near the start of the slot canyon.
And then you’ll come to an area of partial collapse. This was the first spot where we questioned if we would be able to continue, or even wanted to walk through what looked like an unstable area.
We decided to go for it the slot canyon continued but not far after the first area of collapse was a second one.
We talked about turning back again more seriously this time, but I decided to scramble over the rocks to see what was past the collapse. The slot canyon definitely continued, so I called to Sean to climb on through. As I look at the picture we took before going forward it is hard to see the scale of the rocks. I also took this picture of Sean on top of the pile on the way out that shows the scale.
We were really glad we climbed through the second area of collapsed rock. At that point we were only about a third of the way through the slot canyon. The trail continued to climb and the walls closed in but were not quite as high.
My favorite part of the slot canyon was in this section. It was a hairpin curve, you could stand with your back against the wall and see down the canyon both directions. I attempted to show how this looked with the picture at the top of the post. I glued several images together but was careful to put them together into one image that showed the perspective you would see with your back against the wall. I really wished I would have just pulled my phone out of my pocket and taken a panoramic shot to show it in one image. Next time I guess!
For whatever reason after the hairpin curve I didn’t take anymore pictures. Not sure why I didn’t. The slot canyon continued for a while, then came to an open area, but the slot canyon continued on the other side of that area to the top of the canyon wall. There was only one branch in the slot and it came after that open area. To the left is supposedly an opening into the canyon (be careful if you go that way). We went right and the slot continued up to another large open area at the top of the canyon wall. It looked like a great place to explore and we might have found entrances to other slot canyons up there, but we decided to head back down and head back to the Jeep. We did seem to get some better lit pictures on the way back out.
I looked back one last time as we left the slot canyon and caught the halo of the sun around one of the peaks of the canyon walls near the entrance to the slot canyon. I also noted the fire ring. Camping is allowed, free, and no reservations are required in Anza Borrego!
I don’t consider myself a desert person, but this was one of my favorite hikes in San Diego County so far. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to see a good example of a slot canyon or who just loves to explore.