Hike-in Required
Open Year-round
ADA accessible
Guided tours
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The San Diego County backcountry offers numerous opportunities for outdoor adventure. The high desert community of Jacumba, California, is located about 80 miles southeast of San Diego, and just outside of of Jacumba sits the Desert View Tower. The easiest way to get there is by taking exit 77 and driving to the end of In-Ko-Pah Road. The road is paved but not well maintained, so it can be a little bumpy. This historic monument overlooks the Ocotillo Desert and provides a panoramic view of the valley below. On a clear day you can see all the way to El Centro.

The entrance is marked with a large wooden sign and is guarded by stone carvings of a snake, desert tortoise, and a buffalo. These stone creatures are littered throughout the park and were built by the previous owner, Bert Vaughn, in the 1930s in an effort to use local resources to attract visitors to his tower. Amazingly, these carvings are still intact today and attract many local visitors in addition to tourists passing through on their way to the Imperial Desert. The trail from here is really up to you; various trails branch out into short viewpoints or into caves roofed with gigantic boulders. The trails are fairly accessible and easy to follow, though there are a few points where you might have to crouch down to enter caves. The main trail is fairly short, only about a quarter mile there and back. This is a direct route through the heart of the park. It begins at the entrance of the park; a couple of feet after passing the guarding buffalo, a small set of crude concrete stairs lead up into a small cavern that empties into a rocky plateau. A number of the park's rocky inhabitants dwell in this area including a dog, lizard, a man in a Native American headdress, and an unidentifiable monstrous figure. From this point the trail heads off to the left where the entrance to a long rocky tunnel is marked by an enormous skull carving. Following this trail will lead you to the end of the park.

After this you have multiple options. You can either explore the numerous little trails and tunnels that lead to various sections of the park or you can head back down to the entrance. To the right of the Boulder Park entrance you'll notice a trail through the small Desert Tower community that climbs up the rocky peak behind the park. If you choose to follow this trail, which is only an additional quarter mile there and back, you'll be gifted with another incredible view of the area and the promise of "hot springs." The trail snakes up the mountain to a vantage above the desert tower. This provides a view of not only the Imperial Valley but also the Anza-Borrego Desert. The mountainside is covered with boulders, high desert wildflowers in the spring, and the protected California Barrel Cactus. A large granite structure marks the end of this trail, and bolted to it are a number of industrial metal springs. In the summer months, these become hot to the touch, and these are literal "hot springs" promised at the trailhead. This area has a lot more to offer than a viewpoint and strange attractions. If you've brought your climbing shoes, various bouldering routes can be found throughout the park. In addition, the Valley of the Moon Trailhead is a short drive from here, and it boasts multiple routes tht are reminiscent of Joshua Tree National Park. The Desert View tower staff also hosts outdoor yoga classes for visitors, and information on this can be found on their website. If you are visiting the park during summer, I would suggest bringing more than enough water; this area is known for brutally hot and dry temperatures. It's equally important that you're aware of your surroundings during the short hike; the backcountry of San Diego is home to rattlesnakes, so be alert. 

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

Park entrance fee


Carved rock formations. Panoramic of the Imperial Valley. Possible Bouldering Routes.


Possible rattlesnakes in the summer.

Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions


Historically significant
Geologically significant
Big vistas
Family friendly


Nearby Lodging + Camping


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