Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Visitor's View: Hawk Canyon

A great place to begin your season of desert exploration


Last updated 11/9/2023 at 2:45pm

It doesn't take much imagination to let your mind travel back in time as you first enter this mystery canyon with growing expectations of stumbling upon some wild west hideout of a bygone era.

And why not?

You are traveling into a box canyon, surrounded by colorful sandstone cliffs that seem to be right out of an old western movie.

Maybe this is where the legendary Hole-in-the-Wall gang hid out after their rides of plunder in the American Wild West in the late 1890's.

Sure, this might not be Wyoming where the real gang hung out, but Anza-Borrego's Hawk Canyon has become a hideout for modern families, desert adventurers, and nature lovers escaping the everyday pace of the outside world.

It's a hide-away of tranquil desert beauty that offers a fascinating geological landscape, hiking trails, spectacular dark sky views, a variety of birds and wildlife and even some protection when desert winds pick up.

While only about 16 miles from downtown Borrego Springs, Hawk Canyon is light years from civilization and modern conveniences. No cell service, no amenities, simply a wild place to camp, explore and enjoy as part of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Hawk Canyon is close enough for a quick one-day visit, or the perfect place to escape for the camper who wants to spend a little time off-grid in a special desert place.

Hawk Canyon got its name from the many species of birds, including raptors that nest here in cliffs that rise vertically above the canyon floor.

Spring will often find prairie falcons, ravens and red-tailed hawks nesting in the cliffs.

Just sitting in a camp chair and watching the cliffs may result in a peek at a white-throated swift, cactus wren, loggerhead shrike or colorful verdin. has sighting records of 45 species in the canyon.

The geology of Hawk Canyon is dramatic, with colorful layers of sandstone, jumbled piles of collapsed blocks likely due to the fact this is an area where earthquake faults spider through the landscape.

While this was once a marine environment, today what visitors see is the product of earthquakes that have split and sculpted the dramatic landscape.

In the spring, Hawk Canyon can be a wildflower paradise, with carpets of lupine, desert sunflowers and small clusters of delicate desert five-spot blossoms tucked against the boulders.

Hikers can enjoy a trail known as the Hawk Canyon Loop. The trek begins in the bottom of the canyon at an elevation of about 650 feet and gradually climbs to the summit of Borrego Mountain at an elevation of nearly 1,000 feet, before looping back to thr east and a return to your starting point. Total distance is less than two miles.

While weekends can be busy in Hawk Canyon, it can also be a place of quiet and tranquility.

To get there, leave Borrego Springs going south from Christmas Circle on Borrego Springs Road, also known as County Route S-3. The road swings east and continues to join Highway 78 in about 12 miles.

Turn left on Highway 78 and go east about 1.5 miles, keeping an eye out for a small sign on the left that says Buttes Pass.

This is a well graded road, but to get into Hawk Canyon does require high clearance at least, and 4-wheel drive at best.

Look for a right turn about a mile in on Buttes pass and continue until you reach the Goat Trail junction in about a half-mile. Turn left and continue another half-mile where you drop into a sandy wash.

This is Buttes Pass but turn left to go into Hawk Canyon.

If you are not equipped to drive further than the Goat Trail, you can park here and hike the mile into Hawk Canyon.

You will be awed by the scenery as it becomes more dramatic entering the canyon. Your imagination may also be running wild.

They say there are a few nights of year in Hawk Canyon, when the moon is just a sliver, and the wind is blowing softly in the right direction when you might smell campfire smoke and hear the sound of horses as the ghost of Butch Cassidy joins The Sundance Kid to share tales of their frontier adventures.

Listen carefully, maybe you'll hear it.

Like I said, it doesn't take much imagination.

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