Top 11 Adventures on San Diego Route S2 (Pony Express)


Can you recall a time when the old pony express piqued your curiosity? If so, perhaps a journey down Route S2 in San Diego County is what you need. From Ocotillo to where Highways 79 and S2 meet in Warner Springs is a distance of roughly 65 miles. With no detours, the total time to complete the journey is just over 1 minute and 20 seconds.

Table of Contents

Most of the road runs through the Anza-Borrego Borrego Desert State Park. The park is California’s largest state park and encompassing 640,000 acres.

For years, I drove on S2 and never gave it any consideration at all. The landscape is beautiful, but I was always more interested in getting to my destination as quickly as possible.

One day I decided to stop over at Vallecito County Park because I needed to make a phone call.

While I was at the park, I noticed an old adobe building, so I decided to investigate.  I found out that the old adobe building was an old pony express stagecoach stop. I never knew that the road I traveled on so much was an old pony express route.

I learned that the actual name of the road is the Great Overland Stage Route. Knowing this made me fascinated about what else is around County State S2.

So, I decided to investigate and see what else was around S2, and to my amazement, I found some fantastic adventures.

I learned that S2 offers everything from natural springs, hiking, mud caves, great BLM camping, history, and fantastic wildlife. The history of the road I find fascinating, and I hope you do too.

Top 11 Adventures on San Diego Route S2

Below is a list of amazing adventures I found that you can have on San Diego County Route 2. Starting at Ocotillo and making your way to Warner Springs

#1 Entering the Anza-Borrego State Park

Six miles north on S2 from Ocotillo you will enter the Anza-Borrego State Park. There are a few adventures in this southern section of the park located off S2 that you should explore.

Visit: Anza Borrego Desert State Park

A few adventures you can go on to include:

  • Hiking to the Goat Canyon Trestle: A difficult hike that leads to one of the highest and longest wood trestles in the world.
  • Morteros Canyon: An excellent place to hike and explore the desert.
  • Hayden and Dos Cabezos springs
  • Map: Anza- Borrego Desert State Park Map

#2 Carrizo Badlands Overlook

Located 12 miles from Ocotillo is the Carrizo Badlands Overlook.  The overlook is a place to see the rock formations, golden hills, and sand-colored arroyos of the Carrizo Badlands. This overlook is breathtaking during sunrise. The overlook is located right off S2.

  • 12 Miles from Ocotillo

#3 Bow Willow Creek Campground

The campground is located by Bow Willow Canyon and a few miles off S2. Cahuilla Indians used the canyon as they made their way to their summer home in the Laguna Mountains. In the hills above Willow Campgrounds, they left pottery and other artifacts.

Various hiking trails originate at the campground, including Mountain Palm Springs, Totote Bowl, and Rock House Canyon Loop.

A complex of 6 spring-fed oases near the Tierra Blanca foothills provides a lush habitat for various plant and animal species, including the California Fan Palm.

A small sign near milepost 47 marks the start of the dirt road to the campground.  There is a $15 fee per night.

  • 17 Miles from Ocotillo

#4 Mount Palm Springs

Mount Palm Springs is home to six groves of palm trees. These palm trees sit on top of underground water sources in a shallow ravine, forming oases with grass, bushes, and cool air.

The largest group is Palm Bowl Grove which can be accessed from a 1.2-mile trail up the ravine. The other four groves are located throughout the area inside canyons.

A small sign near milepost 47 marks the start of the short trip to the Mountain Palm Springs trailhead.

#5 Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves

One of the fascinating points of interest in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the system of caves known as the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves.  Arroyo Tapiado, translated from Spanish, means “walled wash.”  The mud caves are found along the walls of this wash canyon. The caves are one of the most extensive mud cave systems in the world. It contains approximately 22 known caves and nine slot canyons.

#6 Agua Caliente County Park

Agua Caliente County Park and campground provide the perfect escape for any van or RV nomad who wants to explore the Anza Borrego State Park and explore the surrounding area.  The main activities at the park are hiking, lying by the pools, bird watching, photography, and stargazing.

There are three naturally fed pools, including two outdoor pools and an indoor spa heated to 102 degrees.

#7 Vallecito County Park

Vallecito County Park is the location of the Historic Vallecito Stage Station, old Pony express rest area. The park is primarily used for camping and consists of a 71-acre oasis built around a reconstruction of the Historic Vallecito Stage Station.

  • 29 Miles from Ocotillo

#8 Blair Valley Campground

Blair Valley Campground is boondock camping right off S2. The campground provides pit toilets and several dry camping locations. It is a great place to stay in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

  • 42 miles from Ocotillo

#9 San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area

The San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area is 17,800-acres and features a diverse habitat. It includes chaparral, oak woodland, native grassland, and acacia shrub.

The wildlife includes a large diversity of species, including bobcats, gray fox, Southern mule deer, golden eagles, and more.

  • 52 miles from Ocotillo

#10 Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock is a fun hike for anyone interested in seeing a spectacular piece of nature. The hike is only 6 miles round trip and takes around 3 hours. It is an easy hike with a bit of elevation gain that provides excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

The official trailhead is located off route 79 in Warner Springs, but side trails lead from S2 but are more difficult to find.

#11 Warner-Carrillo Ranch House

At the end and beginning of R2 in Warner Springs is the Warner-o Ranch House. The house was built in 1857 by Vincenta Carrillo, a prominent early Californio woman rancher, was a Butterfield Stage Stop from 1858 until the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.

The ranch house plays a leading role in the history of the American West. It represents Mexican and American culture contact during the Mexican Republic; the Frontier period of the westward migration, and the Gold Rush, and the cattle ranching industry from 19th century Californio to the 20th century to today.

Its importance as the southern emigrant overland trail and Butterfield Stage Station cannot be overstated. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

It still sits a vast expanse of open space, a setting virtually unchanged from the mid 19th century.

Website: Warner-Carrillo Ranch House

  • 63 Miles from Ocotillo

Extra Credit:

Fossil Canyon and the Painted Gorge

Located north of Ocotillo, is Fossil canyon and the Painted Gorge. The walls of Fossil Canyon hold 50 million years of shell fossils. At the same time, three kinds of rock have been exposed to heat and movement over millions of years at the Painted Gorge, causing remarkable coloration of the mountains.

References and Other Adventures:



Borrego Springs

Any van or RV trip to the Anza Borrego State Park isn’t complete without a stopover in Borrego Springs. The town has multiple resorts, hotels, spas, RV parks and is home to the Borrego Palms Campground. Borrego Springs is a great location to base yourself in a while exploring all the attractions of the park and surrounding areas.

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top