Panorama Overlook Trail delivers what it promises: vistas of California's Borrego Valley and Borrego Badlands, the Vallecito and Santa Rosa Mountains.
Take this walk at dawn and you'll enjoy watching the rising sun chase shadows from the many mountains and canyons below the overlook. Bring along a park map to identify the considerable geography at your feet.
A state park trail, second in popularity only to Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail, is a good one to take to get the lay of the land before embarking on more strenuous and far-reaching Anza-Borrego explorations.
One such (extremely) strenuous exploration begins where Panorama Overlook Trail ends. Experienced desert hikers in top form may continue up the trail-less shoulder of San Ysidro Mountain past giant boulders, cactuses, shrubs and juniper to the 6,147-foot summit of the mountain. I've never tried this five-mile ascent, which looks to me like the hike from hell, but I'm told the panoramic views from the peak are magnificent. Rangers also tell me that many hikers have overestimated their abilities in attempts to reach the peak, sometimes prompting search and rescue operations.
Before hitting the trail, check out the nature and history exhibits at the park's superb visitor center. You can start walking from the visitor center on the signed, half-mile-long Campground Trail or from a trail head in the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground.
Directions to trail head: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center is on Palm Canyon Drive just west of county road S-22 in Borrego Springs. You can park in the visitor center lot (sometimes crowded on the weekends), but rangers ask that you help ease congestion by continuing up the road into the campground (day-use fee required). Ignore the many signs pointing toward Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail and proceed to the trail head parking area near campsite 71.
The hike: From campsite 71, the trail leads across an alluvial fan at the base of the mountain for one-quarter mile to the signed Overlook Trail. The rocky trail climbs steeply to a creosote-ringed vista point.
Even better views reward the hiker who continues a half a mile on a steep, more sketchy trail along the main crest of the mountain to a second overlook.
McKinney's book "Day Hiker's Guide to Southern California" is available through The Times for $16.45 (including tax, shipping and handling) by calling (800) 246-4042.
WHERE: Anza Borrego Desert State Park
DISTANCE: 1 mile round trip from Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. 2 miles round trip from visitor center with 300-feet elevation gain.
TERRAIN: Rocky ridge of San Ysidro Mountain.
HIGHLIGHTS: Good overview of visitor center area
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Anza Borrego Desert State Park, 100 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, CA. 92004; tel. (760) 767-4684